“Toxic” tends to be a difficult word to use when discussing social issues. I get it all the time when I bring up toxic monogamy and how harmful it can be to relationships. The hardcore monogamists on my feed jump in and accuse me of shaming monogamy as a whole, saying that not everyone wants to live the same lifestyle as me. When I attempt to explain that I am absolutely supportive of monogamy and explain the difference between healthy and toxic monogamy, they still don’t understand where I’m coming from and claim there is toxicity in everything.
There has been an uproar of controversy surrounding the new Gillette commercial discussing toxic masculinity. Was it a way to boost sales? Probably. Regardless, men everywhere are puffing out their chests, posting photos of Gillette razors they’ve smashed, photos of them and their family holding guns and they scream “You can’t take our masculinity from us!”. The term has been wildly misconstrued to a point where people are assuming that it is an attack on men, when that isn’t the case at all.
Toxic masculinity, otherwise known as Hegemonic masculinity, is defined on Wikipedia as “A practice that legitimizes powerful men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of the common male population and women, and other marginalized ways of being a man.”. So what this is saying is, that due to societal expectations, men are expected to not show emotions, talk about their mental health, report sexual abuse (or any abuse for that matter) so that they are perceived as an ‘Alpha’ male. There are so many examples on what men are expected to do to maintain their ‘tough guy’ status which in turn can create damaged, abusive and emotionally unstable men.
Another great example is the expression I hate with every fiber of my being:
“Boys will be boys”
One of my ex partner’s mother used to say that constantly. It makes my skin crawl every time I hear someone say it. This phrase is often used when physical violence is used among boys, angry outbursts, or when men use the strategy of “pulling your pigtail in the school yard because he likes you” to get your attention. However, I’ve also heard this used with other things such as, forgetting or neglecting to do important day to day tasks that women are expected to handle like cooking, cleaning, laundry etc.
Toxic masculinity was (and probably still is) rampant in my mother’s house. As I previously mentioned in another article, my mom and step father held me to a standard of perfection that I couldn’t attain. This later lead into a slew of confidence and mental health issues that I still struggle with today. Although, I am sad to say that my brother got (and probably still gets) it a lot worse. Between hearing them tell my brother, since the age of 2, that boys don’t cry and to toughen up, as well as them pushing him to the brink of exhaustion for soccer and maintaining academics, I fear that he will harbor a lot of anger and resentment. My mom also never believed in therapy because it was for “weak people” and true strength is shown by people dealing with their problems on their own.
I consider myself a feminist and generally have lengthily discussions with my partner and friends about the things women, including myself, have to deal with on a daily basis. Even as a feminist, I’m able to see that we aren’t the only ones suffering. While our societal expectations revolve around looking pretty, acting poise and shaving everything besides the hair on our head, men are pressured through society to be ‘Alpha’ or ‘tough’. Thousands of men a year, in Canada alone, will be sexually abused and have a hard time coming forward about it because they are expected to stay silent. They will be told not to cry because it’s weak. When the emotional repercussions come out as anger, people will brush it off as ‘boys will be boys’ and move on
So no, we are not trying to strip you of your manhood. We’re not telling you to stop drinking beer, or to stop driving your lifted trucks and lowered sports cars. We’re asking you to be good to yourself. We’re asking you to be good to other people. We’re asking you to stop telling your sons that they shouldn’t cry or that therapy is weak. Be as masculine as you want, but go see a psychologist once in a while. Speak up about that abusive significant other. Watch a sad movie and bawl your fucking eyes out.
It’s a new year! Let’s leave those societal expectations for men (and women) in 2018.