The views expressed in this piece belong to the author and not necessarily to Gildshire or the other authors employed by the organization.
The media loves buzzwords and “toxic masculinity” has become popular in recent years. It is a bit confusing, so let’s take some time to break down what it really means. First off, the term “toxic” is not referring to masculinity as a whole, but serves as a distinction from “healthy” masculinity. Toxic masculinity manifests in men when they seek to dominate and manipulate others, repress their emotions, and exploit their power. That becomes strength, and appearing weak is the worst thing that could happen. When seen in other men, that weakness is often punished through verbal abuse like name-calling (“pussy,” “sissy,” and more that won’t be printed here) and even violence.
How society enforces toxic masculinity
In a report by the American Psychology Association, “traditional” masculinity emphasizes traits like “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness,” and so on. Think about most action movies and other forms of media. Male heroes never cry, they frequently react with violence at the drop of a hat, and cope with their emotions by drinking, doing drugs, or engaging in other destructive behavior. Men who appear “feminine” in some way are villainized or mocked.
Think that doesn’t happen anymore or that it doesn’t happen in the real world? Piers Morgan mocked actor Daniel Craig just last year for wearing a papoose to carry his daughter, tweeting, “Oh, 007…not you as well?! #emasculatedBond.” Stay at-home dads still get ribbed all the time, as do men who choose certain clothing, enjoy certain hobbies or jobs, or aren’t muscular. Women as well as men are often the mockers, but both groups are enforcing the same rigid standards for masculinity. It causes significant harm to men.
Effects of TM
Let’s look at just one example: mental health. According to WHO, males are four times more likely than females to commit suicide. This is most likely because boys learn from a young age to stay quiet about their emotions. They bottle them up, often acting out in destructive ways. When they get older, men are less likely to seek out therapy. A study from the Mental Health Foundation revealed that out of 2,500 men and women with mental health issues, 28% of men said they had not sought help. That same study also found that men were less likely to talk about their problems with their own family and friends. Locked in their own heads without support, too many men find themselves driven to the edge. The belief that “real men” don’t cry, don’t talk about their feelings, and don’t go to therapy is literally killing them.
Toxic versus healthy
What is healthy masculinity, then? Take a look at public figures like Terry Crews. No one can deny he is “manly” in the traditional sense. However, he is also very open about his emotions, mental health, and artistic side. Jason Momoa, known for uber-manly characters like Aquaman and Drago, had no qualms about what many consider a “girly” color when he sported a pink suit and scrunchie at the Academy Awards. Michael B. Jordan of the new “Creed” films and Black Panther, hired a woman to head his production company, saying it was a goal he’s always had given the problems with wage gaps and opportunities for women in Hollywood.
Healthy masculinity is about vulnerability, personal confidence, and taking a stand for others. It doesn’t care about “traditional” roles for mothers or fathers or associate femininity with weakness. While toxic masculinity is about fitting inside a box, even if it hurts, healthy masculinity is about freedom from those destructive rules.
Interested in other mental health news? Learn about the effects of exercise, especially running.