Toxic Masculinity

Sid Hogge, Opinion writer

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“Man up” and “be a man.” Two phrases used against both men and women when they don’t measure up to society’s ideals of masculinity. Most men will try to prove themselves because they’re scared of being perceived as emasculate in front of their peers. Toxic masculinity is a standard of manliness that is expected from men at a very young age. Toxic masculinity creates a cultural mind set that can be extremely detrimental to an individual’s health. Masculinity as it is known in western society puts emphasis on strength, independence, assertiveness, and violence. Men often pridefully identify with these traits. They emphasize the importance of being a  provider, to be responsible, and to be a man. However the phrase “man up” is a challenge, and there’s an immediate disconnect from those positive attributes that are being confident, responsible, and having leadership ability. The expectations from peers must be met to prove that they’re capable of being masculine. These behaviors are often influenced by social, cultural, and contextual norms inherited by friends or influenced by parents. This is a problem burdening not only men, but all of society.

Toxic masculinity is harmful to one’s health for many reasons. One of these reasons is the suppression of emotion. Due to social expectations, most men feel as though they cannot openly express when they are upset about something.

In an article about the effects of toxic masculinity on men, freelance writer Suzannah Weiss states, “Toxic masculinity dictates that the only emotion men can express is anger, which can hinder men from getting in touch with other things they’re feeling.” This leads men to neglect how they’re often feeling in front of others. The expectation for men to constantly and consistently be ‘strong’ is harmful and unrealistic. From a young age men are expected to be the provider, or shoulder to lean on, and when they are upset their feelings are often invalidated because of these expectations. “Boys don’t cry,” after all. Instead of displaying their emotions they bottle them up and often release them in the form of aggression. This is due to years of conditioning resulting in a cycle most men, if not society, has normalized. When men bottle up their emotions they may eventually ‘explode’. This explosion might not be only self destructive, but also harmful to those around them.

These expectations are not only emotional, but are also physical standards. Writer Jessica Lovejoy expresses, “When a chubby school boy is bullied by his peers about his weight, barely an eyelid is batted. When he is called a slob by his workmates, he is expected to let it roll right off his back.”  Men are expected to fit into the ideal male image in order to avoid being perceived weak by their peers. Men are expected to have defined abs, broad shoulders, and narrow hips. Diet culture is not only destructive to women and their self esteem, but also targets men. Commercials and advertisements target men who do not conform to society’s body standards. These expectations are extremely unrealistic, and can have detrimental effects on an individual’s health. A study by the National Eating Disorder Association reported that of the estimated 30 million people in the United States with an eating disorder, 10 million are men. Eating disorders are the deadliest psychiatric illness, and unrealistic body standards for men promote eating disorders that put men directly at risk. Toxic masculinity creates an unhealthy body image that feeds into diet culture, destroying men’s self esteem and health.

Toxic masculinity is harmful to men and those around them, and societies expectations of men emotionally needs revision. Being healthy isn’t always being muscular, it’s maintaining a body weight that is healthy for you. Expressing emotions is not a sign of weakness. Instead of calling men emasculate or feminine when they make an effort we need to start validating their feelings from an early age, repairing centuries of damage and expectations. It all begins with starting small. Encouraging boys to express themselves and talk about their emotions openly would not only benefit their mental health and well being now, but future generations of men as well.