Ground report | New Delhi: The term “toxic masculinity” has been rising steadily in terms of its usage in academia as well as popular discourse. The concept highlights problematic standards, associated with being masculine, that is imposed on men. It also connects to deeper problems such as stigma around mental health issues and increases in violent tendencies. Here we trace the meaning and concept of toxic masculinity and focus on its individual as well as social impacts.
Meaning of toxic masculinity
Toxic masculinity refers to a set of beliefs and/or behaviours that are expected of “manly” men in society. These include traits of toughness- being physically strong and behaviourally aggressive, antifemininity- distance from “feminine traits” such as empathy and expressing emotions and power- inclination to obtain financial and social power.
Patriarchal societies propagate and reward toxic masculinity. It is taught to young boys through phrases such as “don’t cry like a girl” and “be a strong boy”. This behaviour, namely, refraining from showing emotions and using aggression to deal with issues, is rewarded by praising men who indulge in such behaviour as “manly”.
It is important to note here that masculinity isn’t inherently toxic. It becomes toxic when men begin feeling pressured to subscribe to these unrealistic norms. Not only do they force men to not talk about their emotional struggles and feelings, they also push them to be ultra-competitive people who have to bully others to stay on the top. Needless to say, this has strong repercussions on men and the spaces they occupy.
Adherence to norms of toxic masculinity poses a threat to men’s physical and mental health. Men are more likely to keep pushing their bodies to their physical limits to achieve “toughness”. Since men feel the need to constantly prove they are physically strong, they are also less likely to visit a doctor as being unwell or taking medicines is perceived as a sign of physical weakness.
Toxic masculinity also intensifies the stigma around mental health issues for men. Being depressed or anxious is perceived as being mentally weak. This has created a negative attitude towards seeking help for such issues. As men are also conditioned to not show emotions or talk about them, they often bottle up feelings. As a result, they may feel even more isolated and lonely.
When men feel they aren’t matching up to the standards of manhood coded within toxic masculinity, they become anxious. Psychologists have termed this phenomenon as “fragile masculinity”. These feelings trigger compensatory actions aimed at achieving the ideal of a “manly” man. Often, such compensatory behaviour leads to increased aggression and violence.