I Don’t Get It: Toxic Masculinity 101

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Words || James Booth

Well Men, this special edition of I don’t get it is just for you. We’re unpacking that phrase on everyone’s lips “Toxic Masculinity”, and if you’ve ever found yourself thinking that you don’t “get it” when it comes to discussions of masculinity in online spaces this section is just for you matey! Let Uncle Grapeshot teach you a little about how to “be a man” in a world which tries and tells us blokes that we’re “toxic”.

Masculinity

First things first, let’s address the common misconception that the phrase “toxic masculinity” describes all masculinity as being a problem. This is incorrect, and I assure you that the majority of people using this term are not referring to all forms of masculine expression as inherently wrong and bad.

Masculinity by definition is the set of behaviours, attributes and roles predominantly associated with boys and men. It should be kept in mind that masculinity is not necessarily linked to the male biological sex. It should also be kept in mind that the standards by which masculinity and manliness are defined are dependent on social, historical and cultural norms. As such we have seen the notions of what is masculine change over the course of history, and will continue to see this happen in the future.

Toxic Masculinity

Toxic Masculinity as a phrase has its origins in feminist discourse, however it has come to be used widely within the community. Toxic Masculinity refers to the narrow and restrictive definition of manhood, and manifests itself in many forms. The belief that manhood is defined by violence, sex, status or aggression…that’s toxic masculinity. The cultural norm that emotions are a sign of weakness in men…that’s toxic masculinity. The rejection of “feminine interests” such as skincare or an interest in fashion…you guessed it, toxic masculinity.

Using a narrow definition of manhood is deemed “toxic” as it actively harms men, boys, and those who interact with these men. Trying to modify interests and personality traits to fit social definitions of manliness is restrictive, and leaves many men in fear of losing their status as a “man” should they not uphold these values and interests. This actively impacts the wellbeing of many men, and sees many boys and men avoid the expression of any emotional vulnerability. Alternatively it sees men face vilification for not upholding these standards of manhood from their peers. Given the prevalence of these social norms, It is not surprising that we see high rates of mental health struggles, such as suicide and depression, in men.

Toxic Masculinity is a phrase used to note the social construct of masculine behaviours, and like all social norms it can be broken down or modified into more positive forms.

Positive Masculinity

Positive Masculinity is a term used to describe the use of the masculine social norms to reinforce positive behavioural traits in boys and men. The framework for positive masculinity laid out by Kiselica and Englar-Carlson in 2010, and seeks to use a strength based approach to reinforce a positive form of masculinity. The framework focuses on the positive social aspects of masculinity such as use of humour, self-reliance, and the predominantly action oriented ways of caring in men.

This concept is important as talking about masculinity as being toxic is not about attacking masculine traits, men or boys. Rather it presents an opportunity to redefine masculine traits in a more positive light, and use existing masculine social norms for the benefit of men and boys. This framework is generally considered a starting point for the movement towards more individual forms of masculine presentation. Particularly because it still upholds a narrow social definition of manhood.

Authentic Masculinity

This seems to be the Nirvana of manhood. Authentic Masculinity is the concept that masculinity is individually defined and allows all those who identify as a man define what authentic and genuine masculinity looks like for him. As an ideology it seeks to target the feelings of inadequacy men and boys feel for not living up to the expectations set for them by society.

For all men reading this, the most important point ol’ Uncle Grapeshot can offer you is that the social definitions of what is masculine do not need to define you. The fear of being seen as feminine impacts the mental health of all men. It is important to redefine masculinity so it does not segregate other men for having ‘feminine” interests, their sexuality, or even for just expressing emotions. An authentic representation of “maleness” is one that is inclusive of all men and their varied interests and experiences.

So what does this all mean? Obviously unlearning social norms is a long process, and if you are trying to redefine masculinity for yourself this can take some time. Moving forward we can do two things. Firstly, remind yourself that regardless of your actions, if you feel that your masculinity is valid and present…then it is regardless of whether anyone else seeks to take this away from you. Secondly, allow yourself to support the choices of all the men in your life, regardless of their expression of the social norms of manliness.

We need to work together on this one lads, and the first part of addressing any problem is acknowledging that it exists. In turn adjusting our behaviours to support all the men around us to be their authentic selves.