Updated: Jan 29
The ideas I’d like to share are about times when certain approaches to excessive or hyper masculine behaviour can be harmful.
This is why the word toxic is used and it means harmful.
The truth is when I first learned about this subject, I thought that it wasn’t that interesting or relevant to me.
I am not a very masculine man. Don’t get me wrong I am not physically weak I have done some sporting stuff which has involved some serious strength and willpower including a nonstop 100-mile ultra-marathon and almost 50 triathlons.
However there is a part of my personality though which is not particularly masculine though. For a start I am rubbish at DIY, I like quite girly music, I’ve never been in a fight. I can’t do even basic repairs on my car. I love to cook, and I have absolutely no interest in football.
These are all stereotypes though aren’t they.
They are cultural norms or traditional characteristics. Do stereotypes matter?
Are they helpful? Perhaps not!
Maybe some of the typical male activities I mentioned are linked to masculine ideals like being assertive, powerful or in control?
These can be good qualities but if they are over-exaggerated in a way that causes harm that’s when we call it TOXIC
When I first learned about this subject, I thought it was just about when masculinity causes harm to others.
Actually, when it comes to men’s mental health, it is just as much about when behaviours are harmful to the person taking the action.
Perhaps this aspect is even more important and more interesting to understand. The subject of how toxic masculinity can be harmful to the person showing the behaviour is what I want to focus on.
By the way I don’t want to discount that it is either uncaring or unpleasant, and plain wrong to do or say things which upset or impact other people, this is definitely true but I am going to focus on the self-effect in this post.
If traditional accepted ways of behaving are either male or female, we might take a view on ‘what is ok’ for a man or a woman ‘to be’ or ‘how to behave.’ For example, being emotional or sharing emotions.
What do you think about the expression “boys don’t cry”
Can we agree that even nowadays there is a level of pressure on men to be in control, to cope and to conceal some emotion?
In my last post I discussed being overwhelmed. I recently gave some men’s mental health talks. The audience started sharing their feelings and it felt like some of these private thoughts had been pent up. Maybe some had held back until now. It felt like the talk was a rare chance to share and everyone had permission to be a little more open and more emotional.
There is a norm sometimes of male self-reliance, of not needing to ask for help or not sharing when we are struggling.
Going it alone in an unhealthy and potentially self-harmful way is the first of three researched traits of self-isolating behaviour linked to poor mental health.
In her recent blog my friend Sophie Kirk brought my attention to a piece of research done by the journal of counselling psychology with these findings. Each of these three behaviours relates in some way to self-isolating behaviour.
This first myth we have started to discuss is the idea that
TO BE A REAL MAN WE HAVE TO GO IT ALONE.
Can we not all agree that sharing is not only OK but also human vulnerability is healthy, mature and constructive?
There are two other self-isolating behaviours relating to toxic masculinity which the research study found harmful.
Firstly what is called “Playboy” behaviour, and the third “Exerting power over women.”
What is meant by playboy behaviour?
This is what it is called when men behave in a way that suggests women are sex objects. This term describes men who seem to prefer to have many sexual partners rather than one committed relationship.
This reminds me of a classic romcom plots. With a bad boy turned good. There are many movies out there where the playboy is depicted as actually being unhappy and then goes on to find true love.
Perhaps we have also seen this behaviour in our own lives or those of people we know. This way of living and behaving can actually be quite lonely. It might on first impression seem like a dream existence of non-stop dates and variety but is it a positive lifestyle choice?
As I said before, when I started reading on the subject of toxic masculinity I hadn’t related to it personally or thought it relevant to me. Yet when I learned about this playboy trait, I definitely recognised it in my younger self. When I was single and I chose this way of living I was probably more isolated and lonelier than at all the other stages of my life.
In fact, when my wife and I met 23 years ago others who knew me told her to stay away from me as I was a player. For my part I am incredibly lucky that she didn’t listen to them and I was able to find a healthy committed relationship.
Lastly the final trait around toxic masculinity which is self-isolating is what we call “power over women.” This is when women are seen as unequal to men and in need of control by men.
The world is changing and this is less common although in certain cultures and countries it is still prevalent. What has been happening in October 2022 in Iran is a rising up against this.
A man I used to work with (we will call him Bob) was quite controlling over his wife. It wasn’t obviously clear to others but quite subtle. The lady, (we will call her Jane) did not work and choose to focus on being a full-time mum.
Bob didn’t really want her to have the independence of work. She is a very intellectual lady and as an observer my sense is that she always felt unsupported and validated to follow her own path.
She was in some way subordinate and had insufficient freedom to pursue her interests. He seemed quite controlling. There were few friends outside the family unit and additional to there not being a carer there were no real personal interests followed. I observed depression and divorce take place in this relationship.
When we can witness toxic masculinity in the power over women. There is less opportunity for a trusting strong loving relationship. Both parties may be unable to form strong loving social bonds. Sometimes this bottled-up sense of being trapped and trauma can lead to releases often explosive releases and lashing out. Is this type of relationship poorer?
I believe it is.
In fact, this big research study found that all three of these behaviours, self-reliance, playboy lifestyle and power over women all lead to increases in stress, mental health problems, anxiety, depression and social functioning.
We know that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. We can confidently accept that toxic masculinity plays a big part in this awful statistic.
I would like to offer that even when relationships are not toxic and behaviours are more balanced if we pursue:
-DEEPER BONDS WITH OTHERS
-STRONGER RELATIONSHIP BUILDING
-AND DEEPER HE ARTFUL LISTENING
…both for our friends, family and partners. When we care for one another more it is much more positive to share in balanced meaningful relationships where everyone’s needs and freedoms are respected.
In the words of some modern philosophers Bill and Ted from
BILL AND TEDS EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.
“Be excellent to one another.”
Thanks for reading.