According to the Webster dictionary, toxic masculinity is defined as: “a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health.”
A widespread misconception is that toxic masculinity is a stand against masculinity — or men — as a whole. This is not the case. Toxic masculinity encourages violence, suppressed emotions and aggressive behavior in men. It encompasses the idea that emotional behaviors apart from anger are “weak.”
The Good Men project defines it this way:
“Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits — which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual — are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”
These gender stereotypes displayed in our culture teach us from a young age that girls are weak, boys are strong. That women can’t control their emotions, but men must always suppress their emotions. It puts us in categories, discouraging expression, uniqueness and individuality.
A study done in Australia found that a staggering 69% of young men agree with statements that society expects men to act strong, 60% believed that they should fight back when pushed, and 56% agreed felt that they — as men — could not say no to sex.
Last year a well-known razor company, Gillette, released an advertisement challenging viewers to tackle the issues of toxic masculinity that are evident in situations like bullying and catcalling. It encouraged men to hold themselves and other men accountable for misogynistic attitudes and behavior, moving away from the “boys will be boys” mentality.
Society’s narrow portrayal of masculinity is harming boys, men and society at large, so what can we do about it?
1. Know the difference between toxic masculinity and being a man
The concept of toxic masculinity and traditional masculinity are not synonymous. Moreover, these two concepts have little to do with one another. While toxic masculinity thrives on sexual conquests, repression of emotions, and violence being the answer; traditional masculinity should encourage men to always gain consent, speak freely about their emotions, and try reasoning before violence.
2. Speak up
The days of locker room talk and catcalling are over. When conversations turn to rape jokes or verbal objectification of women, refrain from staying silent, this is your que to speak up. Discourage this culture of toxicity.
Studies involving 6,000 university students from across the US observed that “programs designed to prevent sexual assault by increasing onlooker interventions had a meaningful effect on bystander behavior.”
The psychological links that words create are powerful and hard to undo. The ways we speak condition us to think in certain ways, and we don’t even notice it. Humans are not born sexist, racist, or homophobic — this is a product of social conditioning we learn from a young age.
3. Don’t teach boys to suppress their emotions
When a tearful child is told, “stop crying about it, be a man!” it leads him to assume that real men suppress their emotions. The phrase “boys will be boys” implies that men are automatically hardwired for violence, excusing aggressive and unhealthy behaviors as a biological trait. One article states;
“By lowering our expectations about what it means to be a boy, we influence these young men to lower their expectations of themselves.”
Studies found that children who reject emotional vulnerability are more likely to turn to substance abuse during their adolescent years. Likewise, men who suppress their emotions experience greater depressive symptoms and are more likely to resort to physical violence, or suicide.
4. Hold men accountable for their actions
Society as a whole needs to stop fixating over the control of women, and instead hold men accountable for their shameful behavior towards women. Oftentimes what a woman said, what she was wearing, or where she was, is brought into consideration to justify the actions of a man.
This shifts the conversation to what women should be doing to not get raped rather than what men should be doing, which is not raping. It places the blame on the victim rather than the abuser.
The rape culture will not change until men are held accountable. Based on RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) data sources, it is estimated that for every 1,000 rapes, 384 are reported to police, 57 result in an arrest, 11 are referred for prosecution, 7 result in a felony conviction, and 6 result in incarceration. That’s less than 1% leading to felony convictions.