As you scroll through social media or read the news, you might have come across the term “toxic masculinity.” What exactly does it mean, and how does masculinity become toxic?
“Toxic masculinity” can be a difficult concept to wrestle with because as men, many of us enjoy activities that are viewed as traditionally masculine. For example, more than a few of us have a football club we passionately support, and who doesn’t like a few rounds of beers with the lads after work?
On a deeper level, traditional notions of masculinity also make us better sons, brothers, and dads. Many of us feel responsible for our families as men and work hard to put food on the table. In this regard, traditional ideas of masculinity awaken in us the instinct to provide and protect. Surely there’s nothing “toxic” about that?
No, there are plenty of ways in which traditional notions of masculinity are good and healthy. Indeed, an expert opines that “masculinity is diverse and complex, shaped by an individual’s racial, social class, religious, and cultural identities, as well as by their experiences.”
It only becomes a problem when traditional notions of masculinity become so rigid and stifling that it inhibits a man’s ability to connect with his emotions in a healthy way. This then leads to anger, addiction, and mental health problems. One definition of toxic masculinity is “some people’s idea of “manliness” perpetuates domination, homophobia, and aggression.”
At b1oke, we want every man to live emotionally healthy, full lives. And that means tackling anything that holds men back, including toxic masculinity.
Let’s look at some examples of how toxic masculinity manifests itself.
Fearful of Showing Any Signs of Weakness
Men have been traditionally taught to be strong and to not betray any signs of weakness. Nothing encapsulates this better than the British notion of the “stiff upper lip.” Men are supposed to always appear in control in spite of their circumstances.
We see this in practise when playing contact sports. So often, when injured during a sporting accident, men are expected to shrug it off and continue playing. There simply is no time to moan about when the clock is ticking.
However, this notion of not showing any signs of weakness becomes a very real problem when men are faced with deep emotional challenges that they simply refuse to recognize. At b1oke, we spend a lot of time talking to other men to hear about their challenges. Far too often, when men encounter crippling life challenges, such as the loss of income or the death of a loved one, they spare no time to process their emotions and instead focus all their attention on putting on a brave face.
As the saying goes, “time heals all wounds” - but does it? This may be somewhat true in a physical sense, but it is not necessarily true emotionally. Many men simply refuse to contemplate an inner wound and would rather carry on pretending that all is well. Needless to say, they never get the help they need in order to get back on their feet.
This then leads to the next two ways that toxic masculinity manifests itself.
Irrational Outbursts of Anger
When negative emotions are not dealt with in a healthy manner and are instead kept bottled up, they often spill out into the open during seemingly random moments.
Have you ever been in a situation in which a seemingly innocuous argument with a spouse turns into a shouting match? Or when a simple remark that rubs you the wrong way makes you turn hot with rage? These are sure signs that there is emotional baggage within you that has not been properly dealt with.
When men don’t allow themselves to process their emotions in a healthy way, they often express them through irrational outbursts of anger. This, in turn, causes the people around you to avoid you, thus worsening your sense of isolation.
A study has shown how toxic masculinity can “result in violence against the self and others.” In other words, when toxic emotions are allowed to simmer underneath the surface for too long, men sometimes react in violence - violence against others, and violence against the self.
Violence against the self could mean self-harm, or in the most extreme scenario, suicide. Sadly, suicide is extremely common among men. One man every two hours takes his life in the UK. It is the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45. These statistics alone should tell us all we need to know about the devastating effects of the culture of silence among men.
Relying On Addictions To Feel Better
What happens when you’re left with unresolved emotional conflict and feeling unable to cope? Oftentimes, the answer is addiction, whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex, or any other repeated behaviour that is used to fill an emotional void.
Studies have shown that men are more likely than women to turn to addiction. Research found that “men are more likely to abuse illicit drugs and alcohol – 11.5% of males over 12 have a substance use disorder, compared to 6.4% of females.”
What makes men so vulnerable to addictive habits? One suggestion is that men “have been conditioned to believe they can solve their problems on their own” and are more likely to “associate drinking to excess and experimenting with illicit drugs as a rite of passage or a sign of manly behavior.”
In other words, addiction is toxic masculinity at its worst. Not only does it entrench men in habits that are destructive to themselves and those closest to them, it makes them even less likely to get the help they need.
A Better Way Forward
At b1oke, we are passionate about tackling toxic masculinity and helping men live truly healthy and happy lives. Dismantling toxic masculinity doesn’t mean dismantling masculinity itself; instead, it’s about living life more authentically as a man, while ensuring that we have the courage to seek help when necessary.
Are you ready to take on a journey towards a healthier, more positive vision of masculinity? If so, we’d like nothing more than for you to join us in carrying this important cause forward.