Toxic masculinity is exactly what the name suggests, toxic.
Defined as ‘a set of attitudes stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.’, it is no doubt an issue that many of us may have already heard of, and have seen its ramifications being talked about; yet many would continue to subtly and subconsciously build this stigma with phrases such as ‘Man up’, or ‘Boys don’t cry’ - even though these are merely words, they have a much deeper psychological effect than one may believe.
1 in 5 men will not reach the age of 50 in America, this is due to the social constructs that have built up over decades. A few of the leading causes of death for men are interpersonal violence and road accidents, directly related to socially constructed “macho” behaviors. According to a World Health Organization report, the gender roles, norms and practices socially imposed on men reinforce a lack of self-care and neglect of their own physical and mental health, manifesting itself in a multitude of outlets that include physical violence, and mental health risks.
Toxic masculinity is a global and collective set of biases. It affects, in one way or another, most of our population. The degrees of impact can vary, but as a whole, it is a concept which brings about negative connotations of how to improve our society, constrained values when regarding gender and the gender gap. Much emphasis is placed on gender equality, and while this is extremely prominent and germane to our times, we can sometimes fail to address some of the root causes that are key factors in equality. The ubiquitous concept of toxic masculinity leads to three broad risks according to the aforementioned report- risk to women and children, risk to other men and risk to self. All 3 of these risks reveal themselves in different forms. Whether they be in the form of domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, accidents, homicides, suicide, alcoholism and other mental health deprecations that reverberate into much more drastic, or even fatal consequences.
Whenever a man actively follows the imposed ‘rules’ of masculinity, such as exerting aggressive and domineering behavior towards others, especially women, this puts a massive strain on prejudiced attitudes, pulling a thread for much wider problems in society, including but not limited to sexual assault, gun violence and even rape in extreme cases. This behavior may not only be outwardly reflected, but the majority is exuded inwardly, in cases of addiction, depression and suicide.
Statistically speaking, around 78% of suicides are committed by males, while women stand at 22%. While this is not to be scoffed at, there must be a deeper reason for the percentage to increase over threefold for males. Some mental health clinicians say the behavior is connected to a need, more specifically, vulnerability. From an early age, boys are taught to hide their ‘feminine’ side or vulnerability - to ‘man up’. This perpetual cycle of repression of ‘weaknesses’ manifests transforms itself into a plethora of unaddressed mental health issues, namely anxiety and depression, and is exacerbated by the fact that men are far less likely to reach out for help than women, due to the fear of being judged as ‘weak’, or ‘unmanly’. As a society, we have constructed a social stigma that has proven itself to have detrimental effects that translate into anger and repression, an everlasting cycle.
There is a silver lining to this, stemming from the fact that it is all a social construct. The main solution is simply, speaking up. Correcting someone when they subtly imply a more negative connotation to their words can make a large impact over time. Teaching your friends and family about this underlying issue can begin to lessen the impact it has on men.
As of 2022, a growing number of young men are beginning to break these cycles of the norms by rejecting them and speaking up and asking for help through online therapy, or counseling. Advocacy and education is key in protecting boys, by teaching them to embrace their emotions and lose the obligation to hide them. By educating our society more on these issues through the implementation of more effective methods of advocacy, such as free workshops and counseling for those who wish to alleviate their struggles; through compulsory education for parents on how they can raise their children mindfully, changing the mindsets and perspectives of many can shift the attitude towards not just words, but changes through actions. On social media, funds can be raised for the improvement of these campaigns and workshops.
As we strive for a modern society, it’s crucial that everyone understands the urgency of mental health, and its factors, to initiate a healthy society, physically and mentally.