It’s a watchword: toxic masculinity.
We read about its dangers on a rapidly growing basis. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp are finally confronting the concept of toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity derives from the theory of hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is the concept of various leadership roles within the male community – this then manifests itself throughout society as a whole.
According to the analysis of R. W. Connell and James W. Messerschmidt in their article from Gender and Society, “From the mid-1980s and early 2000s, the concept of hegemonic masculinity thus passed from a conceptual mode with a fairly narrow empirical base to a widely used framework for research and debate about men and masculinities.”
These concepts of what it means to be a man or to be masculine are a short jump to the issue of men yearning to establish their dominance over women and other men.
Toxic masculinity is not something that men are born with — it is a learned trait. Boys act out in class and find comfort knowing that they’re simply “boys being boys.” Men get rough and violent with each other and again, it’s just boys being boys.
The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that, “Men are overrepresented in prisons are more likely than women to commit violent crimes and are at greatest risk of being a victim of violent crime.”
Men are taught from a young age that they need to suppress their emotions, that if they want to top of the food chain they need to be self-serving and, essentially, destroy anything in their paths. They should take what they want and not listen to those who tell them not to.
The APA also states in the same article that, “Traits of so-called ‘traditional masculinity,’ like suppressing emotions & masking distress, often start early in life & have been linked to less willingness by boys & men to seek help, more risk-taking & aggression — possibly harming themselves & those with whom they interact.”
Douglas Schrock and Michael Schwalbe write in an article in the Annual Review of Sociology that, “Learning to signify a masculine-self entails learning how to adjust to audiences and situations and learning how one’s other identities bear on the acceptability of a performance.”
Actor Justin Baldoni from the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” stated in an interview about toxic masculinity that, “The truth is, men are afraid to open up to each other because we’re afraid of being shamed and bullied. We’re afraid other men are going to use our weaknesses against us. I want men to go deep inside themselves and recognize the power that exists in their feminine qualities.”
The idea that in order to be “manly” one must carry themselves in a powerful, forceful way is antiquated. There’s no need to try and establish power over other men or women in order to validate oneself in their masculinity because masculinity is a social construct. By simply opening up and changing the dialogue about what it means to be a man, society as a whole may find a way to grow and end the toxic cycle of validating men’s desperate ploys of establishing dominance.