08 Oct Toxic Masculinity – 5 Things You Didn’t Know
Let’s start at the beginning. What the heck is Toxic Masculinity anyway?
brave stupid enough to check the Urban Dictionary for some informal definitions. Is it?:
A term invented by man-hating fake feminists seeking to suppress men's biological traits.
A healthy trait native to and suitable for men that turns poisonous when feminist women seek to destroy men
A social science term that describes a narrow repressive type of idea about the male gender role
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the stage: The minefield of Toxic Masculinity.
The words themselves could potentially drive someone away from the discussion, so I'll keep this fact based. Numbers based. Science based.
One thing we can all agree on is that life is tough, no matter who you are. When you look at the statistics for suffering though, at what groups are most likely to die by suicide, kill their partners, die from fatal illnesses or suffer from depression... you start to see a horrible gender-shaped pattern that is literally killing men and women. And we need to talk about it.
Take this chilling pair of facts:
If You’re a man under 45 years old, the think most likely to kill you is… YOU
If you’re a woman under 45 years old, the biggest preventable contributor of your death is… your male intimate partner (or ex-partner)
Now, I’m a mom of two gorgeous little boys (I’m biased. I know. I’m ok with it). They’re not the problem. Your brother, father, male neighbour, postman, partner is not the problem. If you’re a man reading this, welcome, you are also not the problem. Phew, right? Let me just point out that masculinity itself isn't even the problem.
So let’s take a look at this culture of Toxic Masculinity. What does it even mean? Is it an attack on men? And what can we do to help?
Toxic masculinity is NOT masculinity
Ta daaahhh! That’s right. You heard me. It’s not. So don’t even. Men are great. Masculinity is great. Anyone who says otherwise is a foolish fool.
The Good Man Project defines Toxic Masculinity as:
A narrow and repressive description of manhood, where strength is everything, 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'
In other words, there are lots of different ways to be a man. It's only toxic when we allow one version of manliness become a dictator.
If you look at it another way, Feminism has helped us see that there are so many different ways of being a woman. Nowadays a woman won't automatically lose her membership to the LadyClub if she hasn’t perfected her Soufflé recipe just yet.
Shouldn’t it be the same for men? The culture of Toxic Masculinity is failing us because ‘men and boys who don’t fit the description, feel like they’re failing at being a man. (tolerance.org)
It’s important to understand the distinction before we move on, because the culture of Toxic Masculinity is NOT masculinity. It’s the enemy of men and truly free and inclusive masculinity... and it needs to go do one.
Evolution and hormones can’t explain the rigid gender roles we have in today’s society.
News just in… Men’s brains and women’s brains are not that different. Socially speaking.
Boys will be boys? It’s the testosterone? It’s just evolution? Nahh mate. Those are just weak excuses to justify bad behaviour. They're not correct. They’re not even backed up by science.
Yes, there are some biological differences in women’s and men’s brains. But that’s sex, my friends. Not gender.
There's actually very little scientific evidence that biological differences in the brain are the reason for rigid gender stereotypes in today’s society. Social and cultural differences are far more influential in creating gender roles.
A report from the University of Minnesota found that parents treat boys and girls children differently from the moment they are born. They also roughhouse more with their boys and sit and cuddle their girls more. Adults in general use different words to describe boys and girls' personalities and actions.
In my own research with the Feminist Book Test, out of 25 random children’s books, the physical looks of the female characters featured 33 times. For the male characters the focus was on their strength or status. All twenty five male main characters solved their own problems. Only three female characters managed the same.
So it's socialisation and culture that create and reinforce rigid gender stereotypes. Not biology.
That means everyone is free to express emotions. Be a leader. Be sensitive. Care for children. Enjoy crochet, while weight lifting and have multiple sex partners (or none at all) . #goals
3. Men don’t really aspire to the characteristics valued by the culture of Toxic Masculinity
A report in the UK in 2017 found the majority of men didn't aspire to be hyper-sexual, physically violent, emotionless breadwinners. Gasp! Who’s shocked? Not I.
The Masculinity Report found that the majority of men surveyed, valued characteristics like reliability, dependability, honesty and loyalty. These were the characteristics they attributed to being a good man. Oooh, that sounds nice. In fact that sounds like a lot of men I know.
And on the other hand, characteristics that we see more heavily in the media as ‘the real man’ (Super athletic. Brave. Adventurous. Stoic) were some of the least valued of the whole report.
If we don’t fight back against restrictive gender stereotypes though, those other values and ways of being a man will be lost. When we teach our little boys that they can’t express their emotions, we encourage them to grow up into men who suffer in silence. When we teach our little boys that they have to be strong and independent, we make it difficult for them to ask for help when trouble really hits.
'Boys will be boys’ doesn't help our boys learn how to become good men. It just sets the bar lower for them. And that’s not good enough.
4. Toxic Masculinity has a real and terrible affect on your health (yes, YOURS!)
There was famous (and terrible) experiment carried out by Frederick II (Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily’). He wanted to see what language babies would speak if they weren't influenced by any mother tongue. Nurses cared for a group of babies, feeding and bathing them but never speaking to them. What language did they speak? English? Aramaic? Hebrew?
Unfortunately they never spoke any language. Every one of them, starved of basic human interaction and connection, passed away.
Now, let’s take another look at the culture of Toxic Masculinity - it teaches our boys they have to be independent. ‘Real men’ have to be the ones to solve their own problems, can’t can’t ask for help, have to be breadwinners. We teach them that cuddles are not for them. That they can't cry, feel afraid, or show their love for their friends.
SO basically, we’re starving them of basic human interaction and connection. The culture of toxic masculinity is a modern, socially accepted form of Frederick's experiment and it’s destroying our men and boys. And the results?
76% of all suicides are men
96% of all prison inmates are men
70% of all homeless people are men
Men are more likely to become drug addicts
Death of a spouse is more likely to cause suicide for men than for women
Scientific studies show that boys as young as five already repress their feelings and hide signs of weakness in order to appear more ‘masculine’.
Suffer from depression
Engage in self harm
Engage in dangerous behaviour
Have poorer mental health
They were also less likely to:
Seek help for their mental health issues
Have a personal doctor (Increasing risk of death
Catch a illness before it becomes terminal
Mark Greene of the NY Times hit the nail on the head when he said:
‘Men are not naturally inclined toward the toxic confines of the man-box. If they were, it wouldn’t be killing them!’
5. Toxic Masculinity is a hammer for dealing with emotions. We need a whole toolbox!
Ashanti Branch is a public school teacher in the US. He deals with boys and girls who, unfortunately, go through tough situations in their day to day lives.
What he noticed though, was that the girls were encouraged to talk to each other. Allowed to cry. Feel afraid. Ask for help and to care for each other.
The boys were not.
Although the boys were going through the same kind of pain, the culture of toxic masculinity was teaching them they'd be less ‘manly’ if they did any of that.
Branch beautifully described this gender gap in emotional management as a tool box issue. He says to his boys ‘You walk around with a tool box full of hammers. You hammer everything. All you needed was a little screwdriver.’
A little screwdriver - isn’t that fab?
Our gorgeous, tender, happy little boys. We need to teach them, just as much as girls, that it's ok to reach out to a friend. To cry. To enjoy a more 'feminine' hobby. We need to fight for our screwdrivers, and wrenches, and saws and... well, you get the metaphor, right?
A World Without Toxic Masculinity?
So, friends, what would a world without the culture of Toxic Masculinity look like? It'd be a world where all types of manhood are celebrated. Wether that’s a dominant, muscular, commanding kind of guy, or a tranquil, sensitive, modest one. Whether it’s the guy who cries during nature documentaries, or the one who doesn't.
And most importantly... nobody, NOBODY would be made to feel like less of a man for simply existing in their own basic humanity.
So go ahead. Grab a wrench and tell us how you feel.