By ANA-SOFIA MUÑOZ
Boys don’t cry.
More likely than not, you have heard a statement like this at one point or another.
For the majority of men, the idea that they should refrain from expressing emotions has been engrained into their minds since early childhood. Up until recent years, the suppression of male emotions has been largely enforced and widely accepted by society.
Enter the concept of toxic masculinity.
While the term may sound as though it is denouncing masculine traits or behavior, this is far from the truth. Toxic masculinity is defined as the adherence to traditional male gender roles that stigmatize the expression of emotions like sadness or fear, while simultaneously glorifying traits such as stoicism and dominance.
Consequently, this expectation for all men to remain “strong” regardless of circumstances has created a particularly harmful culture that negatively impacts both men and women alike. Many men are left to deal with a myriad of mental health issues and may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms. In turn, women are forced to bear the brunt of the misogyny that typically stems from these dangerous ideologies.
Ultimately, however, the pressure towards men to maintain a constant facade of strength often comes from every direction and breeds the toxic masculinity that we condemn; it is our responsibility as a society to subvert the social norms that fuel this mindset.
Surprisingly, the primary driving force behind toxic masculinity is men themselves. Beginning in youth, boys are told that actions like crying or expressing interest in traditionally feminine things makes them “weak” and “less of a man.” These ideas are commonly perpetuated by male figures in one’s life who were also brought up to conform to one-dimensional definitions of masculinity. When men uphold each other to a standard that requires them to feign unwavering strength, it may lead them to refuse to seek help when they really need it.
Further, many women may also hold men to a harmful double-standard that punishes any behavior outside of the traditional male stereotype. Women will advocate for other women to break out of gender roles, while simultaneously criticizing “unmasculine” behaviors or traits as being undesirable in men.
With the combined pressure from both male peers and their female counterparts, men will feel driven to conceal their emotions—an act that can lead to potentially devastating consequences. In fact, the American Psychological Association warns that enforcing extremely strict and traditional masculinity is linked to aggression and misogyny. As a whole, the social expectations that constitute toxic masculinity may lead men to express a false sense of dominance through force. In an attempt to be perceived as the “ideal male,” men are led to the various behaviors that society often criticizes: domestic violence, substance abuse and even sexual assault.
To make matters worse, the emotional constraints that our culture places on men appear to manifest in other, more internalized ways. With no outlet to comfortably express their feelings, men may resort to harming themselves. This can be viewed in the elevated male suicide rates; as of 2018, the American Association of Suicidology reports that the male suicide rate is approximately three times that of females.
Evidently, the impossible standard of strength to which men are upheld has taken an obvious toll. The variety of negative repercussions prove that the de-stigmatization of male emotions is long overdue.
But how can we as a society undo generations’ worth of enforcing toxic masculinity?
The solution begins with both our own personal treatment of men, as well as instituting spaces for them to discuss their experiences. Outlets such as men’s groups like ManKind Project USA are an example of avenues that allow judgment-free conversations and offer emotional support.
Overall, when we start to develop an objective perspective regarding the way societal expectations impact men because we may pave a way for them to feel more comfortable expressing their emotions and break free from outdated gender norms.