Recently, we were sent a link to an article about why masculinity is good — and why the concept of “toxic masculinity” is nonsense. Among other things, the article claimed that characteristics such as aggression and violence are good, and that attempting to steer boys away from these “typical male traits,” is making men more like women.
There is a lot to unpack in this article, starting with the rather offensive assumption that there is something wrong with being like a woman. But perhaps more importantly, the author’s belief that boys and men are inherently violent and aggressive — and that we should celebrate and encourage this —is not just wrong, but dangerous.
To begin, we need to delve into a few critical ideas about gender. First, research has shown that there is very little difference between the brains of women and men. Second, people of different genders often act differently not due to biological characteristics, but because of societal and cultural norms around masculinity and femininity. Gender identity is a deeply held feeling of being male, female or a different gender, and may also play a role in how a person acts in relation to their gender.
Based on this scientific understanding of gender, it is evident that boys and men aren’t naturally violent or aggressive, just as girls and women are not inherently weak or passive. These stereotypes are nothing more than cultural expectations that we place upon boys and girls, and that can lead to a form of behavior that is toxic. This is where the phrase toxic masculinity comes from — not because masculinity itself is bad, but because the way that we socialize boys in our culture is often toxic, for both men and women.
According to the Good Men Project, toxic masculinity is “…a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”
The point of this concept is that we don’t want men to be limited by the roles that society thrusts upon them, which are often harmful. Studies have shown that toxic masculinity can be incredibly damaging to men, leading to health problems, an increase in self-harming behaviors and a suicide rate that is four times higher than for women. It also is directly linked to the rate of gender-based violence in our country, and the reason why the vast majority of violent crime in the United States is committed by men.
When we talk about toxic masculinity, we don’t do so to denigrate or insult men. It is actually the opposite — it is because we want more and better for the men and boys in our lives. We don’t believe that anyone should be limited by society’s expectations of how they should act based on their gender. Giving people more choice and autonomy over how they live their lives isn’t a bad thing — unlike putting boys into a small box and telling them that they can only act a certain way if they want to be a “real man.”
We know that it can be challenging to push back against cultural norms that have been in place for generations. That is why we have worked with local organizations, such as the Greensburg-Hempfield Library, to put together innovative programs designed to help foster a sense of strength and individuality in local kids. If you would like to learn more about our training and education programs, contact us anytime.