Why it matters
Violence and Men
News story after news story involves men acting and reacting in violence.
Often exemplifying limited emotional expression of anger, rage, jealousy, and despondence. When little boys learn the way to earn respect is through dominance and violence, we all lose.
When we tell young men to “not act like a sissy” or to “handle things like a man,” they only learn to be ashamed and fearful of their feelings.
When you factor in the number of young men committing suicide, it becomes clear that many masculinities we are teaching are genuinely harmful.
But you can affect change.
You can raise boys to become men who show respect and empathy. Identifying healthy behaviors is as important as identifying harmful ones.
Masculinity is the attitudes and behaviors traditionally attributed to men and is representative of manhood for society. But a subset of these behaviors are actually harmful and harmful to men themselves and to the people around them.
While this page describes qualities and behaviors that anyone can express, its focus is on how they are portrayed in masculinity.
The following are just a few.
A few harmful masculinities to consider...
This is the belief that a man’s worth comes from their ability to control and use others through intimidation, humiliation and violence. That displays of aggression and threats of violence are to be revered. That humiliating others through insult or identifying weaknesses strengthens you. That defending yourself means hitting back twice as hard. And when bragging about sexual conquest and female ownership as trophies is admirable.
This appears as any depictions of disrespect, coercive tactics, violence or even criminal behavior as romantic and part of the male role for dating women. We see this in aggressive propositioning that wears a woman down until she says "yes". We see this with coercive propositioning where emotional manipulation or peer pressure is used to get a “yes”. And in depicting intimidation, use of force and sexual assault as sexual tension, foreplay and part of the romantic script.
This is the belief that a man’s worth comes from how anti-feminine they are and that engaging in feminine things make you less of a man because anything feminine is inferior. We find these depictions in expectations of women “belonging” or being “meant for” housework. That a man is “whipped” if his wife makes decisions for the family. In using the word “girl” as a synonym for scared, weak or slow. In describing women as emotional and men as rational, and in characterizing certain professions or the workplace as male territory.
This is the belief that any depictions of a man’s love toward another in any form is dangerous or taboo. We see this in casual jokes and references such as “that’s gay” or “don’t be a fag”. We see this when men say "no homo" after hugging. We see this in school violence and bullying of boys that don't fit masculine stereotypes, but also when straight boys use homophobic humor to police the sexuality of their peer groups.
We find this presentation of harmful masculinities in depictions of Black men as more violent and impulsive or absent fathers when in reality they are present fathers. When Asian men are depicted as unmasculine, weak or hyperfeminine. When Hispanic men are portrayed as untrustworthy and sexual predators. We see this when men, due to their race or ethnicity, are associated with negative character traits.
These are the depictions of violence toward men through humor as normal and welcome. We see this in laughing at boys who are harmed or cry. Portrayal of violence by women toward men as harmless, casual or humorous (think: the "slap"). Asking men who are sexually abused how they liked it or to be grateful to have had the attention of a woman.
Raising Boys to be Multi-dimensional
Each of these beliefs, attitudes or behaviors is a facet of masculinity that puts boys and men on a path to harming themselves or those around them.
These are destructive to relationships and detrimental to living a fulfilling life. It's this reason why they're collectively described as toxic masculinities.
Toxic masculinities are limiting for men at best and harmful to themselves and those around them at worst. Together, we can raise men who are powerful and sensitive, courageous and consoling.
The more fully rounded a man is, the happier his life, the more connected he is with others, and the more confident he is in himself. If we model for men how to be complete persons, the world will be a better place.