Unprecedented movements and moments have sent shock waves throughout society and some of its most traditional – and outdated – institutions. A culture of toxic masculinity is being examined and rejected, whether it’s in the family unit, the workplace or our relationships.
What is toxic masculinity?
Essentially, it’s the toxic ideas, expectations and beliefs about what it means to be a man and how a ‘real man’ should behave. These centre around stoicism, repression and aggression.
These toxic ideas reinforce gender stereotypes, particularly those in which men are dominant, strong and powerful over women.
Toxic masculinity teaches young boys to be embarrassed about their emotions and hide them, or avoid communicating them – unless it’s anger. So a typical rebuff to an upset boy would be to ‘man up’. Tim Winton, an author, described it as “boys having the tenderness shamed out of them”.
Dr Katharine Jenkins, an expert on the politics of gender at the University of Nottingham tells
i these expectations, stereotypes, and assumptions about how a man should be are harmful, either to the person trying to live up to them, or to others.
Toxic masculinity tells boys to cover emotion with anger
Robert Webb’s experience of toxic masculinity came from his domineering father. The Peep Show actor’s memoir, ‘How to be a boy’, recalls how he was terrified of him. He was discouraged from showing any emotion his father didn’t consider masculine, making him feel he was “never very good at being a boy”.
“What are we saying to a boy told to ‘man up’ or to ‘act like a man’?
“Often, we’re saying, ‘Stop expressing those feelings.’ And if a boy hears that enough, it actually starts to sound uncannily like, ‘Stop feeling those feelings.’
“It sounds like this: ‘Pain, guilt, grief, fear, anxiety: these are not appropriate emotions for a boy because they will be unacceptable emotions for a man. Your feelings will become someone else’s problem – your mother’s problem, your girlfriend’s problem, your wife’s problem. If it has to come out at all, let it come out as anger. You’re allowed to be angry. It’s boyish and man-like to be angry.'”
Read more here.
Or: just fight
Professor Green remembers how the toxic masculinity he encountered somewhat contracted the advice his nan repeatedly gave him: “fighting doesn’t make you a man, always walk away.”
“My mate got his bike stolen and his stepdad told him if anyone ever tried to take anything off of him again, to, ‘bite their fucking lip off!’. Quite different to my nan’s approach.”
Examples of toxic masculinity crop up everywhere
We are increasingly deconstructing gender roles and debunking the myth of the ‘real man’, but toxic masculinity still permeates popular culture.
— ITVBe (@ITVBe) April 1, 2018
Women’s Aid recently criticised The Only Way is Essex for normalising toxic masculinity after showing scenes where cast member Myles Barnett called his girlfriend a “slag” because another cast member, Jordan Wright, claimed he had flirted with her, and behaving aggressively.
But TV shows can also challenge toxic masculinity
Just look at hit Netflix series Queer Eye. In it, five men are parachuted in to make over another man’s life. Not only do they change their diets and the way they dress, they also examine their culture, behaviours and challenge them as and when they need to be. When one man asks designer Bobby Berk whether he is “the husband or the wife” in his same-sex marriage, he replies: “That is a misconception,” while Jonathan Van Ness adds: “let’s just unpack that.”
Or, as writer Alisha Rai put it:
The new Queer Eye is like…a body positive hug wrapped up in an embrace that deconstructs toxic masculinity and sometimes that Antoni guy is like hey this is how you cut an avocado
— Alisha Rai (@AlishaRai) February 17, 2018
We can’t talk about toxic masculinity without talking about misogyny
Toxic masculinity is something increasingly addressed after the #metoo movement and the recent trial of the rugby players acquitted of rape of a 19-year-old woman.
Messages released during the trial showed exchanges about women using misogynistic language, including from a player not involved in the trial who apologised for an explicit WhatsApp the jury heard was sent to Stuart Olding asking: “Any sluts get f***ed?”
i columnist Deborah Orr wrote: “Misogyny and sexual contempt, even when not displayed in cases of rape, do ruin lives. The evidence of how women were spoken about during this incident sends out the message that misogyny and sexual contempt are fine as long as they are consensual.”
Stag do culture perpetuates toxic masculinity
Dr Jenkins points to journalist Sirin Kale’s recent investigation into stag do deaths abroad as an example of the harm caused by toxic masculinity.
“A stereotype that’s part of toxic masculinity is ‘men should drink extremely large amounts of alcohol, and in particular should never refuse to drink alcohol that their friends are trying to get them to drink’. This leads to long-term negative effects such as alcohol-related diseases, but can also have dramatic short-term effects, as when men die of alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related accidents on stag trips.”
Toxic masculinity and rape culture can be intertwined
Here’s another example of a toxic norm, from Dr Jenkins: ‘Men should have as much heterosexual sex as possible, regardless of whether it’s wanted by the women involved’.
“This leads men who are living up to the norm to exert pressure on women to agree to sex, to continue to press them for sex even after she has shown she does not want to.
‘In this case, it’s another person who gets harmed, at least in the first instance (because there could be negative consequences for the man also, such as a conviction for rape).
“Notice how in the stag night example, men are being pushed or egged on to live up to these norms by other men in their social group.”
Toxic masculinity dehumanises women…
…something Terry Cruz recently pointed out. “People have to understand that masculinity can be a cult,” the actor and former NFL player said. “There’s a lack of empathy from men who are in this cult. A guy is looking at you that is not all the way human, and there is a humanity issue here.”
Ultimately, toxic masculinity is about power
“I think power is the key here: any context in which men have the power to press other men to behave in certain ways and/or to get away with harming other people,” Dr Jenkins says. “So for example, if there is a context, such as an organised sport, where a man who does not behave in the expected way can be excluded or dropped by the other men on the team, toxic masculinity might thrive.
“Another example would be if a male drinking society has a social cachet that meant any women who complained about them would be seen as ‘uncool’ and subject to social exclusion or ostracisation – this would enable toxic masculinity to thrive because it would make women less likely to complain and so insulate men who harm women from experiencing bad consequences.
“Anonymity is another feature of contexts that would, in a similar way, serve to insulate men from the consequences of their harmful actions – this is relevant in many online contexts. These are just two examples: there are many, many contexts with similar patterns of power distribution, across all areas of society, both informal and formal (where sanctions are things like losing one’s job or being passed over for promotion).”
And a healthy relationship is about balance
A TV programme about zombies, murder and cannibalism is doing a great job of challenging toxic masculinity, says Amna Saleem, simply because as a couple the protagonists support each other.
‘Santa Clarita Diet gently challenges aspects of toxic masculinity and is a great example of a supportive and playful relationship. The bar may be low for men, and Drew Barrymore’s Sheila is the true feminist in this show, but Joel is the sort of male character we rarely get to see. A husband and father who is allowed to be soft without being considered weak.
Why should we care?
Because toxic masculinity hurts everyone.
Source : https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/women/what-is-toxic-masculinity-and-why-does-it-matter/