Most women have firsthand experience dealing with toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity can take the form of microaggressions or outright sexist behavior. Men might not even realize that they are perpetuating such harmful ideals, as it’s what they’ve normally seen in the workplace, school, the media, and/or other platforms. These men also don’t normally realize that their behavior is hurting other men, who are suffering the consequences of a system that has made it exceedingly difficult for them to live healthy lifestyles.
First, we should understand what exactly toxic masculinity is. By definition, “toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.” This concept does not mean that all men are violent, sexist, or power-hungry. Rather, toxic masculinity is more of a model of masculinity that has been built over the years, teaching boys that they have to act a certain way to be masculine. It perpetuates strict gender stereotypes and ridicules those that don’t fit within these stereotypes.
A focus point of toxic masculinity is the idea that men should not openly display their emotions. This concept stems from the wrongful idea that men are supposed to always be strong, and showing emotions paints them as weak. This notion is distressing in various respects. It’s created a society where boys and men feel uncomfortable sharing their feelings, in fear of being mocked or disparaged. This has led to a large portion of men not having a healthy outlet for them to release their negative feelings, resulting in addictions and poor and mental health.
RAHM supports this by stating that “men are more likely than women to have an alcohol or drug problem.” This could be attributed to mental illness, which the National Bureau of Economic Research has found to be connected to substance addiction. Addiction and mental illnesses aren’t healthy matches. Both, when left untreated, can lead to worsened conditions or self-destructive behaviors such as suicide.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that “in 2018, men died by suicide 3.56x more often than women.” Sadly, society has made it so men feel that to struggle with mental health is unmanly. This has prevented countless men from receiving the help they needed in time.
Likewise, male sexual assault victims face similar challenges as men that have mental illnesses. The National Sexual Violence Research Center reports that “1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives”, though it’s important to consider unreported cases as well. The center also stated that “more than one-quarter of male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.” This means that boys, who don’t yet have the tools necessary to adequately process trauma, are likely to be raped at early ages.
Like men with mental illnesses, male sexual assault victims aren’t frequently able to share their experiences with others, meaning that they are forced to keep their thoughts and emotions to themselves, which can be supremely challenging and unhealthy. The consequences of sexual assault weigh heavily on victims and can take tolls on every aspect of their lives.
Mental illness, addiction, and sexual violence are all incredibly serious issues and deserve to be acknowledged in their own right. Unfortunately, some individuals utilize them to discredit or silence women when they share their own experiences. Weaponizing them as rebuttals shows that the individual doesn’t truly care about these issues, and is only working to invalidate women’s experiences. Men’s struggles are valid and deserve their own dialogues.
Because of this, we must work even harder to address these issues and bring awareness to them as stand-alone matters. Toxic masculinity and harmful gender stereotypes have existed for years, meaning that breaking down such a system will take time, patience, and effort. We have a responsibility to those boys and men whose lives have been negatively impacted by the system, costing them their happiness, health, or lives. Toxic masculinity has no place in the 21st century, doing much more harm than good.
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