If you identify as male, you have probably heard the phrases, “big boys don’t cry”, “stop crying like a girl”, and “man up” throughout your lifetime. Whether you were upset over a disappointment or a heartbreak, your tears were suddenly invalidated and deemed inappropriate by your peers, family members, and other adults. Toxic Masculinity can be defined as “a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.” These are heavy words that are entrenched and camouflaged in our societal norms and hold several rules for males of all ages.
The first of these rules expects men to suffer physical and emotional pain in silence. Why is this toxic? By expecting pain to be suffered in silence, males may feel that reaching out to others or going to therapy is not an option. This also sets the expectation that pain is to be resolved without help. For problems that are not easily resolved or managed without the help of therapists or other trained professionals, this puts males on the precarious edge of possibly ending their lives. Coleman, Feigelman, and Rosen (2020) found that males who identified as having traits of Toxic Masculinity were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide compared to men who did not hold these traits.
Another rule of Toxic Masculinity is that the only acceptable emotions to express are those of bravery and anger. All other emotions are weak, and weakness is unacceptable. This ties into our previous rule, in that men will often turn away from comfort, warmth, and tenderness, and instead turn toward violence during extreme emotional distress. For males of all ages experiencing suicidal thoughts, Toxic Masculinity suggests that seeking therapy is for the weak. Men with these biases believe they need to handle it on their own, the “manly” way, and this can have devastating results. Though females are more likely to attempt suicide, males are more likely to complete suicide by using more lethal methods, such as firearms or suffocation (National Institute of Mental Health, 2021).
Toxic Masculinity doesn’t stop at the individual. Young boys with troublesome emotions may act out in defiance, aggression, bullying, or even breaking the law. Men in relationships with women may choose domestic violence instead of calm communication about their problems, when their idealized masculine identity has been threatened (Baugher & Gazmararian, 2015). The Violence Policy Center (2015) found that over 90% of women murdered by men were killed by a man they know. As you can see, these rules of Toxic Masculinity have a serious effect on the safety of humankind.
So what can we do about this? We can start by challenging the rules of Toxic Masculinity. Whenever we see these rules being played out in our friends, family members, or organizations, we can speak up and put a stop to it. This may look like comforting a young boy when he cries, rather than scolding him to stop. It may look like encouraging our friends, family members, and coworkers to seek help with their distressing thoughts and experiences, while reminding them that getting help is one of the bravest things they can do. We as parents, teachers, and other adult figures can model appropriate emotional reactions to our youth and encourage warmth, tenderness, and emotional expression with one another. After all, it starts with ourselves. What traits of Toxic Masculinity do we have? You don’t have to be male to hold these beliefs or behaviors! Work on challenging them within you whenever they arise. Part of challenging these rules is asking for help when you need it. Remember: your pain does not have to be suffered in silence or alone. Therapy is for the brave, all emotions are valid, and your feelings and thoughts are what make you human.
Baugher, A. & Gazmararian, J. (2015). Masculine gender role stress and violence: A literature
review of future directions. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 24, 107-112. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2015.04.002.
Coleman D, Feigelman W, Rosen Z. (2019). Association of high traditional masculinity and risk
of suicide death: Secondary analysis of the add health study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(4):435–437. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.4702
National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). NIMH » Frequently Asked Questions About
Violence Policy Center. (2015). When men murder women: An analysis of 2015 homicide data.