We all have traits of masculinity and femininity within us, regardless of our gender identity. Toxic masculinity is a concept which has gained increasing awareness in recent years, but what is it exactly?
According to researchers, toxic masculinity refers to a set of societal beliefs and behaviors that include hiding emotions, appearing “tough,” and asserting power through dominance or even violence.
This does not mean that all men are inherently toxic or violent, but it does mean that there are societal assumptions and expectations around masculinity that can be harmful to boys and men.
The Impact: Toxic masculinity significantly impacts boys, men, and society at large. These cultural norms lead to social isolation, with men having higher suicide rates, cardiovascular disease, and loneliness than in comparison to women.
Toxic masculinity can also lead to aggression and violent behavior, causing men to be imprisoned at a higher rate than women. Men are also more likely to commit violent crimes and be a victim of a violent crime. These issues are compounded by race and income, as men from minority groups are more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
The Problem: When men challenge the assumptions of patriarchal masculinity, they can be perceived as weak, which perpetuates the cycle of toxic expectations on boys and men. Men are also less likely to ask for help or seek mental health services, which further perpetuates this cycle.
What can we do? Boys and young men need to learn that their emotions are healthy and normal. Teaching boys to be emotionless, authoritative, and tough from an early age will negatively impact their emotional development.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers need to teach young boys how to identify and understand their emotions. The most important way to teach boys about their emotions is for parents and family members to model feeling identification and empathy themselves.
Adults can also use books, games, and songs to teach these concepts. After validating and accepting boys’ emotions, parents and caregivers need to teach boys how to cope with their emotions with age-appropriate and healthy coping strategies.
Minority men and boys may need additional support from other community members or support groups in order to have the necessary time and space to express their emotions and understand themselves.
Start with this: Express gratitude to the next boy or man who honestly shares their feelings with you. This positive reinforcement will break the cycle of toxic masculinity one person at a time.