A couple of years back, while discussing with a couple of friends of mine, I used the phrase “toxic views of masculinity” to describe one of the many causes of a mass shooting. At least one of my mate took exception to the phrase and I realized that I hadn’t really defined it.
Academics and activists have begun using the term “toxic masculinity” quite commonly, but I haven’t yet seen a good definition.
First of all, let’s just highlight what toxic masculinity is not.
No one is saying that masculinity or those men themselves are toxic or bad. You are free to like and be in the shoes of being stereotyped, liking: sports, cars, the opposite sex, with no judgement. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with these things.
When does masculinity become toxic?
It all starts when rejection is derived from the perceptions of the opposite, femininity, that is so pervasive as to become unhealthy for both men and those around them.
And who are victims?
Most of the time, women and children are victimized by toxic masculinity, through domestic and other violence, but men are victimized by it too. Toxic masculinity stunts cognitive, intellectual, and emotional growth. This damage is part of what fuels the victimization of women. They can understand this only if they are open to their emotions, and opening up
can be really tough for anyone.
What do they miss?
By rejecting stereotypically feminine stuff, men and boys are taught to reject an essential part of themselves, something that needs to be valued. What’s more, these allegedly “female traits” are often the one that helps us all get along in society. Things like compassion, empathy, even politeness. A man and boy displaying these traits often invite ridicule. It’s a known customary thing that boys are taught from a very early age to reject all things feminine, from the colour pink to television shows or art and drama movies that feature girls as a primary character.
Consider that when a girl acts like a boy. She is often praised. A lot of celebrity women proudly describes themselves as “tomboys” when they were young, a badge of honour. And what’s the reverse equivalent of “tomboy”? Well, the most commonly used terminology for us is “sissy”, so let’s take that into consideration (there are worse!). Rather than putting it up as a badge of honour, acting like girls is a point of utter shame for some reason for society. So the point taken here in consideration is when women are not afraid of being recognized as a boy and stepping into the shoes of being a powerhouse, then why should a man be ashamed to mellow out his feelings and just be calm and soothing like a woman?
How does the journey take place?
Boys are taught, often as toddlers, and often by parents, not to cry. They must “man up” long before they even prove themselves of being a man. Most display of emotions, other than anger and pride, are deemed, suspect.
The result of this is men who do not know how to handle and express themselves, who lack empathetic intelligence, act out in ways, large and small, that are not healthy, either for them or for those around them. This may result in violence which can get ugly on a whole different level in no time.
“What’s the biggest common denominator in mass shootings? Weapon type? Mental illness? Nope. Almost all of the perpetrators are men. Women suffer mental illness at roughly the same rate as men, but almost none commit large-scale violence.”
It can be established that men are somewhat more biologically prone to violence and aggression (the reason being they themselves have an open invitation for such emotions) but we exaggerate this with a culture that shames men for even the slightest emotional display.
Luckily, there is pushback, led by people like Terry Crews, Mark Ruffalo, Patrick Stewart, Will Smith, Ashton Kutcher and many more and a variety of others from varying perspectives.
It’s not that masculinity itself is toxic, but “our narrow, conformist, violent, bullying version of it is.”
It’s time to change that.