Miscommunications on the Issue of Toxic Masculinity | Teen Ink

Miscommunications on the Issue of Toxic Masculinity

April 1, 2021
By liese-morgan SILVER, The Woodlands, Texas
liese-morgan SILVER, The Woodlands, Texas
6 articles 4 photos 0 comments

In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention marked the formal beginning of the feminist movement, a movement designed to fight for women’s equality. Today that movement has expanded into a number of things, including fighting for women’s rights, female education, equal pay, transgender rights, the end of rape culture, and the end to toxic masculinity. Each of these issues has something in common: an impact on women all across the globe. But one of these issues doesn’t quite seem to fit into feminist ideals. How is toxic masculinity an issue that affects females? Simple. We live in a world designed for and controlled by men, so issues that negatively affect how they treat themselves and others indirectly affect women too. Because of it's often misinterpreted title, toxic masculinity is often pushed under the rug when we need to bring it into the light in order to combat it. 

Toxic masculinity consists of traits pushed on males by society that can be detrimental to male mental health, and indirectly affect females. Peter Fisher defines toxic masculinity as “...harmful social norms about how men should behave that lead to misogyny, homophobia, violence, and mental health issues.” (Par. 3). Due to their popularity, harmful societal norms can go virtually undetected. Society’s main structure is based upon perceived normalcy and tradition. Because traits of toxic masculinity are normal, men are praised for exhibiting their characteristics even though it can be damaging. The reverse is true when it comes to men being feminine or choosing to exhibit feminine behaviors. Even though men being feminine is not bad, society throws shame onto it because it isn’t widely popular.  Behaviors that are deemed typically feminine or not masculine can “...include admitting a weakness or mistake, being vulnerable with one’s feelings, and not using force to solve problems -  anything that may call into question one’s status as a man.” (Fisher, Par. 8). For example, men are pressured into being physically strong by society. This leads them to be misogynistic because they believe they are stronger than women. It also may lead to homophobia because of fasle stereotypes that gay men are always flamboyant and feminine. If a man is not physically strong, he can be subject to bullying and harassment by other men, such as being beaten, called homophobic slurs, and threats, regardless of wether they are carried out or not. Not only is this detrimental to any individual's mental health, it can also be ableist, or harmful to people with disabilities who cannot be physically strong because of them. Disbaled men may feel like they are broken and weak because their body doesn’t function like other men, especially if they are bullied for it. Another way that toxic masculinity can be harmful is because of the internal conflicts that may occur in a man’s head. In an article by Michigan State University, toxic masculinity is described to have “...detrimental consequences for the men who subscribe to these ideals… because it’s about being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion.” (Par. 10). Suppressing your emotions is not a good thing. In fact, in 2013 “...people who bottled up their emotions increased their chance of premature death from all causes by more than 30%,” (Cousins, Par. 2) according to a study done at Harvard. Often, boys are taught from a young age to sacrifice their own feelings to fit into a manly stereotype. Phrases like “man up” are used popularly in common dialogue, despite their origins having intent to lead men to suppress their emotions for fear of being perceived as feminine or weak. This in turn promotes female stereotypes that women are emotional and needy. Both of these stereotypes negatively affect men and women, and they aid in dividing the gender inequality gap even further.

In order to improve the issue of toxic masculinity we need to recognize that it is a real problem and clear up misconceptions the general public has about it. With “masculininty” in the name, many women who are passionate about the feminist cause ignore the issue of toxic masculinity, because they don’t realize how impactful it is on women and men alike. Recently, more people are recognizing “...that men have historically been treated as the reference group or “standard” to which other demographic groups are compared.” (Fisher, Par. 13) This is especially true in fields such as psychology. When men are treated as the standard group, it prevents helpful resources from finding their way to men, and it prevents women from getting the help they need also. Males are not the generic prototype of a human being, and treating them as such limits our views and ways of thinking to the point where we cannot help solve mental health problems. If we want to have healthy people, we need to devote more resources into finding solutions for individuals that are not based on outdated gender studies. In order to help men to improve their mental health, the American Psychological Association recommends psychologists to “...help men think critically about the unspoken rules they follow and have the courage to break from the rules that harm them,” (Fisher, Par. 15). When men become more educated upon their own mental health, they will realize that toxic masculinity is not a term coined to degrade them or make them feel weak, but a term that defines harmful gender norms they unknowingly embrace. If men understood more about how to process their own emotions, they would spend less time putting up a front and acting tough. It would also help them to connect more with women rather than dismissing them off as emotional and overdramatic. In order to squash out toxic masculinity once and for all, men need to start “...challenging outdated, restrictive norms and encouraging other men to reflect on what it really means to be a good man in our modern world.” (Fisher, Par. 15). The only people who can stop toxic masculinity are men themselves, because they have most of the say regarding gender norms. Until equality is fully reached, men will have the upper hand in most aspects of society, which makes it even more important for them to understand themselves and how to treat others with kindness and respect. If men continue to feel pressured into being strong and stereotypically masculine, homophobia, sexism, and ableism will only continue to grow, becoming an even larger problem. Education is going to be the most powerful tool in taking down toxic masculinity, since it raises awareness and causes all kinds of people to action.

Toxic masculinity is not a political stunt designed to feminize men, but it is a concept that society has unknowing formed for centuries. Even though the term is relatively new, and unrecognized by many, the concept has been around for a while. Many people are actually opposed to this term, such as Ben Shapiro, an american political commentator. He claims that toxic masculinity is a political stunt designed to make people think “...boys should be feminized; they should never be encouraged to “be a man.”” (Shapiro, Par. 10). This is absolutely not the case, and Shapiro’s opinion is most likely based on internalized sexism and misinformation. Toxic masculinity does not mean that masculinity is toxic. The “toxic” describes kinds of masculinity that can lead to problems. Being masculine is not bad, in fact, it's great! If you choose to present your gender in a masculine way, regardless of what gender you are, that is totally valid. The issue comes in when people take it too far and attempt to limit how men present their gender. Candace Owens, a well known American author and political commentator has growing popularity because of her attempt to do just that. When Harry Styles, a British singer songwriter, posed on the cover of Vogue magazine wearing a Gucci dress, Owens and many others were outraged. In her now viral tweet, Owens boldly claims that “There is no society that can survive without strong men,” and that we need to “Bring back manly men.” (Tweet, @realcandaceo). In some ways, Owens is right. Society needs strong men, now more than ever. But what makes a man strong? Not muscles, not stereotypes, nor trophy wives or a nine-to-five. What makes the difference between a strong man and a weak man is his character. Is he kind hearted? Does he take care of others? It does not matter what clothes he wears, or who he loves, or how many times he has cried. Men deserve to be able to live their lives as they choose, free from judgement, harassment, or bullying. Owens is essentially being a bully, telling men what to wear and what not to wear, invalidating any man who doesn’t fit into her ideal of what a man should be. Everyone is entitled to voice their own opinion, as long as their opinion does not disrespect someone who has done no harm. A man wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue has no direct affect on Owens, yet it could inspire a young man who feels insecure about wanting to wear a dress. If more people understood the premise behind toxic masculinity, they would realize that men can present their gender however they want to and still be men. The problem is that some people pose toxic masculinity as an ultimatum, as a “...choice between emasculation and toxic masculinity [that] leaves men out in the cold — and leaves them searching for meaning.” (Shapiro, Par. 13). First off, toxic masculinity is not always a conscious choice. Society enforces it unknowingly, hence why awareness needs to be raised. Second, no one is asking men to be on one end of the spectrum or another. Lastly, in the middle of toxic masculinity and emasculation is healthy masculinity. This is the goal, to get all men to be able to express their masculinity in a healthy, positive, and uplifting way. Being a man shouldn’t have to be about being tough, strong, and powerful. Men are courageous, supportive, and hardworking among a multitude of other things. Reducing men to how they fit into society’s masculine mold is degrading and feeds into toxic gender roles. 

When we bring to light the issue of toxic masculinity, we are able to work together to better combat it. Men should be free to express their gender in ways that make them feel good about themselves. Instead of putting down men for not fitting into an outdated societal ideal, we need to lift them up and empower them when they break free from society’s chains. By exposing toxic masculinity for the harmful concept it is, people as individuals can come together and begin to build a society filled with acceptance and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Works Cited

Cousins, Lucy E. “Why 'Bottling It up' Can Be Harmful to Your Health.” HCF, Feb. 2018, www.hcf.com.au/health-agenda/body-mind/mental-health/downsides-to-always-being-positive#:~:text=%E2%80%9CSuppressing%20your%20emotions%2C%20whether%20it's,memory%20and%20self%2Desteem.%E2%80%9D. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.

Drum, Kevin. “Deaths By Suicide.” Mother Jones, 18 June 2019, www.motherjones.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/blog_suicide_15_19_1975_2017.gif. Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

Fisher, Peter. “What Does Psychology Research Have to Say about Toxic Masculinity?” Psychology In Action, Psychology In Action, 27 Aug. 2019, www.psychologyinaction.org/psychology-in-action-1/psychology-of-toxic-masculinity. Accessed 13 Jan. 2021.

Michigan State University. “Toxic Masculinity Is Unsafe... for Men.” Newswise, 10 Mar. 2020, www.newswise.com/articles/toxic-masculinity-is-unsafe-for-men. Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.

Owens, Candace (RealCandaceO). “There is no society that can survive without strong men. The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men.” 14 November 2020, 1:16 PM. Tweet.

Rampton, M. “Four Waves of Feminism.” Pacific University, 12, Oct. 2015, pacificu.edu/magazine/four-waves-feminism#:~:text=The%20wave%20formally%20began%20at,movement's%20ideology%20and%20political%20strategies. Accessed 7 February 2021.

Shapiro, Ben. “The 'Toxic Masculinity' Smear.” National Review, National Review, 8 June 2017, www.nationalreview.com/2017/06/masculinity-not-toxic-stop-blaming-men-everything/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.


The author's comments:

I wrote this piece for an assignment in my sophomore english class. We were allowed to choose our own topic and I picked toxic masculinity since it was an issue that was constantly coming up in my personal life. Many of the boys and men I knew in my life had been affected by toxic masculinity, and it was beginning to become a prevalent social issue thanks to Harry Styles and Candace Owens. I decied to speak my mind in this essay, backing up my opinion with facts, and submitted it to my teacher. I recieved a one hundred percent for my grade, and have also now submitted it to my school's writing magazine, The Fife.


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