Opinion: Toxic masculinity continues harmful and outdated stereotypes in modern society

By ALLISON STOCKHAM & MAKAYLA NAIME

Toxic masculinity is a social dilemma, forcing stereotypes and causing men to be oppressed emotionally and physically. In recent years, however, these stereotypes have started to be broken down by people everyday, eliminating its harmful effects on both men and women. 

Toxic masculinity is the result of society’s attitudes, viewpoints, and stereotypes focusing on how men should behave and their roles. This term appeared around 1980-1990 and has been used with sexism activists, feminist activists, and against appaling steryotypes towards men. Toxic masculinity has been forced on men and is sometimes the way they cope with trauma or conflicting situations. However, if we were to eliminate this thought process, then toxic masculinity could easily be eliminated and stereotypes wouldn’t be forced on men and women anymore. 

Toxic masculinity and masculinity are two very different things. Masculinity is being traditionally manly, and 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 masciline and do traditionally “masculine things.” 

For example, someone with toxic masculinity might say that things like wearing feminine clothing, painting nails, or crying makes them no longer 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 can make men feel like they are not a real man 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 is let out through aggression. Eliminating toxic masculinity does not mean men need to be emotional and feel like they have to overcompensate their feelings; it’s simply getting rid of the pressure they 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. 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 a woman named Candace Owens. She 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 had pictures of her in a 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 creates a toxic environment for those who feel like they need to fit this contract of masculinity. Eliminating these roles that society is forcing 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 slowly start getting rid of the toxic 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)

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