We’ve already delved deeper into what toxic masculinity is and how it is perpetuated in society by our peers, our families and even by the messages we are exposed to everyday via our screens. A “real” man as explained by the infamous Old Spice commercial, is powerful, sexy, confident, rich. He can make pearls appear out of nowhere and can ride a horse shirtless, effortlessly showing off his rock hard abs.
This is countless other media messages have conditioned us to accept nothing less of men. From always being at the top of their game, providing for their families needs right down to the more harmful expectations of always “manning up” and never letting their emotions get the best of them. To being womanizers who move from one woman to the next, men it seems just like women are leading their lives by the reductive roles assigned to them at birth.
You know, the inevitably destructive and debilitating messages that we are bombarded with as kids? The ones that go “Boys don’t cry” , “Boys will be boys” and range all the way up to the most important one yet, “Man Up.” This becomes the golden trio that potentially dictates men’s live where they are first told to repress their emotions by never expressing them in anyway other than aggression or promiscuity. They are then taught that their self destructive and negative traits are just “locker room banter” and they’re just “horsing around.” Eventually, old habits become solid traits until there is only one acceptable way to really ever be a man.
All of this comes under the umbrella term of toxic masculinity which roughly translates into negative or harmful traits such as being unemotional, violent, aggressive among others that have become embedded within what acceptable forms of masculinity are. This means that whenever we tell out little boys that they “throw like a girl” or “look like a girl” we’re teaching them that feminine traits are lesser and inferior somehow.
These things can be addressed however, by men themselves who hold all the power to take back control of their lives and those of others around them. The first step is always acceptance that there are behaviours or habits that are negative and harmful to yourself and others.
This can only be achieved by talking to others about the issue. Opening up to other men and finding like minded individuals for support and discussion is a great step. Boys and men need positive influences and role models in their lives as it is an integral part of our primary socialization and yet the major problem for most men is that they have trouble finding the right kind of role models that can call them out on their toxic behaviour and in stead get them to emulate better actions. That’s why it’s important for you to be there for other men.
Call out toxic behaviour when you see it. You might have found yourself in a precarious situation where your “boys” are engaging in toxic conversation, activities or jokes and you might hear a voice inside tugging at you to do something about it. Don’t stay silent. Speak up against harmful acts. When you joke about sensitive issues such as rape or suicide, they get normalized and you become desensitized to times when it actually happens. Or worse, you find yourselves engaging in similar predatory behaviour. You live in the era of the Me Too movement, you know how it affects men as much as it does women. You know better.
Don’t tell your boys to not cry or man up. Just because you never had a father figure or role model that let you express your feelings and emotions because it was “weak” or “girly” doesn’t mean your kids have to go through the same thing. Learn from the experiences of the emotionally handicapped individuals around you and help create a world where little boys don’t have to force themselves to become men to matter, where confused teens don’t isolate themselves from all meaningful relationships to show they are tough and where young men don’t end their lives because they don’t know how else to feel anything.
Don’t let society define your worth by the material and physical. Men have always been told that they’re only man enough if they can provide well for their family, if they are on top of their game at work and if they have a certain physique. This is perhaps the most damaging because the need to be better, earn more and be the alpha never ends in this world of consumerism and capitalism.
This only keeps you away from the family that you seek to provide more and more for. If you’re at a considerable positio of power, make rules and a workplace environment that seeks to lessen the pressure on other men. Issues like workplace burn out and paid paternal leave are important!
Destroy rigid and toxic gender roles. Understand that men can be emotional and empathetic and good parents to their children. Don’t wait till you have a daughter to understand that a father’s influence on his children is as important as a mother’s. It is not a bad thing to seek help from those around you. Expressing your love and affection and gratitude is normal. Don’t let anyone dictate what your life should look like.