Toxic Masculinity: Solidarity Through Feminism
The same men that appear so strong are the ones that can’t allow themselves to cry.
Welcome to an old problem
I never saw men in my family crying once. If they were faced with emotions perceived as "weak," such as sadness, they would either keep them inside or react with anger.
It's hard to believe that these men (cisgender, heterosexual) can be victims of their own privilege, but they clearly are.
My grandparents raised me in a small city in the Italian countryside. During my childhood, it was evident that I had to "go to grandma" for certain things, like if I wanted to eat something or if I hurt myself and needed medication. If I needed some other sort of help, like pocket money to buy my favorite magazine, grandpa was the right person. They had their specific roles, and these were not interchangeable.
That seemed to be the norm, not just in my family but in my whole community.
I didn’t understand why my grandpa never helped in the kitchen after eating or did the house chores.
As time passed, I understood there was an implicit subordination in their relationship, which was neither discussed nor questioned, as that was "the way it was."
Their parents and previous generations had carried the same way of living for centuries.
For a while, I thought of my grandma as a matriarch, but the truth was, only my grandpa had the final word in whatever decision involved money.
He was the “breadwinner,” even if the one making bread at home was my grandma.
She was not required to have a job, whereas he had to.
At that time, society put men like him in a superior position, a position reserved for men only. However, since it was granted at a high price, men were always expected to maintain it; this put them under a lot of pressure and thus, served as a breeding ground for toxic masculinity.
So, how do I know if I am dealing with toxic masculinity?
If you are a man who ignores his mental illness by telling yourself to just "man up," you might be a victim of toxic masculinity.
If you’re a man who struggles to love his body because it doesn’t fit the classic "six-pack and muscles," again, you might be a victim of toxic masculinity.
If you feel pressured to adopt certain behaviors dominated by strength and superiority, you get it, toxic masculinity.
Each time you feel that you deny opportunities because they fall too close to the “opposite gender,” you are a victim of that system.
These problems often start during childhood.
It’s not uncommon to have children being told: “pink is for girls, and blue is for boys.” Gendering colors still leads to gendered toys (like kitchen sets and dolls for girls and building blocks and cars for boys). Steering children with preconceived notions like these furthers society’s idea of how “girls and boys” should act.
By having their personalities boxed, children are not free to explore other things.
Often boys are afraid to tell they would like to play with dolls, try nail polish, or cook because it’s deemed “unmanly.”
These scenarios are the building blocks of gender inequality and toxic masculinity.
By living a life dictated by toxic masculinity, you can't show yourself as you truly are.
You will never get to know your personality completely unless you free yourself from stereotypes and the implicit rules that are holding you back.
Here comes the F-word…
Today—like in the past—many people think of feminism as a movement of angry women that want superiority, but that’s not actually the case. In fact, it’s more inclusive than one might think. Many men show anger for this topic and its change in dynamic for many reasons, one of which deals with how feminism involves their wellbeing.
Imagine living in a society where you feel free to live the way you want and do what makes you happy. A society where you’d be able to work through depression in a healthy environment or where you aren’t pressured to flaunt your body if you’re uncomfortable.
Wouldn’t this be freedom?
Feminism advocates for an equal society, where everyone is free to live their way; it’s not just freedom for women, it’s freedom for men too.
Through social media, we can see the mental toll that toxic masculinity takes on men and the stories of those that stand proudly against it. However, the community that tries to raise awareness on the topic is still small, and men who chose to challenge toxic boundaries are labeled as “gay” or “bitches”.
Heterosexual men often use these comments as weapons, not only to degrade women and the lgbtq+ community but to further reinforce these toxic ideals. The subconscious idea that "to be a man, you must be stronger than those you degrade" is harmful in many ways. These ideas put a barrier between possibility and tradition that we don't see in femininity (though it exists for women, it's not nearly to the same extent).
After educating myself about feminism, I realized it can be used as a weapon against toxic masculinity.
We’ve got your back!
I have interviewed some people to talk about their toxic masculinity experiences and how feminism can be beneficial to men.
Kushi Gupta, an Indian Instagrammer, told me that "toxic masculinity harms men even when they perceive themselves as strong and privileged. Indeed, to keep that image, they can’t allow themselves to be fragile".
In the past, men could not allow themselves to be fragile. Centuries ago, they had to hunt animals to survive. Later on, they had to fight wars in their countries' names and work hard to support the whole family.
In today’s society, men have to be strong, successful, and indestructible. But why does society not contemplate the idea that men can also be in need of help? After all, they are humans too.
Jill, a junior history major for secondary education, adds that “women being able to have more responsibilities outside of their home can take the pressure off of men.”
We wouldn't have to force men to believe it's their responsibility to carry the financial weight of their entire family. Having a significant other, who's also bringing in money, contributes to a healthier, less stressful home environment and may help strengthen familial bonds.
Kathryn, a student who founded the college democrats club at her university to advocate for women’s rights, among other things, said: "Men in my life whom I am very close to have often told me they feel like they can't cry or be sad, and have to be strong because of their gender."
The suppression of emotions in younger boys is dangerous and contributes to high suicide rates among men. Not being able to live the full spectrum of emotions can severely undermine relationships with others and oneself.
But there is more hope than ever!
In today's society, gender roles are being challenged.
As a result, more boys can wear skirts and dresses without always having their sexuality questioned.
Many guys feel comfortable seeking help and being open about their mental dispositions.
More and more men ask for paternal leave to stay at home with their children and help around the house.
They’re even starting to question the society they live in and advocate for an equal life among all genders.
Thinking back to my grandparents, I realize that being able to talk about toxic masculinity today is a big step forward.
But the society I want to live in puts no limits on individuals and allows everyone to dream big.
For this to become a reality, we must move forward in our journey, changing words into actions and toxicity into equality.