Toxic Masculinity Pt 1: What It Means for Men
I decided to start the series by talking about men, as I think toxic masculinity's impact on men is massively misunderstood. Originally, I'd titled this series with the word "patriarchy," but patriarchy implies that men benefit from our current system. So I've decided to use "toxic masculinity" because this is the most accurate term for what's going on. To be clear, toxic masculinity benefits no one - not even people who seem comfortable in it.
In this 3-part series I’m going to give the most comprehensive assessment I can of what toxic masculinity is at its core – what it entails, what it means for men first, and how all of this “battle of the sexes” b.s. is just a distraction from real healing.
A Slight Misunderstanding
Ok, so one thing is true about our common definition of toxic masculinity – It is the suppression of the feminine. But we inaccurately assume that this means the suppression of women, period. Not quite. While of course, women embody femininity most prominently, femininity is a broader, more general energy in nature. It’s an energy that exists in many places – including in men. So suppressing femininity has many more effects that just shitty lives for women. Shitty lives for women is serious enough of course, but it goes much deeper.
Toxic masculinity goes hand-in-hand with modern capitalism, which is “efficiency” at the expense of all else. But it's pseudo efficiency. It's not efficient for the world because it causes so much destruction and chaos. The only thing it's efficient for is profit. So this system borrows useful qualities from genuine masculinity and morphs them into toxic qualities:
- Logic ---> becomes dismissal of all emotion except anger (because anger moves one to action/domination so it's useful in this system) - Linear Thinking ---> becomes dismissal of creativity, intuition, faith, etc. - Assertiveness ---> becomes aggression, domination, and abuse
- Protectiveness ---> becomes overprotectiveness (e.g. nationalism, us vs. them) - Objectivity ---> becomes a refusal to experience empathy or make decisions that benefit all
Notice how the initial masculine qualities are actually positive - until they're turned toxic. (Also, notice how all of these qualities become their extremes: Logic becomes hyperlogic, objective becomes extreme objectivity, etc.
So obviously, if the system heavily values distorted masculine qualities, it de-values feminine qualities like: - Emotion - Subjectivity - Creativity - Changing one’s mind - Receptivity
But what’s that you say? Men have emotions? Men can be creative? Yeppppp. Femininity exists in men. So the first critical hit toxic masculinity deals to society is this: Feminine qualities are suppressed in men.
When a man is culturally obligated to be unemotional, unreceptive, hyper-logical, and still productive, he is basically asked to be a machine. And because it’s not possible for a human to operate like a machine for long without breaking down, much of the destruction we see in the world is just that: Men’s emotional systems breaking down and causing chaos. Men become radically disconnected from their intuition and an entire chunk of themselves. This is why research consistently shows fewer religious men than women (religion is non-logical + subjective) and fewer men who are willing to visit doctors (visiting a doctor would require receptivity to someone else’s opinion + emotionalism – admitting they need care). It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see all the negative ways this suppression plays out.
Toxic masculinity forces men into two primitive categories:
1. Men who throw all their effort into fitting the mold. So they try to be “alphas” who appear strong and confident, willing to fight other men and belittle women. They are always on guard, trying to either prove or maintain their worthiness. They are afraid of being outed as someone who does, in fact, feel things. (If you’ve ever seen the show Mr. Robot, Tyrell Wellick is a classic example :)
2. Men who cannot or will not go against their own intuition, emotion, ethics, etc. and so tension is created. Many of these men were labeled overly-emotional, gay, weak, not a 'real' man, etc. They often have a broader perspective – They may see toxic masculinity for the bullshit that it is and refuse to participate, refuse to act macho, and keep their natural feminine qualities despite backlash. (Again, if you’ve seen Mr. Robot, Elliot is the epitome of this type.)
What often results is that the two types waste all their time butting heads with each other rather than seeing the real enemy - The system that polarized them. I would argue that you can’t necessarily choose which category you fall into. Some people are truly more wired toward emotionalism, assertiveness, rebellion, etc. Neither of these two types are innately “bad” people – Each guy is just responding to the shitty system in which he was thrown. It’s a crap shoot, and in a toxic masculine society, it’s every man for himself.. right?
There are a few major themes I want to mention, although there are undoubtedly many more outcomes than I'm aware of.
First, Violence. Again, we have a whole slew of men (in category #1) battling for supremacy and to be the most machine-like/least feminine version of themselves. The most ironic thing of all is that toxic masculinity creates a subset of men who are highly irrational and emotionally volatile - The ultimate backfire because these are exaggerated toxic feminine qualities. This is why we nearly always see higher violent crime rates among men than women. We also see violence in many male authority figures in government – an urge to participate in wars, win territory, build weapons, and compete in a toxic way. The stunted emotional aspects of these male authority figures are on display for the whole world to witness. Mass shootings by disgruntled men have become much more common in the Western world because we're seeing this toxic system come to full fruition.
Poor Self-Esteem/Sense of Identity Of course, not all men who grow up in this system become savage killing machines, thankfully. The vast majority experience a subtler kind of emotion dysfunction that can manifest as apathy, blocked emotions, emptiness, suicidal thoughts, a lack of self-worth, addiction, you name it. Men who are cut off from their intuition/emotion can feel a void in themselves – a lack of ‘magic’ or faith in anything. Cut off from creativity, they may feel they have no right to play, and must simply be providers for their families until they die (machines). Especially for men in category 2, there can be a deep sense of shame in not being able to effectively get rid of the feminine aspects, and so this shame manifests in a myriad of negative behaviors. All of this degrades a person’s resilience and well-being.
Ironically, trained to be strong machines by their culture, men are actually given NO tools to embody that ideal. This too creates a sense of shame - "Why can't I do this? What's wrong with me? I'm a failure." The whole "real men do ___" catchphrase inflames everything because again, we're dictating what makes men valid. So even when I hear people say things like, "Real men feel!" I get nervous. We're then asking men to directly reverse the system and get rid of emotional suppression all in one shot.
Difficult Relationships with Women When you’re trained out of all aspects of your femininity, who must be hard to relate to? Yep. Women. Men who desperately want to succeed in relationships end up alone time and time again because they don’t understand women enough. (This goes both ways, but for now we’re talking about the male side of it.) Being out of touch with femininity means struggling to open up, nurture, and understand what a woman might want – all problems that women notoriously complain about. The gap is often too big to bridge, and so effective communication just doesn't happen between men and women. Again, this leads to isolation and shame on both sides. "Why can't I make this work? I'm doing everything I can."
Because men are not necessarily learning how to express their real masculine qualities, they're not thriving. It would be crazy to try to outline a quick solution for men in one little article. However, a few things are clear. We need to process heavy emotions so they can be truly released..so they stop weighing us down. We need to practice - literally practice - feeling compassion for ourselves through this process. We need to trash the stigma that men can't express, feel feelings, and seek support for those feelings.
Every day that you choose to step out of self-abandonment is a profound victory.
Every day that you stand behind your emotions and have your own back is a profound victory.
You will heal. You will transmute your pain.