Why We Need to Address Toxic Masculinity

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Why We Need to Address Toxic Masculinity

Conner Hua, Photography Editor

Toxic masculinity, as defined by Brown University, is the rigid societal expectations imposed on men, that can often result in psychological consequences from trying to conform to these definitions. If this is the first time you’ve heard about toxic masculinity as a concept, I wouldn’t be surprised. Up until only recently has society begun to embrace effeminate men, masculine men, and all men in between and shine a light on the devastating effects of toxic masculinity in leadership, our society, and our communities. However, for a large portion of history, it seemed as if men had no option but to be manly, stoic, and heroic. It’s time that we as a nation embrace that this epidemic is omnipresent and that its effects have been devastating. For far too long, men have never entertained the idea that their “masculine” characteristics are a facade they wear to be accepted, repressing anything otherwise. It’s time that we pull the curtain on societal standards for men and acknowledge that toxic masculinity exists.

The reason why this issue is crucial to address is that toxic masculinity affects not only men but everyone around them. In a nation gripped by systemic, pervasive male aggression, it’s quintessential we admit that the notions of masculinity we hold have become so narrow, that it’s become toxic.

First, let’s look at how toxic masculinity has influenced societal notions of “proper parenting”. As a society, we’ve raised our boys to be strong rather than sensitive, tough rather than tolerant, violent rather than vulnerable. It’s influenced parents to prematurely conform their children into what author Tony Porter defines as “the man box”.  Telling young boys from a young age to “man up” has infiltrated the diction of almost every parent. Every day, we impose the emotional claustrophobia of manhood onto young boys, denying them the innocent freedoms of boyhood, denying them opportunities to be vulnerable and sensitive, denying them of their right to grow into the man they want to be, not what society wants them to be. This is probably why psychologist Terry Reel claims that boys begin repressing their emotions between the ages of 3 and 5. So, how can this be fair? How can we be allowing societal notions of masculinity imprint itself onto impressionable young boys? When young girls are often provided an opportunity to align themselves on a spectrum of femininity, from “tomboy” to “princess”, our young boys aren’t being given a spectrum; they’re given a noxious definition of masculinity.

I think everyone has that one time in their lives they hate to remember. For me, like many others, it was sixth grade, specifically, 6th grade P.E. In his attempt to “encourage us”, my sixth grade P.E. teacher had many catchphrases, one of which in particular, is much more sinister in hindsight. “Quit running like a girl.” When we tell a boy he runs like a girl, or call him a drama queen in an effort to preemptively mature him into societal expectations of a man, he might become a man who sees women as weak. Maybe he becomes a movie producer named Harvey, a USA gymnastics doctor named Larry, or a comedian named Bill, or maybe he becomes our president. Maybe he becomes the reason why according to the Department of Justice, a woman in the United States experiences violence every 9 seconds. Through society’s rigid definitions of masculinity, we’ve taught young boys to turn femininity into an insult, women into, at best, a punchline, at worst, a punching bag.

However, toxic masculinity doesn’t only permeate into the communities that surround men; this affliction spares no one. Not even men themselves. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that an American man is four times more likely to commit suicide than an American woman. Think about it: how many times have you seen your father cry? How many times has one of your male friends opened up about their feelings, showed vulnerability? When we deny men opportunities to show emotion in fear of judgment, we deny them the cathartic ability to release pent emotions. When men internalize their depression, they’re left with nowhere to turn. By solving this issue, we can not only solve systemic male aggression that stems from childhood preconceptions, but we can hopefully save lives.

This issue can’t be solved by either house of Congress, the Supreme Court, and definitely not by the President of the U.S.; this rampant propagation of toxic masculinity has to be solved by us, me and you. It’s crucial that we change the way we force definitions of masculinity on our children. The person they will grow up to be revolves around how we as a society parent. Teaching our boys that it’s okay to show emotion, teaching our boys that it’s okay to be vulnerable, teaching our boys that you don’t have to be stoic and heroic to be a man. If we fail to do so, the men of tomorrow could still be four times as likely to kill themselves; your sons could be the headlines of yet another instance of male aggression. My journey of trying to get those around me to unlearn their preconceptions of toxic masculinity has been long and arduous; however, I refuse to give up. I refuse to let the future generations of America grow up feeling constricted by the same boxes of emotional claustrophobia that my generation and the generations that precede me grew up with.

Through mutual cooperation and a congregation of our efforts, we can be the inspiration. We can set the tone for future discussions about masculinity and how we choose to interpret it. Because it’s not about stoicism and emotional walls that will make your boys, men. It’s the ability to express yourself as you please, to be the person you want to be that makes a man, a man. We need to inspire those around us and together, we can tackle this epidemic and finally guarantee a safe environment for our boys to be the man they want to be.

Graphic courtesy by MEDIUM.COM