The phrase “toxic masculinity” has been abused as a buzzword to some extent, used as a catch-all phrase to describe any egregious male behaviors. But the real effects of toxic masculinity are significant, and they hit closer to home, affecting men and women of all ages in some blatant and subtle ways.
In case you aren’t familiar, toxic masculinity refers to a collection of norms associated with men; for example, men are often pushed to become socially dominant and to restrain their emotions. In extreme cases, these habits, behaviors, and patterns of thought can lead to violent crimes, but in the general population, evidence suggests they can lead to depression and weakened personal relationships—not to mention a perpetuation of the lifestyles and stereotypes that cause them.
There isn’t much you can do to significantly alter the norms of an entire society, but you can work actively, on a local level, to reduce or reverse the impact of toxic masculinity in your own community—and in your own life.
5 Steps You Can Take
1. Educate yourself. First, educate yourself about the complex psychological and cultural influences that have resulted in toxic masculinity, as well as the negative consequences of its perpetuation in our society. There are classes you can take to learn more, and lifetimes’ worth of content online to read about, but whatever you choose, make sure you reference a wide variety of different sources. This is a complex topic that can’t be reduced to any one summary or any one person’s opinion. The more you know, and the more sources you rely on to form your idea of truth, the better.
2. Start a community group. Next, get together a community group of men who want to talk about their feelings, learn more about toxic masculinity, or just feel like they have some grounding of support within their own gender. You can create a group for free using a site like Meetup, or print flyers to pursue a more grassroots approach in your neighborhood. Even if you start with just a handful of participants, you can make a difference. Consider reading important books on gender studies, or inviting speakers who are experts in this discipline.
3. Talk to your children. If you have children, nieces or nephews, or any other youngsters in your life, take the time to talk to them about what it means to be a man. Ask them what they think being a man is all about, and if they subscribe to toxic ideals (such as showing little emotion, asserting dominance, or being superior to women in any way), gently introduce the alternative viewpoints, and why they’re important.
4. Build more close friendships. Heterosexual men have a tough time building and maintaining close friendships, but they’re vitally important to live a healthy life. Going out of your way to follow up with someone you met, or getting coffee with your old friends are just a few ways to forge and reaffirm those bonds in your life.
5. Confront issues of toxic masculinity in real-time. If you notice an adult saying something or doing something that reinforces negative male stereotypes or qualities, take the time to confront it. Don’t accuse the speaker of doing something wrong, but instead ask them why they said or did the offensive action, and present an alternative way of speaking or thinking. You can’t undo decades of societal conditioning with a single statement, but you can open up a meaningful dialogue.
Tips for Enlisting More Allies
In your pursuit, you’ll undoubtedly encounter opposition from other men who may believe “toxic masculinity” is a form of hatred against men or refuse to change their long-held ideals about what being a man means. If that’s the case, follow these tips to create a healthier space and allow for more productive conversation:
- Don’t judge or blame. Don’t tell people they’re doing something wrong or bad, or else you’ll meet endless resistance. Invite everyone to share their thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t agree with them.
- Reiterate that masculinity itself isn’t toxic. Some men are threatened by the idea that manhood is under attack by the idea of toxic masculinity, but this isn’t the case. Only some conventional ideas about masculinity are destructive, and these are what are considered “toxic.”
- Avoid strict rules. Try not to restrict what people are allowed to say or do, especially during your meetings. You aren’t the ultimate authority here. Instead, this is a place for open conversation and understanding.
- Simply listen. People who oppose you will only fight harder if you try to debate them. Instead, listening quietly is the best thing you can do.
Above all, understand that not everyone in your neighborhood will appreciate or even understand the efforts you’re taking. But even if these tips help you to reach just one person, or help you arrive at a healthier understanding of your own identity, the effort will be worth it.
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