By ALLISON STOCKHAM & MAKAYLA NAIME
Toxic masculinity is a social dilemma, forcing stereotypes and emotional and physical oppression on men, which impacts everyone in the long run. In recent years, these stereotypes have started to be questioned and broken down, and this is the trend that needs to continue to help everyone, regardless of gender.
Toxic masculinity is the result of society’s attitudes, viewpoints, and stereotypes focusing on how men should behave and their roles in and outside the home. This term appeared around 1980-1990 and has been used by feminist activists and others against sexism, gender inequalities and stereotypes.
The expectations of toxic masculinity have been forced on men, altering the way they cope with trauma or conflicting situations. However, if we were to question and challenge this harmful thought process, then toxic masculinity could be eliminated, along with many of the stereotypes placed on both men and women.
Toxic masculinity and masculinity are two very different things. Masculinity is being “manly,” or having characteristics that are traditionally associated with men. Being masculine is fine for anyone, boys, girls, and everyone in between. Toxic masculinity is the mindset that every single person of the male gender must be masculine and do traditionally “masculine things.” This is not fine.
For example, someone with toxic masculinity might say that actions like wearing feminine clothing, painting nails, or crying no longer makes them a man because “real men” don’t do traditionally feminine things. This mindset is misleading, as nothing truly makes you a “real man.” If you identify as a man, then you are one.
These labels and stereotypes that make men feel like they are not “a real man can” can cause many unhealthy coping mechanisms and hurt young teens’ mental health. The pressure they feel to be a protector, show off their strength and be the provider can cause men to bottle up their feelings in order to avoid being seen as weak.
The expectation for men not to show emotion can only be maintained for so long since it isn’t being let out and handled in a healthy manner. When this emotion eventually does come out, it becomes an explosion and may be released through aggression. Eliminating toxic masculinity does not mean that men need to be emotional and feel like they have to overcompensate their feelings; it’s simply getting rid of the pressure they may have to hide these feelings since “they aren’t normal for a man.”
Toxic masculinity is a social construct that, as stated before, gives men the mindset that boys all have to be traditionally masculine. Some boys are masculine, which is great, but there are many that prefer to be more “feminine,” which doesn’t make them any less of a man. They are still completely valid and should be able to dress and act the way they want to without being told they are not a “real man” or that “they must be gay.” A lot of boys who would prefer to be more feminine, are too scared to because of the effects of toxic masculinity on society.
Though there is a huge stigma for men to be traditionally masculine, there are some examples of some amazing men who have started to break this social construct. In November 2020, Harry Styles posted pictures of him on the cover of Vogue wearing a dress (the magazine didn’t come out until December of 2020). Styles received a lot of backlash and hate from this, specifically from political commentator Candace Owens. Owens said that we need to “bring back manly men” and that society can not survive without “manly men.” This was implying that Styles is not a “manly man” because he was wearing a dress. One thing that stood out to a large number of people was her double standard. She was angered by a man wearing a dress, while she often wears a pants suit. Styles responded to Owens by posting another picture of him in a slightly feminine outfit, with the caption: “Bring back manly men.”
Many young men on social media are fighting toxic masculinity. On October 9, 2020, about 100 teenage boys in Canada wore skirts to school to protest against sexism, homophobia, and toxic masculinity. These boys attended College Nouvelles Frontieres in Gatineau, Quebec. Zachary Paulin, a 16 year old student, told a few people that he was going to wear a skirt to school that Friday, and, to his surprise, many of his peers joined him. When asked about the event Paulin said, “The double standard on the way society views out women and men is blatant. If a woman decides to wear a suit or pants, clothes associated with masculinity, it’s not a big deal, but the moment a man will do anything remotely feminine, whether it is to put nail polish, makeup or, in our case, a skirt, fingers are pointed and he gets insulted. People will say that he’s not a ‘real man’ and they will automatically assume his sexuality.”
Forcing men into traditionally masculine roles not only creates a toxic environment for those who feel like they need to fit this contract of masculinity, but those around them as well. This in turn has dangerous generational impacts of this cycle repeating. Eliminating these social constructs will allow men to feel free to express themselves and show emotions or sides of them they may bottle up or feel uncomfortable showing in fear of judgement. It will take time, but, if we make an effort to question and challenge these harmful stereotypes, toxic masculinity can become a thing of the past.
Featured photo: Digital collage created using images, phrases, and art to symbolize the stereotypes that are defined by toxic masculinity in modern society. From famous celebrities to school children, toxic masculinity scrutinizes and oppresses males when society feels they have strayed too far from gender norms. (Ethic Digital Art/Allison Stockham and Makayla Naime)