On Toxic Masculinity

by Caroline LaGumina

 

Over the past 100 years, women’s movements have greatly transformed the role of women and femininity in society, particularly when it comes to challenging the stereotypes, norms, and expectations of traditional “femininity.” However, the acceptance of the prescribed norms of masculinity has remained alarmingly steady.  

 

Like many, I was outraged by the most recent school shooting in Florida.  I knew it wasn’t an anomaly and I wanted to explore how this system of culturally promoted violence is produced and maintained.  I wanted to unpack why, since 1982, 92 of 94 mass shooters have been male. It is important to focus on the fact that boys and men are often forced into a prescribed identity of hyper-masculinity that then contributes to the normalization of violence in our culture today. Emotionality is seen as a quality that could strip one of his manhood.  Consequently, men are taught that the anger is the only acceptable emotion.  

This acceptance of anger is often transmitted through any of the various mediums of technology young men tend to use.  Boys spend 15 hours a week playing video games and 40 hours a week watching TV, movies, or sports.  Further, 90% of games rated appropriate for children over 10 contain violence, exposing boys to this type of behavior as a way for of resolving conflicts from a very young age.  In these games and shows the heroes are often silent (usually white) men who violently lash out at their enemies.  The characters rarely reveal any inkling of sadness.  This in turn suggests to young men that they should translate any emotion they may have, from anxiety to tenderness, into anger or even silence.                

Many gender-psychologists call this “the great set-up.”  This essentially means that, while we teach young boys that their very identity as a man is contingent upon their rejection of anything feminine, we are often surprised when men do not view women as equal.  We are setting boys up for failure by raising them to define their masculinity in a “toxic” or “hyper masculine” way. Toxic masculinity reveals itself in shockingly high rates of domestic violence and on-campus sexual assault. It is important to note that our culture is the culprit; it teaches that men must have identities that are naturally aggressive, sexual, and superior.

This process is not only detrimental to women, but also to the men who go through it.  Less than 50% of boys and men with mental health challenges seek help, often because they have been taught to reject emotion and further they have been taught to see it as a weakness.  This constant policing of masculinity, by both men and women, prompts men to have to constantly prove that they are ‘man enough’.  Admitting emotionality, or mental illness, could potentially strip them of their masculinity and thus prompt disrespect from other men.  Furthermore, internalization of mental health concerns can lead to a translation into externalized violence or coping mechanisms.  A study done by the National Institute of Health found that prevalence rates of alcohol-use disorders are twice as high for young adult men as compared to women, and further that 68% of male college students equated the ability to physically consume and tolerate large amounts of alcohol without adverse reactions as being characteristic of “masculine” behavior.  Self-destructive behavior like this is characteristic of the toxic masculinity that culture has created for boys.  It tells them that they cannot cry for help, and they cannot admit weakness.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.  This is to say that toxic masculinity is killing men.

Sources

Grant BF, Dawson DA, Stinson FS, Chou SP, Dufour MC, Pickering RP. The 12-month prevalence and trends in DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: United States, 1991–1992 and 2001–2002. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2004;74(3):223–234.

The Representation Project

The American foundation for Suicide Prevention