Is “toxic masculinity” real or just an attack on men?

Boy’s don’t cry. Man up. Don’t be such a girl.

These days the term “toxic masculinity” seems to be everywhere. Most recently the term has been used when talking about the advertisement released by Gillette – an ad which challenged the idea that things like catcalling and bullying are okay. It calls on men to hold each other accountable and correct misogynistic behavior and attitudes. But while that ad has been met with enthusiasm by some, others have viewed it as an attack on traditional male values and behavior.

But what is “toxic masculinity?” Is it really an attack on all men and masculine behavior?

For the first time in 127 years, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued guidelines helping psychologists specifically address the issues faced by men and boys.

“Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health.”

In our society, boys and men are traditionally taught that an ability to dominate, control, and to succeed at all costs is the highest value they possess. The APA refers to this as “masculinity ideology,” which it defines as, “a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”

In other words, “toxic masculinity” is the idea that in order to be masculine, one must:

  • Suppress their emotions, especially distress
  • Maintain an appearance of “toughness” or hardness
  • Use violence or “tough-guy” behavior to gain power and respect

Are all men and masculine behaviors inherently toxic? Of course not. The idea of “toxic masculinity” is the idea that cultural lessons that uphold aggression, violence, and emotional suppression as pillars of manhood are toxic.

In the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Menthe APA states that overly stressing values like those listed above have led to a number of problems. For example:

  • Boys are disproportionately represented among school-aged children with behavior problems such as bullying, school suspensions, and aggression
  • Men are over-represented in prisons and are more likely to commit or be a victim of a violent crime
  • Men are four times more likely to commit suicide but are less likely to be diagnosed with internalizing disorders such as depression
  • Boys are disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD and other externalizing disorders.

So what, then, is non-toxic masculinity? In short it’s the idea that:

  • Boys and men have feelings, and it’s okay to express them appropriately
  • It’s okay for boys and men to be vulnerable with those they love
  • Masculinity is not fragile or dependent on an appearance of “toughness”

Are there traditionally masculine values that are non-toxic? Of course. Confidence, honor, a sense of justice, dependability, honesty, and yes – strength. Not the type of strength that insists on suppressing emotion, but that reminds boys and men that they can be both vulnerable and strong – one does not preclude the other. Boys of certain ages and maturity levels do cry. They do feel and express fear and uncertainty.

It’s time to let boys be boys.

Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.

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