How toxic masculinity hurts both men and women.
“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
– Margaret Atwood.
Despite progress in gender equality over recent decades there is still a lot of inequality between men and women, as illustrated by Atwood. Toxic masculinity, in the form of crude, sexist behaviour, persists when little is done to lessen this issue. It hurts both men and women, as it creates outdated, unrealistic expectations for men, and takes individuality away from women by objectifying them.
It spreads through gender stereotypes. A 2018 study of young Australian men found those who “conform to traditional definitions of manhood are more likely to suffer harm to themselves, and harm others”, noting that toxic masculinity appears when young men feel peer pressure to behave in a stereotypically “macho” manner, which they often take to mean run amok.
Conforming to outdated views of masculinity has other drawbacks, including reduced social support networks, poor mental health, and a tendency to behave crudely.
It Stereotypes Men:
Toxic Masculinity is spread when crude, sexist behaviour is excused with phrases such as “boys will be boys”, which, in stereotyping men, removes individual responsibility. Stereotypes are harmful, as they rob people of their individuality by placing them into categories. Gender stereotypes used to be everywhere, and only recently have they started being challenged: boys were fighters, and should be interested in macho, action-oriented pastimes like play fighting. Girls were petite and nurturing and should focus their interests in things like looking pretty. This view was endorsed in mainstream media coverage, which presented macho men like Arnold Schwarzenegger as the epitome of masculinity, and stylish women like Reese Witherspoon as embodying ideal “feminine” traits.
Christopher Flett, author of What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business, states that males are conditioned to not display certain emotions “because we are taught that it is weak to do so. Men don’t cry! Or if we do, we’ll rarely admit to it.” Conditioning males to only behave a certain way, and not pursue any interests that fall outside the limited scope of stereotypical manliness is toxic masculinity’s foundation.
Supporting this, University of Calgary Masculinity Studies Professor Michael Kehler argues “supportive parents should allow boys an opportunity to explore an array of interests — as well as an array of emotions that are often guarded… because of external social pressures to be accepted within male peer groups.”
Telling boys that they need to act a certain way to be accepted by their peers spreads the misconception that you are not a ‘man’ unless you behave in that manner, and removing their freedom of expression endorses toxic masculinity.
Outdated gender stereotypes are found in things such as action movies telling boys that it is unmanly to cry, raunchy sex comedies about boys needing to ‘score’, and telling anyone that, rather than pursuing their passion they should do something more ‘macho’.
It spreads when vulgar behaviour is dismissed with remarks about how “boys can’t help themselves.” Not true, every time they make a sexist remark or dirty joke, they are endorsing it and should be held accountable.
Eliminating it starts on an individual level. Support children in pursuing whatever their passion is. Question outdated views, such as “men don’t cry”. Challenging gender stereotypes is important, because by dismissing these notions, we give everyone the freedom to do whatever makes them happy, whilst placing responsibility for bad behaviour solely on individuals. And you know what the result of that will be? Positive masculinity.