Let’s look at a definition of toxic masculinity. According to the Urban Dictionary, toxic masculinity is a social science term that describes narrow repressive types of ideas about the male gender role. It defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.
The term refers to a degree of masculinity or ‘manliness’ among boys and men. It’s a set of beliefs and/or behaviors that cause a male to appear extra hard, tough, and ultra-independent.
It’s boys and men who have a tough time expressing emotions in a healthy way, so they typically repress or suppress them. You’ve probably heard the terms macho or tough guy. However, too much masculinity can lead to power trips, abusive language, and violence. Teaching boys that they must live up to these concepts isn’t the best way to go.
In fact, Michigan State University conducted a study finding those engaging in toxic masculinity tend to find themselves socially isolated as time goes by. Ultimately, this impacts their overall well-being and happiness.
Other characteristics of toxic masculinity include:
- Stoicism – Being extra self-reliant, tough, and not showing emotion.
- Promiscuity – Being promiscuous, as to ‘one-up’ others who aren’t sexually conquering.
- Aggressiveness toward partners – Especially sexual aggression. This includes jokes, harassment, behaviors, or comments that provoke.
- Unemotional – Repressing emotions, believing that expressing them makes them weak.
How To Address Toxic Masculinity
We must first become aware that someone is displaying toxic masculinity. If so, it’s likely the degree of masculinity is causing problems for that person and others. Keep in mind that being masculine is not a bad thing. Feeling strong, courageous, assertive, and protective are good qualities. It’s when the line is crossed into the ‘toxic’ arena that it becomes a problem.
To deal with it, have a loving and compassionate conversation with the person you’re concerned about. Let them know exactly what behaviors have alerted you to the toxicity of their behavior. Hopefully, they will hear you and take your concerns into consideration. However, not everyone will enjoy hearing about how they’ve been acting out.
Prepare for backlash, but commit ahead of time to refrain from retaliating. Perhaps it’s just not their time to recognize their behavior, or want to do anything to change it. But if you are a recipient, you have every right to set firm boundaries.
Teaching Boys About Healthy Masculinity
If you’re a parent or caregiver and notice alarming masculine behaviors among your boy(s), have an honest conversation. Let them know it’s normal to show emotion. Tell them they are still considered manly if they show vulnerability; it does not indicate weakness.
Ask them what it means to them to be masculine. Get them talking about their perceptions and beliefs, as well as what they witness in school and the world. When we teach children at a younger age what a respectable, healthy, well-adjusted male should look like, they’re more apt to aspire to that model.