The term “toxic masculinity” is used widely these days, but what does this relatively new term even mean? Who decided what masculinity is and what toxic masculinity is? What problems can these definitions cause in society? As we enter men’s mental health week at B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy (June 21st -25th), I decided to look into this topic further.
Where does this toxic masculinity originate from?
The ideas of masculine and feminine are derived from prehistoric times when the traditional gender roles were very closely linked to survival. Men in those times were hunters and therefore qualities such as aggression, strength, and ruthlessness were favoured as they resulted in successful hunts, dominance, and survival. The idea of masculinity was not changed until the 1980’s when the outdated definition began to be challenged more openly. This prehistoric idea of masculinity is no longer compatible with our current society and those traits are not always as valued as they once were, this shift has resulted in the idea of toxic masculinity.
What is toxic masculinity?
The term “toxic masculinity” is widely used and often overextended to refer to a number of different things. Basically speaking, “toxic masculinity” refers to the pressure’s men feel to meet societal expectations and to behave in specific ways based on the prehistoric ideals of men. It refers to the damage that can be done when men feel the need to live up to these outdated standards, fail to do so, or do not naturally exhibit these features.
Toxic masculinity has led to several issues for men, specifically and society as a whole. It has led to bullying, mental health and physical health issues, gender role confusion, sexual assault, domestic violence, rape culture, homophobia, and more. Many men have disclosed that they choose not to share when they are struggling mentally or physically for fear of being seen as “weak” or “less of a man” or being told to “man up”. This leads to untreated mental and physical health issues, illness, suffering, death, and suicide.
Women are also impacted by toxic masculinity. Many women who have experienced abuse or assaults have been victims of the “boys will be boys” mentality which excuses the violent or aggressive behaviour causing even more trauma. Young girls are taught that if a boy bugs you or bothers you it is because they like you, which leads to confusions in what to look for in a partner. There are a number of reasons why the idea of toxic masculinity needs to go.
What can we do?
At this point, “toxic” masculinity is very ingrained in our society and almost everyone has been or will be affected by it in some way. Working to alleviate toxic masculinity is not going to be easy, but it is important. The most important thing for us as a society to do is to be comfortable with who we are and encourage others to be so too. We can work to bring attention to the issue, challenge those around us, teach our children new ideas, and have the difficult conversations. Expand the definition of masculinity to include things such as nurturing, interdependence, vulnerability, cooperation, and kindness. Each small change makes a big difference in the long run.
The men in our lives are important for many reasons, they play many important roles in our lives and bring more to the table than just aggression or dominance. Men everywhere deserve to be loved for who and how they are and to be part of a society that will accept them, support them, and make it comfortable for them to ask for help. During this men’s mental health week, thank a man (or boy) in your life. Tell them you love them and compliment a non-traditional masculine quality in them.
For more information on Men’s Mental Health, visit our blog section – Forgotten Fathers: Providing Post-Partum Support for Dads and The Importance of De-Stigmatizing Men’s Mental Health
Amy Shaw, MSW, RSW
Licensed Clinical Therapist
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy
What to Know About Toxic Masculinity. Johnson J. (2020). https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-masculinity