PERSPECTIVES: Toxic masculinity

Illustration by Maia Wiederhold

Toxic masculinity is the idea that traits commonly portrayed in society as masculine, such as dominance and bottling emotions, eventually lead to destructive social practices and beliefs. Here is what two of our staff members had to say about this topic.

The effects of toxic masculinity on women
By Maia Wiederhold, illustrator.

Toxic masculinity is a controversial topic in today’s society. These notions of toxic masculinity, which tend to be highly specific and restrictive, have developed into harmful social constructs for women such as double standards, misogyny and conditions that can be mentally debilitating to women.

At the very heart of toxic masculinity is the hatred for femininity. Toxic masculinity shames men for portraying any characteristics that society has deemed fit for a female. Why are these standards, such as showing emotions or acting without aggression, good enough for women, but when men represent these characteristics they are viewed as weak and docile? This directly implies that feminine characteristics, and women as a whole, are less than or weaker than men. The fact that men directly take offense to being told they are acting “like a girl” shows us how they really view the female sex. Femininity is so repulsive to some that it is actually being taken as an insult.

Women are similarly disparaged by men in society if they display “typical” feminine characteristics or not. If a woman cries in public and expresses her feelings, she is viewed as weak. Yet, if a woman disregards the limitations society has built around her, she is shamed for expressing masculine traits or trying to do something that is believed to only be successfully accomplished by a man. Many men are still having trouble accepting women into male-dominated industries, such as construction, skilled trades or law enforcement, sometimes devaluing their contributions in the field or, sometimes, going as far as hazing them within the work environment.

This ideation in men affects women both mentally and emotionally, by destroying their humanity and treating them as objects instead of the powerful and beautiful people that they are. In the same line of thinking, some men view women as sexual trophies and accomplishments. This leaves a woman feeling as if her worth and importance is diminished, and she is meant to be nothing more than a conquest for these toxic males.

When women conform to the standards of femininity, they are accepting social norms, but in return are viewed as the inferior sex. However, if a woman steps out of these barriers, she is considered to now be masculine. Because of toxic masculinity, and the social constructs that have come to define what is considered “manly” or acceptable for a man, a woman can’t be herself without worrying about whether or not she is going to be ridiculed for her actions. It seems as if no matter what a woman does, she is always shamed or forced to be aware of who she is.

Toxic masculinity stems from gender restriction
By Zach Parfeniuk, reporter.

Toxic masculinity is not an attack on an entire gender, even though it refers to the behavior of males that is violent or discriminatory towards women. It’s more about the ideas that are associated with the male gender that lead to violent and inappropriate behavior toward women, such as sexual assault or harassment. It also restricts men from expressing themselves (the term “real men don’t cry” comes to mind), leading to them bottling their feelings, then lashing out in unhealthy ways.

So how do we fix this problem? In my opinion, one of the ways to get at the problem of toxic masculinity is to challenge gender norms that continue to restrict us.

Male gender norms from when I was younger, such as emphasis on toughness and physical strength, continue to affect us today. When I was bullied in my youth, many attributed it to not being strong enough to stand up for myself. In essence, not displaying my masculinity in a way that was satisfactory. Mental dysfunctions like social anxiety or depression were seen as signs of weakness, and if I were to seek out treatment for them (a very non-masculine thing, to ask for help), then I would be shunned for it.

Gender bias seeps into our modern lives in ways we often don’t even stop to think about. From the colors of our clothes to the way we act. It starts in the way we’re raised, and forms our beliefs and creates concepts like “masculine bravery”, or “feminine care.”

This can be one of the many things that leads to violent or sexist behavior in males. Those that take gender orientation far too seriously carry the social expectations into their adulthood.

These gender norms inherently limit people, and make them feel constricted in society. So, the way we can work against this is by not looking at our actions as a factor of gender, but our own personalities that we are in control of. Recent scientific studies, such as Bruce Goldman’s “Two Minds” study from Stanford Medicine, have found evidence that the differences between men and women’s brains are largely small scale and inconsequential to the greater concept of gender.

We need to recognize that clothes, hair, actions… none of these should be bound with strict limitations. Gender should help expression not hinder it.

The key point is openness. Anyone should be able to enjoy their style, hobbies, voice, favorite foods, whatever. No one should be frowned upon if they break gender stereotypes.

By doing this, we can start to see toxic masculinity as the harmful behavior it really is. At the end of the day, take away the social history and all that’s left is a sense of cockiness and forcefulness that leaves people uncomfortable.

It’s simply my belief that many things constricted by gender should be treated as universal idea, and, by doing this, eventually we’ll see everyone as their own person.

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