How toxic masculinity affects men and women
Toxic masculinity is one of those words that makes people, men especially, really upset rather quickly. However, I have also found that it’s rare for someone who doesn’t like it to be able to tell me what it means.
Dictionary.com defines it as, “A cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health.”
What’s wrong with being strong? What’s wrong with stoicism and virility? Nothing, but we as humans cannot be strong all the time. The glorification of these traits is often what leads to harm.
We have to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be strong? As a woman, I have learned that strength has little to do with how often I hit the gym. I know I am strong because when times get tough, when I get knocked down, no matter how hard I am hit, I stand back up.
Sometimes it takes me a second to recover. I lay on the ground for a moment, and sometimes I need help to get back on my feet, but still, I know that this isn’t the end. I much more value emotional strength over the ability to deadlift.
Toxic masculinity teaches that strength is only physical. As an outsider who experiences toxic masculinity but does not live it, I see that strength is often categorized as the ability to get your way, suppressing your feelings and being taught that anger and violence are acceptable while sadness and tears are not.
Women are taught the opposite. I am not allowed to be angry or indigent; I can only be sad. I have had to unlearn that and come to terms with my emotions. But as a woman, I have far more freedom to do so than men do.
This is one example of how toxic masculinity in time negatively impacts men, and the consequences are often devastating. According to the mental health foundation, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. And worse, since toxic masculinity teaches that you cannot admit weakness, men are also far less likely to seek out the therapy services they would benefit from.
Toxic masculinity can also present as having no empathy, being overly sexual, practicing sexism, hyper-competitiveness and other undesirable male traits. To be toxic in this context means to take good characteristics like strength and warp them into something harmful.
Men are also encouraged from a younger age to have sexual encounters and have more sexual partners than women are. While women are burdened by purity culture, men are encouraged to engage in sexual acts even though they may not be educated on consent.
Men aren’t often taught what rape is, and not only does that increase the risk of men being a perpetrator, it means we don’t equip them with the knowledge that they, too, can say no; that they can also be victims of sexual assault. Instead of educating men on sex, we leave them to learn about it from their friends or peers, or from pornography.
It’s easy to see how behavior like this feeds into rape culture. The objectification of women combined with the desperate need of men who exhibit these traits to prove themselves, and the way we poorly educate both men and women about sex, it’s not difficult for me to personally see how we create an environment where gender-based violence is prevalent.
So, what happens when you are a man who’s a victim of sexual assault? If we condition men to be strong and that they are protectors, what happens when they too experience the unthinkable?
The statistics around sexual assault and women are talked about frequently. But men are also at risk. Similar to women, male college students are five times more likely to be victimized than their non-college-going counterparts. And according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one in every ten victims of sexual assault is male. You can click here to go to RAINN’s official website for more statistics.
For both sexes, being sexually assaulted means that they are more at risk of developing maladaptive behaviors, including increased drug use, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide.
This makes men especially more vulnerable to turn to drugs and alcohol for relief because we don’t teach them how to cope with hardship like we teach women. Toxic masculinity teaches men that they are never to be knocked down, and women should remain lying down.
The reality is that sexual assault can happen to anyone. Being a man doesn’t protect you from this crime, and you are not a weaker person or less of a man if you have been affected by this crime. You can get help; you deserve to access the available resources and your voices and experiences matter too.
As we talk about this issue this week, don’t feel forgotten. You are not just a minor statistic. The available resources can help. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are less.
Don’t let toxic masculinity define your identity. You can describe more than a few words can describe. You are seen, and you can stand with women against sexual violence. This is not an issue that’s men versus women; it’s everyone versus sexual violence.