How Toxic Masculinity Harms Everyone (inc. Men)

February 11, 2023
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Categories: Male Mental Health
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0 min read
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Changes In Gender Norms

In recent decades the roles of women and men have been moving away from ‘gender norms’ and experiencing major transition, especially in the West.  It’s a confusing time because although we no longer hold so fast to traditional gender roles, we are still impacted by old ways. 

For example, the identities of young men and women are still negatively impacted by what is now known as ‘toxic masculinity’.  This is something that still bleeds through the fabric of society, via male dominated media such as pornography. 

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Kupers explains that toxic masculinity is “…the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”  

Toxic masculinity is a way of being for some men, that entails ‘masculine behaviours’ that harm women, and men.  Some examples of toxic masculinity are captured in expressions like “boys will be boys”.  This phrase excuses poor or inappropriate male behaviour.  Or “man up”.  This harms boys and men, telling them they are weak when they show signs of their humanity.

Society's Role

But these messages serve a function.  They encourage traditional masculine traits in societies that have bestowed masculine behavioural norms toward a masculine ideal, and in so doing, perpetuated gendered identities.  Society effectively tells men to fear their emotions, to be physically and mentally tough, independent, sexually aggressive, violent, homophobic, and to act in ways that are anti-feminist.

This maintains the status quo, that is, gender inequality.  Men are socialised and pressured to embody this toxic idea of maleness, which harms them and those around them.

How & Who Does Toxic Masculinity Harm?

  • Toxic masculinity means men behave in ways that harm women due to feelings of entitlement which have been validated by society in various ways.  For example, in the ways women are depicted in media, including pornography. There are countless statistics highlighting the harm that comes to women, very often from men they know intimately. 
  • Toxic masculinity can also be seen in wider society as anti-social behaviour, which can relate to drugs, and violence.
  • And in fact, the evidence shows that this kind of unhealthy masculinity harms men too, who act out in ways they see befitting their maleness, as they suffer alone with mental health problems
  • This may be why men are more likely to enact violence toward themselves, rather than seek help.  And therefore, why men are more likely than women, to end their own lives.  Sadly, there are many cases of men committing suicide because they suffer alone, rather than seek help. 

The Paradox

This is unacceptable, but it’s really no wonder because societal pressures communicate to men that vulnerability is a sign of weakness.  This is perhaps why many men are resistant not just to therapy, but to speaking about their inner feelings with close others. 

But, another man, Freud, proclaimed “out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength”.  Pointing to the courage and strength it takes to work through those moments of vulnerability, and how doing so does make us stronger.  The real point is, none of us HUMANS, men included, should, or can, be strong all of the time.

The Alternative To Toxic Masculinity

Healthy masculinity.  This is a more balanced sense of self.  It allows men to connect with a huge part of themselves; their emotional self.  This has been shown to boost self-esteem and life satisfaction and ameliorate against mental ill-health. 

  • This kind of masculinity teaches men that they are not deficient when they express their emotions. 
  • It tells men that they can treat women as equals and mentors without being judged or ridiculed. 
  • It lets men know that women can be just friends, because they are not just sexual objects and potential conquests. 
  • And that homosexuality is not to be feared.

All of this without feeling a threat to (male) identity.

How To Develop & Nurture Healthy Masculinity

Men should be challenged, held accountable, but also educated when they show signs of toxic masculinity.  They should also be encouraged toward open communication and emotional expression about their mental health issues, and also validated. 

And men should be taught about the importance of compassion and kindness toward themselves and others, which has been linked to good mental health in many populations.

Therapy can help men develop a more balanced sense of masculinity, one that will be beneficial for their own mental health, and all those around them. 

Table Of Contents
Changes In Gender Norms
What Is Toxic Masculinity?
Society's Role
How & Who Does Toxic Masculinity Harm?
The Paradox
The Alternative To Toxic Masculinity
How To Develop & Nurture Healthy Masculinity
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About The Author
Rehanna Kauser, Psychologist
Rehanna has studied Psychology and Counselling Psychology at four UK universities. She enjoys working with individuals, couples, and families, and also loves learning, and writing. Having always been fascinated with the human mind and behaviour, her interests marry well with her naturally caring disposition, and affinity toward helping people.
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