The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought to light the extent to which women are harassed every day. And wherever a discussion about sexual harassment takes place, you can be guaranteed that some men will show up, angry at these accusations. Or lamenting how hard they have it and how male suicide is such an issue. And there definitely are problems with the way men are being raised. It all comes down to toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity harms men’s mental health
From a young age, boys are taught that they should push all emotions away. They are taught not to cry, not to play with dolls, not to pretend to cook in the kitchen. Boys can be rambunctious, whereas girls have to be nice, get along and smooth things over. Boys are encouraged to fight and are expected to be tough at all times. “Be a man”, “man up”, “don’t be a girl” are all aimed at conditioning men to avoid any sign of vulnerability or weakness. While girls are conditioned to be accommodating, boys are conditioned to be confident, demanding and entitled.
But not every boy wants to grow up to be a tough firefighter or soldier or what have you. While girls are allowed to be tomboys, boys are not allowed to play traditional “girly” games. Girls can take karate, but boys who want to take dance lessons are frowned upon. I grant you that times are changes and parents are becoming more gender neutral in the way they raise their children, but my husband still gets strange looks from men in the store when my youngest son is checking out the My Little Pony display, or when he picks out pink pyjamas.
This constant drive to be tough takes its toll on men. It is no wonder that male suicide is a problem: if you always have to be strong and are not allowed to show any vulnerability, this will take its toll. And it is still much harder for a man to admit that he has a breakdown or a burn out than for a woman.
Toxic masculinity harms men’s sex lives
Toxic masculinity can also take its toll in the sexual life of a man. The idea of the man as a horny beast, always up for sex and always hard is, of course, a myth. Men don’t always want to have sex. Like any other human being, men get tired, or sick, or are just not in the mood. That doesn’t mean they are a failure when they are not in the mood, but because society conditioned men to think that they should always be up for sex, there is enormous pressure to perform. And sometimes, when a man can’t perform, he takes his frustrations about this out on the woman, rather than have an open conversations about what is going on.
Toxic masculinity harms women
Men, and especially white men, grow up entitled. They are still the largest represented group of individuals in most media. Media perpetuates the idea that men can be anything, do anything, get anything they want. Superheroes are for the most part white men. And women are often represented as the love or lust interest of the man.
Toxic masculinity is also responsible for the rape culture that is so pervasive in society. Because men have been raised with an enormous amount of privilege, they often don’t take “no” for an answer. We have seen it in so many rape trials: women are blamed for their own rapes and men go off free. “Boys will be boys” is often used as an excuse. Read the comments of (white) men on Twitter or elsewhere in the media when a man is accused of rape and you can see for yourself how skewed some men’s perspective is.
But the harm to women is not only in the sexual sphere. Because men have been taught to repress their emotions, it is up to women to do all the emotional labour. You can see this in very simple things. For example, when I had my surgery, it was my sisters and sisters in law who sent me packages and cards. Birthdays are remembered by the women in the family, not by the men. It’s exhausting and unnecessary, as men do have the same range of emotions as women, they are just taught not to use them.
Men need to put an end to toxic masculinity
The #MeToo amd #TimesUp movements are powerful. They are movements to finally put an end to the patriarchy. We are taking a stand, we are saying that we will not be treated with disrespect anymore. We are fighting to halt men’s sense of entitlement over our bodies, our emotions, our time. And in this movement there is no room for us to fight for how men are treated.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe toxic masculinity is a problem. I think I have made that quite clear above. But for men to jump into the #MeToo hashtag and ask women to care about the mistreatment of men is completely and utterly misplaced. We care. Absolutely. And we will continue to raise our own boys to be allowed to cry, to like “girly” things, to display the whole range of human emotions. We are already fully supportive of our male friends, our partners, our husbands, our brothers showing pain, hurt, vulnerability. You will not get any argument from us there.
But you cannot ask women to champion your cause. This is on men to change. As men, you can take to social media and call upon your brothers to throw off the cloak of entitlement and repressed emotions. Start a hashtag to encourage men to cry, and share their vulnerablity. Call out your male buddies when they sexually objectify a woman. Put an end to rape jokes and support women who come forward with allegations of sexual assault. Take your son to the Frozen singalong if he asks for it and buy him that Barbie he wants, rather than shaming him for his preferences. There is a lot men can do to put an end to toxic masculinity.
And working together, we can break down the patriarchy and create a much more positive society for both men and women.