“Man up” and “be a man.” These are phrases we sometimes hear in real life and in the media. We might not pay attention to such words the moment they’re said, but if we think about them, what do they mean, really?
Though people around us utter these phrases without much thought, words always hold some sort of weight. In this case, the weight these specific words hold is the belief that to be a “real” man, you must have a certain set of characteristics. The problem is that these characteristics are… actually quite problematic when you really look at them. Thus, the issue of toxic masculinity is born.
What is toxic masculinity?
The concept of toxic masculinity has been around since the 20th century. Toxic masculinity promotes a number of traits you would need to have to be considered a “real man.” Some of these traits include lack of emotion and empathy, complete dominance in relationships, and repulsion towards anything considered “feminine.” Moreover, this repulsion is extended towards gay men or men who simply enjoy partaking in “feminine” activities, like painting their nails or being the homemaker of the household.
How does toxic masculinity negatively affect women?
Sadly, women and other non-men bear the brunt of toxic masculinity too many times for comfort. The characteristics that supposedly make a real man can hurt us in many ways.
For example, the aforementioned desire for complete dominance in a relationship. If you are in a relationship with a man who exhibits toxic masculinity, chances are high that he will want to control certain aspects of your life. He could tell you that you cannot spend time with your male friends without him, or that you can’t wear certain clothes he thinks are too revealing. He might not even like the idea of you going out without him, even if it’s just a girl’s night out.
Men who exhibit toxic masculinity also value strength. This, combined with their forced suppression of emotions, can result in aggression very quickly. Unfortunately, this means they are likely to commit domestic violence against their significant others.
How does toxic masculinity negatively affect men?
That’s right, toxic masculinity affects men too, whether they internalize it or target other men. Toxic masculinity looks a little different when it affects men, though.
One of the biggest traits of toxic masculinity, as stated above, is the lack of emotion. Men, like everyone else, are born with emotions to express. However, when a young boy cries to express his sadness or pain, then hears “boys don’t cry,” a phrase that’s all too common, he grows up to believe that crying is a “feminine” thing, and that being feminine is something he needs to avoid doing.
Does the boy still experience sadness and pain as he grows older? Yes, of course. The only difference is that he bottles up these emotions now. And what does that result in? Depression.
Also, the fear of anything feminine means that these men will never let themselves try out new things they could end up greatly enjoying, such as fruity drinks and makeup. More than that, though, toxic masculinity promotes homophobia, especially towards men who are considered “flamboyant.” This is because being gay is already considered a feminine trait, but “acting” gay (i.e. “like a girl”) is even worse! Internalized homophobia is no exception to this, and it results in men suppressing their sexuality to maintain a certain image, usually at the cost of their happiness.
As we can see, the seemingly innocent phrases of “man up” and “be a man” might not look like a big deal at first, but they’ve actually got a lot of baggage attached to them. The expectations of what a “real man” is are just there to uphold and perpetuate patriarchal ideals, even though they harm all genders.
In short, if you’re a man and you want to wear skirts or wear floral-scented perfume? Go for it. Who cares? The things we consider taboo for certain genders to do or not do are all made up anyway. The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we can have a little more happiness in our lives!