Toxic masculinity is both self-destructive and socially destructive.
“Toughen up bro.”
“Come on, be a man about it.”
“Show them you’re the man!”
Society has long taught us that manhood is acquired through dominance, strength, self-reliance, and the bottling up of emotions. But this has led to the dangerous epidemic of “toxic masculinity.”
Now, I’m not a guy. But I’ve seen it happen. And quite frankly, it needs to stop. Toxic masculinity is harmful to everyone — both men and women.
While sensitivity is still a trait largely associated with girls and women, it should be something we encourage of boys and men. Highly sensitive men are the antidote to toxic masculinity. They are a guiding light that proves men can — and should — be thoughtful, considerate, and empathetic members of society. Men who understand and embrace their emotions know that feelings do not make them weak, but strong and healthy.
How Traditional Masculinity Becomes Toxic Masculinity
The American Psychological Association recently released guidelines — for the first time, I might add — for professionals who work with boys and men. The notion of traditional masculinity, the APA argued, has become a serious problem that requires unique intervention so boys can develop into healthier men.
Traditional masculinity is essentially a social construct. It’s a way of idealizing what it means to be a man, and requiring all men to live up to that restrictive, impossible image: emotionless, strong, hard-working.
Toxic masculinity emerges when that idea of traditional masculinity goes too far. It’s a way of thinking that if a guy doesn’t act in a certain way, they aren’t men. When that happens, the already constricting nature of traditional masculinity becomes something far more dangerous — both to men and the people in their lives.
I want you to think of Gaston from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Remember him? Competitive, bulging muscles, misogynistic, violent and, definitely someone who won’t take “no” for an answer. Gaston is the epitome of toxic masculinity.
Some typical traits associated with toxic masculinity are:
- Shows no emotion apart from anger
- Deals with problems using violence and/or aggression
- Competitive and always has to win
- Can’t show any weakness and doesn’t depend on anyone
- Avoids doing anything considered ‘feminine’
- Sometimes, may even make inappropriate sexual or derogatory comments toward women
Truth be told, toxic masculinity is both self-destructive and socially destructive, but society keeps encouraging those same destructive behaviors from men.
Ways Society Encourages Toxic Masculinity
It’s damaging to assume there is only one way of being a man — that only leads to having an unhealthy relationship with oneself and with others. Yet, as boys become men, they tend to hear:
1. ‘’Real men don’t cry.”
Boys are often told this phrase from a young age, often by their fathers or other male members of the family. The end result? Emotional repression. This frequently leads to outbursts, whether as violence directed at others or self-harm. And that’s not to mention the damaging effects on mental health — 1 in 8 men have mental health issues, but many hesitate to reach out for help.
2. “Suck it up.”
Not being able to express one’s emotions creates an internal pressure cooker, and can result in problems like anxiety, depression, and elevated suicide rates. In fact, men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women.
3. “Stop being a wimp.”
Men experience a real fear of appearing soft and tender. These qualities are usually associated with being weak and not manly. And for a long time — even still to this day in some places — “not manly” was often associated with being gay.
While views about the LGBTQ community have rightly changed for the good, homophobic comments grounded in the idea of being sensitive make it harder for some men to express their identity, and so they end up feeling uncomfortable with who they truly are.
4. “Boys will be boys.”
Well, what a great excuse for this crappy type of behavior. The “lad culture” that encourages toxic masculinity tends to devalue women’s bodies and opinions. It creates unbalanced relationships and unhealthy approaches to sex. As a result, domestic abuse rates are at an all-time high.
Let’s be clear, it’s not just women who are victims of domestic abuse, men are too. But according to the charity Women’s Aid, “women experience higher rates of repeated victimization and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed” than males. The idea that problems should be dealt with using violence poses risks to women in relationships with toxic men.
Why Sensitivity is the Antidote We Need
It’s time to redefine masculinity. Sensitivity in men is very rarely encouraged, but it’s time that changed. As a man, you should be able to feel vulnerable and sensitive without feeling weak and inferior. You should be able to enjoy activities like baking and cooking without worrying that they are too girly.
And that’s where sensitive men come in.
20 percent of the male population are highly sensitive. And most other men are capable of a deep sensitivity, if they allow themselves to bring it out. Men who embrace their sensitive sides have healthier relationships with others and themselves. They take the time to listen and cultivate deeper friendships. They talk more freely about their emotions and experiences.
That is pretty damn brave if you ask me.
Here are a few ways sensitive men can help teach the world that “sensitive” means “strong.”
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4 Ways Men Can Embrace Their Sensitive Side
1. Release and express emotions.
Real. Men. Have. Feelings. There, I said it. Men feel pain, anxiety, joy, and fear just like any other human being. You shouldn’t have to bottle up your emotions when you are feeling crappy. You can cry. You can talk. You can go to therapy. If you need help, ask. You don’t have to do it all on your own.
Don’t suffer in silence. You’re doing yourself (and others) more harm than good. There are much healthier ways of expressing your feelings than violent outbursts.
2. Own your interests, even if they’re “non-traditional.”
Not every guy is into football, cars, and weight lifting. (And if you are, then that’s perfectly fine.) Some men also enjoy cooking, dancing, singing, and baking. These activities are often associated with femininity, but they shouldn’t be.
Forget about what you should like to do as a man, and own what you enjoy. Not doing what you love just because you are afraid it’s considered too girly means you risk losing part of your identity in the process.
3. Foster healthy relationships.
Treating others with respect is just basic manners, and this goes double for romantic relationships. It’s important to cultivate a healthy approach to sex. The idea that all men want sex and should be ready for it 24/7 is absurd.
You can say no when you want to. It won’t make you any less of a man. And being sexually aggressive (without the other person’s consent) is not justifiable. Women and men aren’t sex objects and you shouldn’t be treating them as so. Learn to treat them as equals. (P.S: Laughing at rape jokes is also really not cool or funny.)
4. Forget about a perfect physique.
Men feel the pressure to have that perfect muscular body, thinking that it makes them manlier. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday comes to mind: “I must be the strongest, fittest, most competitive…”
More times than not, the superhero in a movie is usually broad and muscular. Images like that and others we see on a daily basis help fuel unrealistic physical ideals and body image problems. Being thinner or heavier should not make you less of a man. Can we all just embrace our differences, please and thank you?
The world has started clueing into the problem of toxic masculinity, and I hope that sensitivity can provide a way forward. You don’t have to conform to society’s ideas of being a man. Be you. There is no ‘’right’’ way to be a man. Sensitive isn’t weak — it’s strong and daring and bold. It’s manly as hell.