Toxic Masculinity: misinterpreted, misguided

The idea of ‘toxic masculinity’ is often confused with masculinity itself – being male. This belief is certainly misguided and is sometimes considered as an attack on all men. Toxic masculinity is not the concept of being male; it is behaviour that exaggerates or misinterprets the idea of masculinity by encouraging aggressiveness, and shunning sensitivity or feminine behavior.

Boys should only play sports
“Ballet is for girls”
“You look like a girl in pink”

The above sound like extremely common statements passed at boys and men alike. This is the worst of them all:

“Boys don’t cry”

Unfortunately, a lot of boys are encouraged to fit into into a defined perception of masculinity and if they don’t behave that way, they are shamed until they do so.

Better out than in

Society gives boys all kinds of cues as to what’s considered masculine; even parents and teachers tell boys to be strong and ‘man-up’. Boys from a very young age are forgiven for being assertive, loud and controlling, but not for displaying emotional behaviors. But by asking a growing child not to cry and to hold in the pain, it can lead to anxiety and anger issues, stress, and even depression as they as they grow up.

Once these boys grow up, they are afraid to ask for help for emotional problems as they feel that it signals weakness. Justin Baldoni mentioned in his TED talk that he knows a “man who would rather die, than tell another man that he’s hurting”.

Aggression breeds crime

In an article this year, Bazaar linked the mass shooting in schools and workplaces to men and boys who felt the need to forcibly reclaim their societal position.

Domestic abuse and rape often has its roots in toxic masculinity, where men feel they have a right over women.

Being called a “girl” was often used as an insult among boys, so when they grow up and notice men doing anything ‘feminine’, they feel need to prove their dominance, either through verbal abuse (which is often seen in films) or physical abuse, similar to what happened earlier this May in Florida.

Toxic mentality

Both men and women are guilty of spreading toxic masculinity by perpetuating the ‘male’ stereotype. It can only stop when boys aren’t forced to be dominant; they should be allowed to embrace being vulnerable. It takes more courage to express emotions than simply being angry.

A survey conducted recently by NTU and Indiana University concluded that aspects of toxic masculinity are causing mental health issues in men. Sensitive men are bullied for not being ‘masculine’ enough, and strong men are embarrassed to ask for help – none of which encourage healthy mental states.

It’s only once they’ve truly accepted their emotions that men and boys are able to live free of toxic masculinity.

Text by Sheoli Biswas. This is an excerpt from Campus Issue 55 – the ‘Issues Issue’. Read more about toxic masculinity and other ‘issues’ here.