When I was a little girl I was told I wasn’t allowed to do the things that all of my boy-friends did. I was told that boys would be mean to me, because I was a girl and “boys will be boys”. As I got older, I was taught to fear men, and I came to think of them as the monsters in my closet.
The thing that confused me, was that my friends, that happened to be boys, never scared me. They were soft and sweet. They cried and they held my hand while I cried. Some of my friends never stopped being soft, but people wanted to punish them for it. It was like half of the boys in my grade changed into the monsters from my closet overnight, and they would call my sweet friends names just for being friends with girls. I always thought it was so strange how all of these boys started out so pure, and then became tormentors to the boys they used to be like. My friends were told they talked too high, cried too much, and didn’t “act like a man” enough.
It wasn’t only the boys at school who used to say these things to my friends. It was also their teachers, and their parents. It was society. Everyone was constantly telling these young minds that they shouldn’t feel or show emotion. As we got older, I saw my beautiful, sweet, young, male-friends turn cold and hard inside. I saw them retract into themselves. I saw the effect that “being a man” had on my friends’ mental health. I listened to their thoughts of suicide and talked them down from the ledge. I held their hands and told them it was okay to cry. Something they had not heard in a very long time.
For so long I wondered: why? Why did my friends have to be a certain type of man? Wouldn’t it be better if we raised young boys to be whoever they wanted to be? I started to think that maybe, if we let boys express their emotions and develop under a broader definition of what masculinity is, they would be happier. I believe that letting boys mature without the pressure of being a “real man” will affect their mental health, physical health, and view of women for the better.
From a young age many men are told that emotions are weak, and that men are not weak. They are told that boys do not cry. Boys do not seek help for mental issues. They are told to “Never complain or make excuses,” because, “real men are not crybabies”(Malloch). Bury your sadness, your depression, all your thoughts. “Real men” keep it all inside and should never let it out. Ever. This idea of what a man “should be” is referred to as Toxic Masculinity. Toxic Masculinity is the harmful stereotypes and associations that being a man has in our society. It does not mean that masculinity itself is toxic, but that perpetuating a certain type of manhood is (Gattuso, “How Men Can”). When men are raised with this attitude and view of masculinity, they often do not reach out for help with their mental illnesses. Joshua R. Beharry has first-hand experience with this. On January 17, 2010 he stood on top of a bridge and attempted to end his life. Thankfully, his attempt did not succeed, and he is now a mental health advocate. He speaks out about the stigma that surrounds men with mental health issues. He says that it was particularly difficult for him as a man to admit anything was wrong. “Your whole life you’re kind of told guys are supposed to be strong or be the person others can lean on, but fighting depression is a different story and something you need help to do” said Beharry. Studies find that while more women than men attempt suicide, men are 3.53 times more likely to complete it (Gattuso, “Why Don’t Men”).
Toxic Masculinity not only affects men’s mental health, but their physical health too. Remember when I said that “real men” are not supposed to complain? Men are less likely to report pain or physical problems than women, because they do not want to appear “weak”. This can cause them to have serious health concerns that go undiagnosed for long periods of time (Wakefield). My father and his two brothers were raised under the guise of toxic masculinity. My father had cancer that was spreading from his liver to his entire body. He never complained about the pain because he was a real man. Thankfully, he survived. One of my uncles currently has a tumor the size of a football that he never complained about because he was a real man. He also went the majority of his life depressed and only started seeking help this past year. Luckily, he is still alive. I never met my other uncle. He had chest pains that he said were “not too bad”. He died of heart failure long before I was born.
The men in my family are not complainers.
And they have suffered mentally and physically because of it.
Besides all of the many ways that Toxic Masculinity has a negative effect on men, it also has a negative effect on how men perceive women. Toxic Masculinity causes men to condemn all things feminine, since they have been told that those things are wrong, from a young age. Men will dehumanize and devalue a woman’s opinions, body, and sense of self (“How Toxic Masculinity Harms”). This is because men are told to be dominant and strong. So, that leaves women to be submissive and weak. Therefore, all things considered feminine are weak. Certain clothing, jobs, and emotions are shameful for men to have or want, because they are feminine. Men can not wear skirts, be nurses, or cry, because those things are for silly girls. These opinions convince men that they are superior to women in every aspect of life.
There is a societal belief in men that women owe them whatever they want. Whether that be a phone number, a date, or sex. Media in particular portrays dating between men and women as a transaction. They paint women as something to be won or conquered. Since men are raised to believe they can achieve anything if they just keep trying, they are angered by rejection. Men are taught that they have to get the girl and if they give up or “quit”, they are losers. This is why when rejection occurs, certain men freak out (Konikovo).
There is a particular group of men who have been so heavily affected by toxic masculinity that it has skewed their opinion of women entirely, to the point of it being dangerous. These men are referred to as incels, which stands for involuntarily celebate. Incels believe that women owe men sex and only view women as sexual objects. They also tend to have a “traditional” mindset when it comes to how men and women should interact. Women stay at home with the kids, cooking and cleaning. Men go off to work and come back to an obedient wife who gives it up whenever he wants. Incels also believe that women only want hyper-masculine men and they are being discriminated against for being a “nice guy”. These men link their manhood directly to how much sex they are having, and if they are not having any they blame women for it (“How Toxic Masculinity Harms”). Incels and rapists are extreme examples of how Toxic Masculinity can negatively affect men’s views of women.
Though most men are not incles or rapists, toxic masculinity still affects their view of women, along with their physical and mental health. The way men are being raised to feel shame for their emotions and disgust towards femininity is ruining their relationships with themselves and others. We owe it to our sons, our brothers, and our fathers, to give them the freedom to feel whatever they want and be whoever they want. Not every man has to be a gun-toting cowboy. Not every man has to be a teacher or a nurse. We should be telling our men that it is okay to complain, or cry, or be sick. Most of all we should be telling our men that it is okay to be human.
Gattuso, Reina. “How Men Can Confront Toxic Masculinity (+ Why It’s Important for Mental Health).” The Talkspace Voice, Talkspace, 15 Feb. 2018, www.talkspace.com/blog/how-men-can-confront-toxic-masculinity-why-its-important-for-mental-health/. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
—. “Why Don’t Men Ask for Mental Health Help?” The Talkspace Voice, Talkspace, 12 June 2018, www.talkspace.com/blog/why-dont-men-ask-for-mental-health-help/#:~:text=Masculine%20Stereotypes%20Prevent%20Men%20from%20Seeking%20Help&text=Material%20and%20social%20factors%20like,uni. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.
“How Toxic Masculinity Harms Men and Society As A Whole.” Focus for Health, Focus for Health, www.focusforhealth.org/how-toxic-masculinity-harms-men-and-society-as-a-whole/. Accessed 18 Nov. 2020.
Konikovo, Sasha. “10 Ways Toxic Masculinity Affects Dating.” VIVA, Vocal, 2018, vocal.media/viva/10-ways-toxic-masculinity-affects-dating. Accessed 18 Nov. 2020.
Malloch, Theodore Roosevelt. “Why Manliness is Disappearing.” Intellectual Takeout, Charlemagne Institute, 20 Dec. 2017, www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/why-manliness-disappearing/. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
Wakefield, Lily. “Toxic masculinity is literally toxic, causing health problems for men in later life.” Pink News, Pink News, 12 March 2020, www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/03/12/toxic-masculinity-mental-physical-health-men-gender-roles-study-aging-michigan-state-university/. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.