A Journey to Healing from Toxic Masculinity

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Why don't all the guys in this room right now man up? Like seriously, why are you guys just sitting there when you could be at work supporting your family? This is not okay. Saying this will never be okay simply because it is incorrect. Hopefully I made my position clear, but if not, I am so grateful to be here today to talk about something that is so vital to today's society. I'm going to assume that at least everyone in this room has heard the statements I said in the beginning. Whether it be from hearing it first hand or over hearing it, people tend to overlook the harm within these statements. The word man has been used for years to determine a set of unrealistic standards that are far from the truth. People need to be reminded that the definition of being a man will always be “An adult human male,” and to proclaim anything otherwise, is detrimental to humans of all genders around the world. If I had to count the number of times I've heard “Why are you crying”, “You’re being weak”, “You are not the victim”, “Show that you’re dominant”, “Be a man”.

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I would still be counting to this day because we are all living in a society where the definition of being a man results in boys sobbing quietly to themselves at night because they are taught to hold it in. It results in fathers never showing an ounce of empathy to set an example for their son. It even results in grown men taking their own lives. We live in a society where gender is also determined by the way we act. Where being weak is a role for a woman. And being emotional is a sign of being feminine. Toxic masculinity is where men being dominant, aggressive, and unemotional is normalized. Toxic masculinity sets up expectations and rules that enable the thought of showing basic human behavior is not normal.

Like many families, toxic masculinity has left many long lasting negative effects on the functionality of my own family. Growing up I witnessed first hand what it’s like to question one's own identity. I said witnessed because I watched someone who has been there for me since the day I was born be criticized for authentically being who he was. My brother grew up being the only boy in a household of 4 girl siblings. Naturally, he spent a lot of time with us, and we all started to develop similar interests. Whether it was toys like dolls or playing dress up, my brother and all of my siblings enjoyed it together. I was very young so I did not know his actions were seen as a taboo. My father on the other hand was constantly reminding him that boys are not supposed to play with dolls or put dresses on. I remember how confused and frustrated my older brother was because all he wanted to do was play with us. I was very little and very nosy when I overheard my dad yelling at my brother for sitting on the toilet while using the restroom. I was extremely young so I couldn't comprehend why he was yelling at him. He said, “You are a boy, you can not pee sitting down.” I saw my brother storm out of the room with his face completely red, and he was clearly embarrassed. Little did he know that was only the beginning of years of torment. At one point my brother was so fed up with not being able to express who he was, he concluded with the problem being his gender. He wanted to be a girl physically so he could “act like one.” Flash forward to today, he is so grateful that he is a male, and he realized that his gender does include how one should act. He did not need to become a girl to be interested in what he was interested in. Isn't that absolutely insane? The fact that he thought of going as extreme as changing his own gender in order to show emotions and be himself. Your gender is just a label. It does not come with a set of standards that you need to uphold in order to be classified as that gender.

To this day I can see the long lasting effects of what my dad has done. I see it when he cries alone at night, when he punches holes in the walls, and even when he talks about taking his own life. I see what the consequences are from living in this culture where the word man is used to describe actions.

Before I explain more about the overall topic of toxic masculinity, it is essential that we understand what toxic masculinity is. In the beginning of the 1990s, the term toxic masculinity came from psychologists and sociologists studying the differences of the relationship between men and their fathers. For example, in 1996 Tracy Karner published a paper where she shares her findings through thorough interviews with Vietnam war veterans. She describes the disillusionment within young men that were drafted through a society that presented the military and war as places where masculinity was idealized(Haider). She also talks about how fathers served in World War II, were seen as embodiments of heroism. Karner goes on to talk about “The years following the ‘good war,’ military service was seen as a natural rite of passage from boyhood to manhood”(Haider). During that era, war movies used war to show the transition from being a boy to a man. Overall, militarism, conflict, and war developed the foundation of masculinity. Currently, the usage of the term “toxic” describes the dangers of the beliefs and practices towards masculinity. Behaviors and beliefs that are often associated with toxic masculinity are, overtly individualistic, competitiveness, expected to be the breadwinner, and commonly violent or glorifying violence, and the list goes on.

It is no surprise that depression and suicide within men is rising, and there is evidence to correlate it to the vulnerability of young men. Traditional masculinity is a risk factor when it comes to male vulnerability because it enforces maladaptive coping strategies like hesitation to ask for help and being emotionally inexpressive. These normalized male actions have shown to increase stress and anxiety within males. Even though women are said to be more emotional, “women commit suicide one fourth of the rate that men do” (murphy). Also, the number of males surviving suicide attempts in the U.S are extremlly low because people tend to be unsympathetic towards suicidal males, so men tend to lean towards more lethal suicidal methods (Moller).

If everyone could take a look at the picture on the screen behind me. You will see the suicide rates in the United States by age, sex, and color. As you can see, at the ages of 85+ white males have more than tripled the amount of suicides than any other gender or race.

The expected gender-role for males in Western cultures enforces not admitting nor acknowledging anxiety, hardships, and problems which poses threats when they are under the conditions of threats, difficulties, and danger. It is traditionally acceptable and even normalized for males to show aggressiveness and hostility as forms of expression. Furthermore, masculinity is heavily shaped to be the exact opposite of what it socially means to be feminine. A conclusion was drawn from a study of suicide prevention in switzerland where thay said, “Women seek help – men die” (Moller). The data they collected showed that 75 % of the people who found professional help in the institution were female, and 75 % of the people who committed suicide in the same year were males. (Moller).

So how do we end Toxic masculinity? The first step out of four is to speak out. Never remain silent while being exposed to it. When the conversation escalates, and one of your friends says “don't be a bitch,” take that as an opportunity to stand up for the person being talked down on. Don’t continue to allow the toxicity to expand. When hearing these statements, don't let it be a sinal to stand by and watch. This is a way of taking charge of societal norms. It doesn't have to be “boys will be boys” Men are not born to be the breadwinner or misogynistic. Our responsibility now is to reevaluate the ideas passed down from our families and teachers, and to start questioning what it means to be a man. We have to assert what we believe to be right or else the people who are verbally spoken out about their opinions will take your passive behavior and continue to spread toxicity in many more social encounters. This will enable people to feel like it is okay to think the way that they do if no one is disagreeing with it. They will continue to spread it until they have an army of people to continue the march for toxic masculine behaviors.

Step two is to get rid of gendered insults.“You throw like a girl,” “You should join the girls team instead,” or “Don’t be such a girl.” The female-based comments create the assumption that women are weak which is unfair and unkind. Unfortunately, these phrases have been around for a very long time, and people are so used to hearing them that they don't usually think twice when they hear them. When jokes denote the standards for women and men, it plays a huge role in limiting their confidence and their capabilities

Step three is to completely abolish the idea of “boys will be boys.” What this statement really allows is an excuse to permit behaviors that were seen as normal in the past but not acceptable now. It's usually used to sanction sexual behaviors, roughhousing, and violence. It also assumes that it is within the male nature to be sexist, promiscuous, violent, etc., so it is okay and not a big deal. We should not tolerate this stereotype, and we need to teach young girls and boys to dismiss it too.

Step four is to acknowledge that emotions are normal. Don’t humiliate boys when they get upset, and “don’t attempt to ‘toughen them up” (Robinson). Robinson, an advocate against toxic masculinity, inforces teaching Resilience instead of being tough. Resilience is the ability to feel the emotions and recover. The lessons to “toughen them up” teaches to deny emotions and fears. It limits their views and crushes their spirits. Teaching young girls and boys resilience does not enforce the ideas of what they should be like, but how to show emotional resilience and not emotional denial  (Robinsom).  

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