Dismantling Toxic Masculinity

Author : Seán Connolly

Opening the dialogue on toxic masculinity is something that should be discussed freely and openly, whenever and wherever we see fit.  We should be able to do this without judgement, without fear or without ridicule, especially from other men.

In this blog I want to share with you what that looks like in today’s world – the stereotypes, the stigma, and the impact it can have, not only on ourselves but on the people around us and the space that we ultimately share with one another.

To me and to other men that I have spoken to, toxic masculinity is something that puts men under this unnecessary pressure, a drain on their emotional and mental state as they are forced into being someone that they are not.

Some of us wake each day with an instant, anxious energy.  This negative, uncomfortable, dark energy. It drives some men to we live up to this ego driven, falsified image of grandeur, someone who is tough – tough in the sense that we do not display emotions that may be deemed as feminine or weak.  This form of stereotyping and stigma means that for some men, they feel that they need to go it alone, that they do not need help and they do not need to ask for it from others. There’s this illusion, through this lens, that men who seeks help or show any inkling of vulnerability will make them look smaller and weaker in the eyes of other – not good enough.

This can lead to a frame of mind to overcompensate for their seemingly inferior qualities by allowing their own ego and negative view of the world to fuel behaviors that can be aggressive, violent, domineering, controlling, cold and can lead them to bully or harm others, in particular those that don’t fit their criteria or version of what they deem to be masculine.

The truth is, is that no man, or human, is born in this way.  It takes elements of society and those that have gone before us who carve out these very narrow, dark paths that place these men upon them from a very young age. A strict philosophy that a man needs to be tough, strong, dominant, emotionless, heterosexual, anti-feminine and overly independent.

It puts men from a very young and innocent age into what can feel like a steel box, completely closed off, unable to breath and be who they want to be due to the confinements placed around them.

If we focus on the roots of the issue we can look at society and boys from a very young age that are told that they need to “be a big boy now”, “that’s for girls”, “boys don’t cry”….these three brief statements immediately demonstrate to a boy that he has to be tough and closed off or wear this mask of invincibility, that he keeps away from anything that may be deemed as feminine from a toxic mindset, such as dolls, cooking, music, even certain colours and lastly, that they do not display any sign of weakness or emotion.  Out of all those quotes I feel the one that has the biggest impact from a young age is “boys don’t cry”.  It’s a core belief for almost everything that they will go through in life.  That in order to be a man they must suppress their feelings and not display genuine emotion.  That they must bottle it up and not speak about it, which ultimately builds and builds and leads to them venting through negative behavior such as violently lashing out, harming others, or self-harm.

Self-harm can take on many forms, be it through substance abuse and addiction, to physical self-harm and for those men who feel there is no way to gain the support and tools to break free of this steel box, those men who feel that they can not open up, those men that have to handle it all on their own, they regrettably resort to suicide.

According to the central statistics office, in 2017, there were 500 deaths by suicide in Ireland.  391, or 78% of those suicides were, male.  The Movember Foundation, massive advocates for mens health state that on average, one man will take his life every minute of every day, that means that by the end of this article we will have lost approximately five men – that could be a grandfather, a father, an uncle, a nephew, a brother, son or grandson.

Violent behavior is also a major cause for concern.

Data published by the Violence Policy Center in 2017 showed that 93% of murdered female victims were killed by male perpetrators they already knew. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a study about intimate partner violence in 2017. According to the WHO, approximately 38% of all murdered women were killed by an intimate male partner. In the United States, males comprise more than 90% of all violent criminal perpetrators.

These statistics speak to the importance of education and prevention surrounding toxic masculinity.

How do we combat these elements of toxic masculinity, what can we do, as a society, as men to not only help ourselves but future generations?

For ourselves, we must have accountability.  We need to be accountable and aware of our state of mind and that of our actions.  We need to begin that inner dialogue and encourage positive ways of thinking about what we are doing in the present moment and what we are about to do.  Men who currently suffer from toxic traits that have been discussed do have a sense of what these triggers are as their actions ultimately lead to outcomes that can harm themselves or others. Thanks to technology, there is a wealth of knowledge and education out there for men who are not quite ready to speak openly to others in a physical sense.  Your EAP and Organizations such as Movember, Pieta House, Mens Sheds,The Samaritans are always there to offer assistance and be an ear for those who are willing to voice their concerns.  If we’re feeling pent up negative energy and need a release, exercise, can release those happy hormones and endorphins which tips the scales in a positive way, leaning to a more rewarding outcome instead of a self-destructive one. Take up a new hobby to distract and educate the mind.  There are an infinite number of ways to improve your wellbeing and it is NEVER too late to begin.  Your body and mind will thank you for this in endless ways!

Once we begin that journey, to nurture our own positive health and wellbeing, we can pass this gift onto younger generations and enable them to do the same.  We can encourage boys and young men to open up about their feelings, that being able to express emotions in a healthy way is a great thing.

So let boys cry, let them love in a way that benefits them, teach them about respect for all genders, races and backgrounds.  These boys will become the men that will encourage growth in their communities, societies and the people around them.

Remember that struggle in life is inevitable, everything we do involves using energy and effort.  The main thing is that we do the right thing with this energy and effort, something that encourages self-compassion and kindness for you and for others, ultimately changing toxic masculinity into healthy masculinity.

You are good enough!