What do we mean when we are talking about “toxic masculinity“? Despite the recent attention to the term in the last few years, it actually was coined in the 1980s and 90s. The concept came about from various men participating in male-only workshops, drumming circles, and retreats to reconnect and redefine what the true nature of protective masculinity looks like. The concept of a single type of masculinity has actually been rejected since the last 1980s. There are many types of masculinity and most of them are not considered to be toxic.
Defining Toxic Masculinity
The concept of toxic masculinity is still one that many people struggle with. It can be seen in a number of ways.
Many people see it as the narrow and repressive description of what it means to be a man. It promotes the cultural ideas of manliness where strength is the most important thing, emotions are considered a weakness, and brutality and sexual prowess are the standards in which men are measured.
In its essence, the concept of toxic masculinity are standards that are placed so high that they have become completely unattainable. When men fall short of these highly unrealistic and unattainable standards, it can make them feel anxious and insecure. The inner conflicts that men can experience between who they feel they are and what they feel they should be can end up leading them to use force in order to feel in control. The use of force can feel like a cover for their anxiety and feelings of inadequacies.
A culture that pushes the idea of masculinity as physical power and sexual prowess leads many people to feel like they are failing at “being a man”. These feelings can impact mental health, self-esteem, and create an environment that opens the door for violence.
What Does Toxic Masculinity Look Like?
There are some ideas that can be clearly seen as destructive and fall into the realm of what would be considered toxic masculinity. Some of these ideas include:
- The conviction that men can and will never truly understand women and vice-versa
- Men showing any emotion other than anger are weak
- Real men can’t be the victims of abuse
- Men talking about abuse is shameful and should be avoided
- Men are only interested in sex and want sex at all times
- Men should be violent and aggressive, even when it’s not called for
- The conviction that a man will abandon a pregnant girlfriend or being unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility
- That men aren’t interested in parenting or would make unsuitable parents
- Discourages men from being involved with their children
- Encourages household inequality because the man should be the undisputed “breadwinner”
- Men shouldn’t be concerned or interested in their personal looks
- Men shouldn’t appreciate things traditionally viewed as feminine, such as “girly” drinks or romantic books or movies
- Men should never need help or guidance but will be an expert in all things unless they are considered domestic or “women’s work”
This is not an exhaustive list of examples but a few of the common ones that can have an impact on the self-esteem and confidence of men.
Is Masculinity Inherently Toxic?
The answer is “No”. Some people feel that discussing toxic masculinity is claiming that all masculinity is toxic but this is simply not true. Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Men are not inherently violent. There are many cultures across the world that lack violence among men where men are viewed as incredibly masculine.
There are many different types of masculinity that are wonderful and promote realistic ideals. Men can develop in ways that allow connections to others and their emotions and remain respected and masculine.
To say that all masculinity is toxic is highly destructive and undermines any confidence men can build in themselves. It is saying that there is something just wrong with men and this simply isn’t true.
Masculinity is not inherently wrong but toxic masculinity sets men up to fail. It also allows for unacceptable behavior to be seen as normal. This can increase the violence perpetrated by men as well as the bad feelings towards men. Toxic masculinity creates a lose-lose situation that masculinity does not.
Setting Men Up for Success
Everyone needs help and support sometimes and this includes men. Rejecting the principles of toxic masculinity leaves men open to asking for and reaching out for support. They are more likely to seek help. It also helps reduce the stigma around mental health. We need to support men to be the best they can be and in ways that soothe anxiety and feeds their self-esteem.
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