The Spectrum of Masculinity — The Toxic End
Often, masculinity is associated with toxicity, some may say the two are synonymous. A quick Google search of the word “toxic” would immediately show “toxic masculinity” as one of the top recommendations. “Toxic masculinity”, a term once only heard in gender studies classrooms, has suddenly become widely used.
For a good number of years, I read about masculinity to better alter and reconstruct the model I’ve been dealt with by life, my father. He’s a good man but he’s the product of his generation that accepted the “manbox” as a given and never seriously thought to challenge it.
The crux of the manbox for me is the ruthless suppression of men’s diverse behaviour. It doesn’t acknowledge that masculinity is a spectrum so wide that we can even talk about ‘masculinities’. Instead, it imposes a rigid and outdated view of what a man is dictated by the patriarchy, it’s a game where only a few men “win” and most miss out.
Some men are vegans, love reading and collecting stamps, and others love their steak and enjoy sports. There is nothing toxic about neither of these two groups, but it can become when one group (or anyone else) starts demanding that other men adopt specific traits as corresponding to masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is selfish and I would say it is about:
– Controlling behaviour. Toxic masculinity dominates and does not allow self-expression. It aims for a predictable behaviour dictated by the manbox and anything less than that it is not accepted. Fear, violence and abusive behaviour in all of its forms is used to control others’ actions. Sadly, none of these traits rarely come alone. The man trapped in the manbox is himself full of fear. Due to fear of being perceived weak, he effortlessly uses any combination of the lethal trio to avoid being exposed.
– No respect for boundaries. Boundary trespassing comes in many shapes and sizes from more seemingly innocent behaviours such as humour all the way to more extreme and violent forms. This is another avenue for one to assert his dominance and achieve conformity to the manbox mantra.
– Emphasis on physical strength. This is not a critique of sports lovers or those passionate about fitness. I love being physically active myself, but the issue is when men who do not have a predilection or passion for sports are perceived “not manly enough” because they do not have such interests.
– Dietary specifications. Men who favour a plant-based diet are typically ostracised with “banter” for not eating meat. The indirect result here is to achieve conformity and to suppress diversity for those who deviate from the norm. The underline thought here is that if a man wants to be strong or wants to gain muscle should use meat as a source of protein.
– Sex and intimacy. The school of thought surrounding this particular topic is that men should desire only women and possibly have multiple partners. Another issue that we men do not talk much about is consent for sexual intimacy from our partner. We too often assume it’s a given and don’t consider their needs. It is essential we respect their needs and timing for both sex and intimacy. A subgenre of this category is that that toxic masculinity pushes for heteronormativity, anything else, in its view, makes one “less of a man”.
– No touching. We men are deprived of non-sexual physical touch from our male friends from a very young age. We men deprive each other of thee kind of physical touch as we fear being perceived as having attraction towards the same sex or not being “tough” enough. This is strongly linked to the next and final point.
– We don’t do emotions. We men hardly express emotions. If we do show emotions almost the only one we allow ourselves to express is anger (and maybe a little bit of joy). We do not engage with the full spectrum of emotions because we (unfortunately) perceive emotions of belonging to the feminine realm, and this would make us look weak and vulnerable. This leads us to another layer of toxicity; the distorted perception about women. It must be said loud and clear that women are powerful and are our equal, and nothing less.
All this pressure and expectations of men to show no emotion leads many of us to live superficial lives and shallow connections with our mates. Having nowhere to express how we really feel makes us feel lonely, isolate and gradually develop mental health problems. Suicide due to depression is still the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.
Toxic masculinity limits our potential for deep connection with other men (and women), which we actually long for. This deep connection has the potential to break the endemic of poor mental health in us men. We miss out massively in a bonding opportunity with our mates when we avoid becoming vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to open up to our male friends about what we are going through but is a step forward towards stronger friendships. We can start by taking small steps towards being vulnerable to our close friends one day at a time.
Our next post will focus on healthy masculinity, so watch this space.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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