Do you know what toxic masculinity is? This term refers to the stereotypical characteristics commonly attributed to men. You probably have heard phrases like “real man doesn’t do X or Y” or “a man don’t cry” or “a man has to be strong”. Over the years, we have taken these statements for granted.
However, these behavior patterns are often harmful to us and the people around us. This is the case with toxic masculinity, which encourages the perpetuation of harmful behaviors called “typically male” such as the suppression of emotion, the encouragement of violence, the discouragement of seeking help and the list goes on.
To clarify, “masculinity” in this context refers not to men’s innate traits, but to the cultural construction of manhood. When we talk about the harmful effects of toxic masculinity, we are not criticizing men, but are calling out the unfair standards imposed upon them.
Although we hear and read a lot about this concept nowadays, sometimes it is still difficult to identify situations where toxic masculinity manifests itself. Some of these behaviors are so ingrained in our culture that we have no perception of them. We are already “anesthetized”. It might be common, but shouldn’t be normal.
If you do not fully understand the definition, see if you’ve heard of any of the phrases below. Even though no one has taught us to act in a certain way, it is evident that our society’s beliefs plays on our mind.
- Boys will be boys
- Man don’t cry.
- Man can not wear pink.
- Suffer in silence
- Have no needs
- Never lose
- Don’t depend on anyone
- Don’t do anything that could be construed as weakness
- Playing with dolls is a girly thing.
- Man don’t do housework.
- “Real man” doesn’t go to the doctor.
- Never snitch.
- The man should be the provider of the house. Otherwise, it is a failure.
- Show no emotions other than bravado or rage
- Man who likes X things (reality shows, theater, musicals, typically female interests) is gay.
Wow! I’ve Heard a Lot of Them. So What Do I Have to Do?
We need to talk about masculinity in all of its forms. Have meaningful conversations. It’s important for identifying and eliminating these harmful behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs. We need to talk about those things, free of judgements and give safe spaces to explore these topics.
As early as in childhood they receive signals from various sources (family, school, media, friends) that dictate their role in the world. It is normal to take a moment to forget them and begin to draw your own conclusions.
The recognition process is often a lonely path. You will probably find friends or relatives who are anesthetized since they have also grown up in an environment where certain negative attitudes are acceptable and even encouraged.
Men need the freedom to explore and express their emotions. They know that this man box is limiting and is scary. They need to be able to opt out of things that are damaging not just for women but for themselves. What we need to do is move on to a discussion around positive masculinity; We need to talk about how men can re-learn what it means to be a man.
We need to move towards a new version of masculinity, one where we celebrate being a man and celebrate all of the good parts of being a man but also one where we give men spaces to unpack all of the problematic messages that they have learned and carried about what it means to be a man.