“By far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author
The origins of toxic masculinity began thousands of years ago when homo sapiens would use physical strength, dominance, and aggression to fight and hunt. These behaviors continued for centuries and into contemporary times where these behaviors are no longer necessary, yet the attitude is still promoted. Continuing this type of masculinity becomes toxic since it’s outdated and incompatible with current times.
Toxic masculinity occurs when cultural pressures condition men to behave in traditional, stereotypical masculine ways. Conforming to this type of behavior entails suppressing their feelings, avoiding distress, being “tough,” and using violence or aggression to portray their power. Toxic masculinity only allows space for men to behave according to masculine ideals, leaving little to no space for femininity, emotions, or help. Ultimately, the primary focus becomes on gaining power and respect and being strong.
Examples of this include saying “man up” or “boys will be boys.” These learned beliefs and behaviors not only contribute to disciplinary issues leading to expulsion and other consequences, but also contribute to mental health issues such as depression, excessive aggression, violence, and substance abuse. Toxic masculinity stresses the importance of avoiding feelings, and therefore compensatory behaviors are used in an effort to exhibit further masculinity.
One of the best ways to deal with toxic masculinity comes from other men themselves, whether that is from a father, brother, or friend. Learning to reject aggression and dominance are issues that men can work on confronting with one another within an effort to crumble the masculine norm. As the American Psychological Association states, “Boys learn to be men from the men in their lives, from their own experiences navigating our social norms, and from the large social and cultural context.”
Additionally, seeking professional therapy can help men reflect on their feelings and patterns, rather than reenacting learned behaviors. Therapy allows space to discuss feelings openly and redefine masculinity in a way that is healthy and individualized.
Ultimately, the encouragement of men embodying both feminine and masculine energies should be valued culturally and societally. Here’s to feeling (and expressing) all the feels—no matter your gender identity.
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