There’s a lot of conflicting information being circulated that has the ability to affect men’s views toward themselves, impact their self-esteem, prevent them from seeking help when they need it, and in general, affect who they’re supposed to be. I’m talking about masculinity and the word that really makes me cringe, toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity can be best explained by what it’s not – it isn’t the traditional masculinity we are all familiar with. Toxic masculinity is a form of gendered behavior that results when expectations of “being a man” are misconstrued or taken too far.
Toxic masculinity is always accompanied by a psychologically harmful component - sort of a hyper-masculinity if you will, or excessive masculinity.
Adding to the confusion of what it is (and isn’t) is the fact that there is no universal standard of of how masculinity is defined. Masculinity is an entirely cultural construct. Therefore, it’s not advantageous to stick to a narrow view of what it is or isn’t.
Just like anything in life, the key to a balanced and ideal state lies in moderation.
Aggressiveness can be a helpful attribute for an active job candidate or someone who competes. But too much of this attribute and its presence in areas where it is not necessary can be harmful for everyone. But isn’t that the way with most things? A morning cup of coffee is great to get us going in the morning…seven, not so much!
My professional opinion is that attempting to police masculine expression is counterintuitive to helping men and may be causing the very problems it’s trying to prevent.
This conversation comes up often with clients who identify this as an obstruction to the fluid and dynamic nature of masculinity.
It would be much more productive to appreciate the many ways men and women are alike and to celebrate the ways the two sexes differ. Raising our sons without the long-standing gender expectations and roles would go a long way toward letting individuals honor their strengths instead of banning certain attributes and molding them to act a certain way. Young boys have long been raised thinking it’s not ok to cry and deal with their emotions. These young boys grow into men who feel shame and then struggle to find an outlet from these misguided expectations.
We need to have more conversations and become more open-minded if we are to save a bro. Many of our male colleagues and family members are suffering in silence under the weight of isolation and shame. Left untreated, these issues can and most likely will evolve into bigger and more complicated issues for our men and the women and children who love them - in addition to our society at large.
Suicide is the largest killer in men under 45 in the UK and the US. There is no doubt that the construct of “toxic masculinity” and the varying ways of defining it are harmful. It’s preventing men from seeking help, particularly those who really need it the most.
Fixing the problem begins with proper identification of the issue and will require the awareness of every one of us. A helpful approach requires the recognition of this misinformation and these inconsistencies in our society. Then, we must actively work on not shaming men for being masculine (or for having feminine attributes, for that matter). Instead, let’s offer them the ability to become their genuine selves. In doing so, they’ll be able to connect with others in a positive way while honoring what it is to be masculine.
We all have our unique attributes we bring to the table, as men and women. Let us begin to appreciate our uniqueness so we may build healthy relationships and be able to recognize when we’re out of balance and know it’s perfectly acceptable to seek help. We enlist the help of experts in all fields -- physical trainers for our bodies, mechanics for our cars, financial advisors for money management… therefore, it makes sense that we might need to request a little help in our life corner from time-to-time.
Simon Niblock, MA, LMFT
Founder of Man Up Therapy
If you feel you or someone you love could use some help in this area, call me at 512-470-6976 for a complimentary, 20-minute phone consultation.