The term “toxic masculinity” is commonly referenced today, but what does it actually mean? Toxic masculinity is a term that describes how certain traits associated with masculinity can cause harm to men, women, and all members of society. It isn’t supposed to be used as an insult, but instead looks at behavior that has a negative impact on people. Challenging toxic masculinity can help improve men’s mental health and create a safer space for women and non-binary people as well.
How can toxic masculinity be bad?
As the term suggests, toxic masculinity is toxic for men’s mental health, because it tells men that the only way they can become a “real man” is to align themselves with outdated perceptions of what masculinity requires of them. This can include suppressing emotions, acting tough, and not relying on anyone but themselves, which makes it incredibly difficult to reach out for help. The suppression of problems and emotions can lead to issues around anger management, loneliness, depression, violence, and can contribute to situations or perceived power dynamics that make others (women, LGBTQ+, minorities, other men) feel unsafe.
Why do people engage in toxic behaviors?
Displays of toxic masculinity often come from a very vulnerable place. Just as women’s behavior can be affected by certain gender expectations, men may be putting on a toxic persona to feel accepted.
How can we challenge toxic masculinity?
Talk about it
One of the most effective ways to challenge toxic masculinity is to have conversations about it. Ask people, regardless of their gender or identity, what they think toxic masculinity is and how it may affect them. Try to identify situations where toxic masculinity may have an effect. If people get defensive, reiterate that you aren’t trying to attack anyone, but are simply trying to broaden your own understanding of toxic masculinity through conversation.
If you witness someone engaging in toxic behaviors, the worst thing you can do is stay silent. Your silence communicates your accordance with their actions and further justifies what they are doing. Even though it may be difficult, especially in a group setting, try your best to let that person know that you think what they’re doing is wrong. It can be something as simple as “you shouldn’t do/say that.” The more you speak up, the more people will think twice before they do or say something, which could help them shift their attitude in a positive direction.
Chances are that you have been brought up in a culture that stereotypes genders, and so it’s important to check your own assumptions that may be informed by limiting or offensive stereotypes. If you catch yourself engaging in toxic behavior or having harmful or offensive thoughts, then take a moment to reflect on it, ask yourself where it came from, and how you really feel about it.
Encourage people to talk about how they’re feeling
Men are less likely to speak openly about their struggles and emotions because traditional expectations of men, like “real men don’t cry,” are still felt. To address this, try to encourage everyone, most especially men, to talk about their struggles. If they are unwilling to speak to you, then perhaps suggest counseling so that they can express how they’re feeling in a safe and judgment-free space.