"Man up, men don't cry!" How often have you heard this phrase told to a boy? You may have said it yourself or have been told it as a child. Despite the fact that sayings like this are very common, it is such ideologies that can lead to so-called "toxic masculinity". Toxic masculinity has been known through time to cause harm to women, as it often results in violence and abuse; however, toxic masculinity can be just as detrimental to the well-being of boys and men. In a society that often seems plagued with toxic masculinity, it is essential to understand the frightening ways that both women and men are affected.
What is toxic masculinity?
Before diving into how toxic masculinity is detrimental to everyone, it is crucial first to understand what toxic masculinity is. While many people believe that the idea of toxic masculinity is an attack on men, it is actually when boys/men who are conformed to traditional male ideologies exhibit harmful and misogynistic behaviors. These behaviors can include anything from violence, holding in and ignoring emotions, and even sexually harassing women, among others. It is important to note that the goal is to abolish toxic masculinity, not masculinity itself. The aim is to stop confining men to traits that they may not identify with, expand society’s definition of masculinity, and stop forcing men and boys into ideologies that are harmful to themselves and others.
Over the past couple of decades, many people have fought (and continue to fight) hard to allow women and girls the right to partake in what would traditionally be considered “male activities." For example, in many countries girls are now able to participate in sports like hockey and basketball freely; however, boys are still ridiculed for wanting to be gymnasts or dancers and are told that they are not manly enough. It is this type of teaching and oppression that could aid in the development of toxic masculinity which harms everyone involved in an abundance of ways.
Cause Men to Lack Strong and Healthy Relationships:
One of the dangers associated with toxic masculinity is the lack of meaningful human connections. According to a recent study, “men who endorse hegemonic ideals of masculinity — or “toxic masculinity” — can become socially isolated as they age, impacting their health, well-being, and overall happiness.” Boys are often taught that being a man means not showing emotions and being told that “big boys do not cry”; as a result, boys grow up feeling that it is inappropriate to share their feelings with others, and thus may find it harder to create impactful relationships. Also, the idea that men are independent and do not require help can lead to isolation since men holding this ideology will not seek out friends to lean on for support. According to findings by Michigan State University, “The very premise of hegemonic masculinity in some ways is based on the idea of isolation because it is about being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion. It is hard to develop friendships living this way.”
Increase in Violence and Aggression:
Another potential consequence of bottled up and ignored feelings, from being taught to “man up”, is violence. When a boy is not taught how to deal with their emotions healthily, violence and aggression can become the sole form of expression. Unfortunately, this behavior is often praised or considered "boys being boys." According to the American Psychological Association, “Masculine ideals, such as the restriction of emotional expression and the pressure to conform to expectations of dominance and aggression, may heighten the potential for boys to engage in general acts of violence including, but not limited to, bullying, assault, and/or physical and verbal aggression.” An Australian study titled “The Man Box” (referring to men who hold traditional masculine ideals) found that of the 1000 men surveyed 47% who were "in the man box" had perpetrated physical bullying in the past month, as opposed to the 7% who were “outside the man box”.
Toxic masculinity violence statistics, photo, The Men’s Project.
Can Cause Men to be More Susceptible to Depression:
Alarmingly, it has also been shown that toxic masculinity is linked to depression and suicidal thoughts in men and teens. In the same survey, "The Man Box," it was found that 44% of the men that held the harmful ideologies about masculinity had suicidal thoughts in the two weeks prior, whereas 22% of the men without the harmful ideologies had these thoughts.
Assault Against Women:
The fact that toxic masculinity and sexual harassment/assault are linked has been highly talked about and researched in recent years. When a man has always been told that being a man means "getting the girl," and they know they will be praised for engaging in sex, then it makes sense that they would begin to objectify women which could lead to perpetrating sexual assault if coupled with other toxic teachings about what it means to be a man.
Toxic masculinity sexual harassment statistics, photo, The Men’s Project.
Stigma Surrounding Boys and Men Who are Victims of Assault:
The impact that damaging masculinity has on male victims of sexual assault is rarely discussed. According to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, “Men are not typically socialized to think they are at risk for sexual assault, so if it is done to them, they may feel weak or less “manly,” experiencing feelings of shame and stigma. This means they are more likely to wait much longer before disclosing assault or seeking help.” This is perhaps one of the most concerning effects that come because of toxic masculinity being enforced within western culture.