Now, for those of you reading along, I fully admitted to you all earlier this week that I identify as a Feminist. In saying that, I notice a significant number of barriers for women in mainstream society that men are not experiencing on a regular basis. However, in saying that, I also think it is important to note that men are not without barriers themselves. These barriers most often would fall under the description of “toxic masculinity” and all that it entails.
But, what does it entail?
According to Healthline Media, “toxic masculinity” is often a catch all phrase that is usually associated to all behaviours that are described as masculine or relating to men. Typically, it is more related to the theme of masculinity and has a lot of negative connotations with specific emphasis on;
- Mental and physical toughness
- Not displaying emotion
- Heterosexism or discrimination towards people who aren’t heterosexual
- Self-sufficiency or
- Emotional insensitivity
Now, some of the themes listed above are problematic regardless of who is exhibiting them. Homophobia, aggression and by extension violence, as well as cruelty are not appropriate behaviours for anyone, let alone men. These above descriptors are part of the problem because they make assumptions that males are adhering to these mentalities whereas for most men that is not the case. Creating a rhetoric that states all men fit into these above categories is exactly what toxic masculinity is doing. Creating a narrative that is unrealistic, unnatural and not the realities of the day to day lives of our male counterparts.
The language surrounding men and their expectations are exactly what is fostering these kinds of barriers. “Suck it up” ,“Be a man” or “you throw like a girl” are just a few of the words thrown a man’s way when he is having a hard time or not perceived as strong as the other man in his vicinity. “Real men don’t cry”, “he’s a guy, what do you expect?” or not allowing men to express emotions, any emotions, creates an allusion that men do not have the same range of emotions as their female counterparts. And, we all know that is just not accurate.
The problematic nature of toxic masculinity has not just created a narrative that presents inaccurate representation of what males actually are like, but when unchecked creates more issues. When a young boy or male views their lives through this narrow lens, they may only feel like they will gain acceptance by living up to these ideals. Creating an unrealistic expectation has been shown to lead to societal based problems such as entitlement, sexism, or hyper-competitiveness. In boys or young men, we have seen an increase in bullying, academic challenges, risky behaviors or even jail time. So, how do we change it?
Well, firstly, it is not just a man issue. Or a women issue for that matter. It is a human issue. So, what can we ALL do to make it irrelevant? Obsolete? Not an issue?
Firstly, men have emotions. Heaven forbid. Just like the rest of us. They want to cry, or yell, or laugh as is the human condition. They are both strong and weak at times, just like the rest of us. They are allowed to be self-sufficient but also ask for help. And, they are allowed to be soft, quiet and passive too. Their gender, just like our gender, is irrelevant. Humans are humans regardless of what is between their legs or what sex they identify with. Emotions are part of the human condition. Period. So there should be no expectation that men should not feel emotion, or have the ability to express it when they do.
Secondly, it is important to examine our underlying bias and how they are impacting how we perceive or expect men to behave. Take a genuine interest in the experiences of others and realize that we may be placing or expecting things from individuals that are not fair or not realistic without even knowing we are doing it. For example, expecting your husband to change your tires, or empty the garbage because it’s the “boys job” is placing requirements on someone that is not necessary and potential problematic for the male involved. And, this is just a simple example. We do it all the time as society and not even notice it, so the big step is starting to notice.
Finally, take a stand. In your day to day, take a stand when you are seeing rhetoric that is feeding into this toxic environment or taking a stand when you see other males, or yourself, exhibiting behaviors that feed into it. And, take a stand with our young boys. Teach them the variety of the male sex and all that it entails. Until we start showing boys, and men for that matter, that their gender, and the expectations placed on them, are fluid, ever changing, vulnerable and varied, nothing will change. They say variety is the spice of life, and in my men, variety is what I want. I want them to feel they can be THEM and whatever that looks like for them, not what society says it should be.