Apart from this above image I wasn’t really explicitly told what it meant to be a man in my childhood. You hear of the sex talk, but I don’t remember my dad sitting me down one day and telling me the birds and bees of manhood. So when I was sent a link to an article earlier this week on the ideas of toxic masculinity/hegemonic masculinity and the growing need for people to stand up against societal structured norms that contribute to delinquent behavior, I was dumbfounded at how I had and in some situations still am contributing to societies perpetuated norms of masculinity. This very same article would later explain that the extreme of this delinquent behavior, radical violence, is a direct result of the modern societal view (or value) of masculinity versus femininity in boys. It harps on the recent trial of the Steubenville rape of a 16 year old girl at the hands of two high school football players, and I’d like to walk through what I’ve learned about toxic masculinity.
According to psychologist Terry Kupers, “Toxic masculinity involves the need to aggressively compete and dominate others and encompasses the most problematic proclivities in men […]. Toxic masculinity is the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.” It’s not a small coincidence these very same traits are the leading motivations of sexual violence.
Kupers further explains that TM typically follows the stereotypes of jocks, bullies, and frats; essentially the boys clubs of our generation. It’s been noted that TM can also be perpetuated by overbearing fathers and other male role models and leaders in boys early childhood and adolescence. As former NFL quarterback Don McPherson said, “We don’t raise boys to be men. We raise them not to be women, or gay men.”
Doctoral student Dena Simmons first began noticing TM as a middle school teacher in the Bronx. She originally noticed boys needed to prove themselves socially as a means of status and protection. “Most of my male students had to be ‘hard,’ simply as a means of survival. They had to be tough enough to defend themselves and their friends. Some boys even talked about their sexual prowess to build themselves up. Others yelled sexual, inappropriate, and disrespectful comments to their female peers—already as middle schoolers!”
Although she initially thought it was condition of the male culture, too her surprise she soon found it was an accepted and expected social standard. “Almost all of my students, boys and girls alike, considered boys who were not manly enough (tough, aggressive, outspoken, confident, violent, and sexually experienced) effeminate and ‘gay.’ ‘Gay’ and ‘faggot’ were the ultimate insults for boys at the school and community where I taught, and that made me cringe.”
Simmons resolved to combat the stereotypes of masculinity and modify the current behavior in her school. She focused on eliminating the use of ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ as inflammatory slurs, and admits she was fairly successful. However, during the process she learned that in a 2009 national school climate survey, 33.8% of K-12 schools in the US did nothing to address incidents of harassment or assault targeting LGBTQ youth. “We must tackle gender stereotypes and redefine hegemonic masculinity so that boys are not bullied for not being manly enough, and so that boys do not feel the need to have multiple sexual partners, engage in homophobic bullying or in violent behavior, or hiss and holler at women just to prove their masculinity.”
Going a step further, the original article I was sent explored and challenged the roles men could personally take to the reverse TM. By starting with simply admitting a preference for typically feminine activities and accepting the social consequences, men can begin breaking the social constraints that bind them and the boys of future generations. Why would men be open to this? Simply because “toxic masculinity is damaging to men, too, positing them as stoic sex-and-violence machines with allergies to tenderness, playfulness, and vulnerability. A reinvented masculinity will surely give men more room to express and explore themselves without shame or fear.” Ambitious men who are open to changing masculine norms could join organizations like NOMAS or Men Stopping Violence.
Our societies urge to strengthen and encourage young boys has led to a hyper-competitive, belittling society of teens, young adults and men. Have you ever experienced or contributed to TM? Do you think it’s a solid issue for society to be concerned with? Do you have any ideas or suggestions on how to better raise young men?