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What Is Toxic Masculinity And How Does It Affect You?

Dec 30, 2021
What Is Toxic Masculinity And How Does It Affect You?

Toxic masculinity describes the cultural pressure placed on men and boys to behave in a “masculine” way. Not just masculine, instead, a narrow definition of masculinity that punishes anyone who doesn’t meet the standard. A definition of masculinity that requires men to earn their masculinity, even at the expense of women, men, children, and society as a whole.

It is used to describe men with the following personality traits: violent, domineering, aggressive, misogynist, and homophobic. The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as a cultural ideal of manliness, in which strength is everything and emotions are a weakness.

Toxic masculinity was coined in the 1980s  by Shepherd Bliss, a psychology professor at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California, in reference to his militarized, authoritarian father.

A Men’s Movement

In the early 1980s, Bliss led a mythopoetic men’s movement. He describes mythopoetic as an alternative vision of what it means to be a man.  His goal was to restore cooperative manhood.

What Is Toxic Masculinity and How Does It Affect You?

Bliss has studied men and their behaviors and feels that a men’s movement must address the following issues:

  • The father-son connection: a strong father-son connection helps men deal with their fears and develop deep, lasting male friendships.
  • Male friendships: male friendships are sabotaged by homophobia and how men are socialized to compete instead of cooperate. Men who were socialized with the traits associated with toxic masculinity are less likely to intervene to help victims of bullying or violence. They are supposed to remain strong and aggressive.
  • Men’s health: in the U.S., men live an average of 2.5 years less than women. Those who ascribe to toxic masculinity avoid preventative health care and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as heavy drinking, smoking, and poor eating habits.
  • Male modes of intimacy: men engage in side-by-side intimacy, working together, but the contact is not usually verbal. Toxic masculinity discourages men from talking about their feelings, which increases loneliness.
  • Male modes of feeling: men have just as powerful feelings as women, but they are taught to contain them. Toxic masculinity discourages men from getting treatment for mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

The Harm From Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is harmful to both men and women in that it supports masculine characteristics such as violence, physical strength, aggression, stoicism, suppression of emotion, and devaluation of women.

It requires men to:

  • Suffer physical and emotional pain in silence
  • Avoid warmth, care, comfort, or showing emotion
  • Always demonstrate bravery, aggression, and strength
  • Be self-sufficient and independent
  • Strive to win and to dominate over others to achieve power and success
  • Be defined by violence, anger, and aggression

Toxic Masculinity And Mental Health 

In 2019, the American Psychological Association released its first-ever guidance on how to work with men and boys. Men commit 90% of the homicides in the U.S., represent 77% of the victims of homicide, are 3.5 times more likely than women to die from suicide, and have a life expectancy that is 2.5 years shorter than women.

Men report less depression than women, but they are more likely to complete suicide. Stereotypes for genders and races have put unrealistic expectations on people. Men and boys who identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender face higher-than-average levels of hostility and pressure to conform to standard masculine norms, says Christopher Liang, Ph.D., a psychologist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health 

Like women, men have an expectation of themselves in terms of personality and appearance. An unrealistic expectation can perpetuate feelings of not quite measuring up. Normal physical changes like hair loss or an increase in the prevalence of erectile dysfunction (ED) with age are stigmatized.

Concerns about these physical changes and how they deviate from the masculine ideal can lead to depression and a decrease in confidence and self-esteem. Men who are willing to ask for help are more likely to seek treatment that may improve their quality of life. The medical professionals at Invigor Medical can facilitate this process for you.

Why It’s Important To Talk About Toxic Masculinity  

Even though it appears difficult to define and people have differing opinions on its significance, it’s important to talk about toxic masculinity. Just separating the idea of sex, a biological construct from gender, is the first step. It is an important step because it empowers people to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions instead of blaming biology.

How To Combat The Effects Of Toxic Masculinity

As a society, we need to examine our expectations for people of all genders and how the traits that we value and associate with men and women may harm them. Men, like women, are multifaceted and have traits that exist on a continuum, not a binary—presence or absence of strength, emotion, etc. Men, boys, women, and girls must feel comfortable being themselves and feeling like they are valued for who they are, not who they are expected to be.

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Educate Yourself

Researchers have found that there are very few differences between the male and female brain. This means that the expectations that people of different genders act in a certain way are not due to physiology. It is in response to norms set by society. There is no one way to be a man or a woman. Each person must be comfortable expressing their gender in a way that feels authentic to them.

Men should not be excused for their behavior as a natural consequence of being male. “Boys will be boys” is not acceptable as an excuse or reason for a behavior. Teach your children and yourself that it is acceptable to show your full range of emotions, express tenderness, and feel pain.

Deconstruct Harmful Patterns

Toxic masculinity teaches that there is only one way to be a man. This is harmful to men and boys who feel they cannot live up to the expectations of their gender. Tragedy is the outcome when boys and men show that they are strong, tough, unfeeling, and aggressive, using violence — violence against women and other men.

Seek Support

Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood. Those who do not live up to its restrictive standards are isolated and alienated, making them targets for bullying and abuse. Whether you assume that a man will act as sole provider and protector or accept aggressive and selfish behaviors, the results can be damaging and harmful. A lack of willingness to seek help leads to a higher rate of negative health outcomes, including heart disease, depression, and alcoholism.

Seek Support

Whether toxic masculinity refers to the effect of men who meet this narrow definition of masculinity on others or the effect of living up to the cultural ideals of toxic masculinity on a man, the results are harmful.

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

What Is Toxic Masculinity And How Does It Affect You?

Leann Poston, M.D.

Dr. Leann Poston is a licensed physician in the state of Ohio who holds an M.B.A. and an M. Ed. She is a full-time medical communications writer and educator who writes and researches for Invigor Medical. Dr. Poston lives in the Midwest with her family. She enjoys traveling and hiking. She is an avid technology aficionado and loves trying new things.


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