Being a “Real” Man: Toxic Masculinity

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Calista Headrick, Writer - The Reporter

Toxic masculinity. Something we as college students might hear a lot but may not know much about. Or at least that was the case for me until I took my first gender studies class. You could say that I haven’t looked at our society the same since. 


There are varying definitions of toxic masculinity across the internet, but for the sake of this, we’ll use the definition that The New York Times has come up with. According to their article, “What is Toxic Masculinity,” toxic masculinity is “what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be ‘tough all the time’; that anything other than that makes them ‘feminine’ or weak.”


This isn’t to say that all men are toxic just because they fall into what is societally constructed as “masculine”. Just because a man doesn’t express his emotions or likes what is considered typically masculine doesn’t equate to that man being toxic. Rather it’s about what can negatively result as an effect of society pushing these expectations on men when they may not feel as though they align with these expectations. It’s simply an unfair standard set against men. 


It has been ingrained into society that in order to be a “real” man, they can’t cry; they must be strong; they can’t identify with what has been socially constructed as feminine. They can’t be or do so many things because of what others have deemed correct in order to be tough or to be a real man. 


This all results in major repercussions. If men feel that they aren’t supposed to express their emotions, they may not feel as though they can reach out for help if they are struggling with mental health issues. 


According to Healthline, “these maculine norms correlated with increased mental health problems like stress, depression, and other psychological problems, but the greatest negative effect was on social functioning,” where it can hinder them from developing healthy relationships with others as well. 


Bustle brings up an important repercussion as well, by pointing out that toxic masculinity also “erases gender-nonconforming people completely — by prescribing roles that both genders are expected to embody.” As a result, so many people in our society end up ignored. 


In some cases, it also encourages violence. It teaches men that they have to demonstrate their strength through violence, and this can have direct impacts on college campuses. For example, Bustle brings another important idea to our attention in that “college cultures that encourage masculinity, specifically in fraternities, can encourage campus rape culture.” 


Again, I’m not saying that this means that all men in fraternities fall into this behavior, simply that it exists as a possible repercussion of toxic masculinity. But it creates the perpetuation of violence and dominance over women, even on college campuses, which is exactly what we should be working against in today’s society. 


It’s sad that in today’s world we still can’t accept people for who they are and we still feel as though people should be confined to boxes. If a boy wants to wear pink or wants to cry, it’s not something that he should be ridiculed for. Instead we should work toward acceptance, because there is no one true definition of what a “real man” is, only what society has constructed it to be.