Toxic Masculinity- How “Boys Will Be Boys” Culture Only Gives Men One Way to “Be a Man”

BY:ALLISON RIGLER

         Toxic Masculinity is a term often thrown around when talking about men, but what does it really mean? Toxic Masculinity is a term that describes the masculine teachings that only describe one way to be a man. This phrase has long been used by academics to define regular acts of aggression used by men in positions of power to dominate people around them.Toxic masculinity teaches society that men cannot cry, dress or  act in a “feminine” way. These restrictive ideals creates a narrative that leaves men on the outs of society when they step out of what it means to “be a man”. Gay men, queer men, non identifying, masculine presenting or just men who want to experiement with their sexuality and gender are constantly ridiculed and mocked by society.

Toxic Masculinity is not a term that is meant to call out or add insult or injury to an entire gender or masculine mindset. Many men even use this term to call awareness to the issue. Wade Davis, a former football player turned femisnist spokesperson said, “I used to be defensive, too. I used to be the person who would say ‘Not All Men’. I really think the key for me, and a lot of men, is that we actually have no clue what your [women’s] lives are like…for all the rules I was taught on how to be a man, I was never taught how to be myself and love myself.” Wade Davis is one of many men who are speaking out about the toxic culture of sports towards LGBTQ men and how the culture fuels the abuse towards the LGBTQ community and women.

When girls show more “masculine” or” boyish”  traits or activities it’s called “being a tomboy” and it is looked upon as a respectable style. But when a man decides to wear pink or  makeup, all of the sudden he is labeled as questioning his sexuality or gender. This is severely damaging when “alpha male” types taunt and ridicule the men that are experimenting with style, gender, or sexuality. The only thing that makes someone different is how they identify themselves. But why is it that when a man shows any “feminine” traits he is less than other men? 

For centuries women and feminine traits have been seen as weaker or less credible than men or masculine traits because of the idea that women are the “weaker sex”. Now that we are closer to gender equality than ever, it has become a subconscious thought that being feminine is weak while being masculine is strong and desirable. This is especially noticeable to how feminine and masculine presenting people express emotion. Feminine presenting and women are expected by society to be more “emotional”, blaming the feminine traits or menstruation as the reason why women are irrational and can’t make decisions. Men are expected to show very little emotion or empathy and they are degraded for crying-“boys don’t cry”- but are accepted for showing anger. This leads to a damaged mental psyche and makes men who feel that societal pressure to not show emotion susceptible to higher rates of depression and anxiety and less likely to reach out for help because of it. This repression of emotions and feelings can lead to outbursts of anger or self medication according to a 2003 work of Harvard Professor of Psychiatry, EJ Khantzian, which linked repression of emotion to self-medication through drugs and alcohol as a way of achieving emotional and psychological stability.

Toxic masculinity also gives rise to the “boys will be boys culture” where men are given the pass of bad behavior because they are only boys, while girls are punished for childish behaviors that men possess well into adulthood. With little consequences for their actions, especially for white men, they get little to no repercussions for sexual assault and rape. men who are assaulted by other men or even by women, they are made fun of or not believed because “a man can’t be raped..”Why do we think that? Is it because men are usually seen as the rapist? With the #MeToo movement both men and women have gotten the courage to report rapists, but people are more worried about the man’s career saying “this one claim ruined this man’s whole career!” while the person who was assaulted had their whole life ruined.

Men are not naturally violent-but with decades old strict societal norms that equate being a man to having power, whether from physical, sexual or intellectual prowess, we are getting rapists, murderers, and men that abuse any power they have if they feel their masculinity threatened. Men who feel their masculinity needs protecting are the ones that we see on the news that assault, rape or kill women that reject them. Men who feel their masculinity needs boosting are the ones that use women as objects, and who laugh about manipulating and gaslighting their partners.

A few years ago, toxic masculinity was never a problem that crossed my mind. I have been lucky to be surrounded by male family and friends who never made me think that I was in danger or that I needed to worry about their safety or my safety. But now I have seen and experienced first hand the repercussions of toxic masculinity; it’s harmful to anyone and everyone in society. Now, the conversation is reaching all parts of society, and men are actively working to check each other on toxic masculinity and dismantling rape culture. More and more men are experimenting with makeup and fashion and are being celebrated. Men are embracing emotion and actively showing affection to friends and family. Keeping the conversation going is progress and is exposing everyone to the flaws of traditional gender roles and standards.

To learn more about Toxic Masculinity, check out “Mask of Masculinity” TED Talk by Wade Davis.


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