Feminism Will Certainly Fail If We Remain Fascinated By ‘Macho’ Men

Toxic masculinity is harmful both for women who suffer at the hands of the men who subscribe to it, and for the men who are straightjacketed into a stereotype of what it means to be a man.

Toxic masculinity is harmful both for women who suffer at the hands of the men who subscribe to it, and for the men who are straightjacketed into a stereotype of what it means to be a man.

A lot of us here at Women’s Web have shared the pain patriarchy has put us through. There is nothing more unfair than the bias in favour of the male, except perhaps the normalisation of this bias.

I am a strong advocate of ‘equal rights and opportunities for all genders’. That is what Feminism stands for, and in the last 7-8 months I have been reading a lot about the topic. During my reading, I came across the term ‘Toxic Masculinity’. And what I learnt made me realise that the claws of patriarchy have wounded the males as well. Just as we women have hated being straitjacketed, so have the men.

I know that this is a women’s forum. But the more I think about it the more I am convinced that we will receive empathy and support only if we show it as well. Read on to find out why we need to address the harmful impact of gender roles on men to further our goal of Feminism.

Interestingly, just as the term ‘Feminism’ suffers from a lot of negative baggage so does the term ‘Toxic Masculinity’.

What toxic masculinity is not

The term ‘toxic masculinity’ was not coined for men-bashing. It is not an implication that masculinity is toxic in itself. Toxic masculinity is a serious issue that must be dealt with. It’s important to note that all men do not succumb to such behaviours.

What it is

According to Wikipedia: The concept of toxic masculinity is used in psychology and gender studies to refer to certain norms of masculine behaviour in North America and Europe that are associated with harm to society and men themselves.

Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Dr Ryan McKelley has his own running definition of the term that explains it well: “attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours culturally associated with boys/men/masculinity that result in covert and overt bias/ prejudice/ subjugation/ oppression/ victimisation of self and/or others. This includes the domination of others, misogyny and devaluation of women, homophobia, transphobia, and violence (including homicide and suicide).” 

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In essence, it is an aggressive and misinformed notion of masculinity that has a toxic impact on society. The idea that men have to come across as dominating is what gives them the right to feel entitled. And when this entitlement is questioned, it is met with intolerance and aggression in the form of misogyny. Toxic masculinity could start off with the use of slurs, abuses, trash talk, sharing of sexual jokes, but could manifest into ‘eve-teasing’ and all forms of sexual assault.

How does it come about?

Toxic masculinity arises from gender stereotyping. The patriarchal system that created rigid definitions of femininity also did so for masculinity. Every time a parent (both men and women are guilty of propagating gender norms) tells a young boy to ‘be a man’ or ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be a wuss’, or ‘don’t cry like a girl’ we disturb the natural course of things. “Mard ko dard nahin hota” is not a motivation line, it is an unwavering belief.  Popular culture that glorifies the hero bashing up 20 men fearlessly and single-handedly makes the matter worse.

What are some of the stereotype myths propagated as truths owing to toxic masculinity?

Image Credit: The Mighty Pucks

Patriarchy has laid some very unrealistic parameters of manhood for all men to follow that have a negative impact on men and women:

How does it harm men?

The constant need to match a benchmark is not natural. Not only does having unrealistic expectations of ‘machoism’ cause harm to men’s psychology but it also has physical implications. These include a high risk of STD’s, cardiovascular health and even suicides. Even though 1 in 59 men are raped, they feel ashamed to talk about it. Since they are always seen as the initiators of sex, if he complains of sexual assault, it is likely that he is asked why he did not enjoy it!

How does it harm the rights of the LGBTQ+ community?

The notion that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with natural roles in life, i.e. ‘heteronormativity’ results in false assumptions that:

  1. heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation
  2. sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sex

The above misconceptions result in hatred and intolerance against the LGBTQ+ community.

Why is it critical to discuss ‘Toxic Masculinity’ from the perspective of Feminism?

Since feminism speaks of equal rights and opportunities to all, we need to collectively as a society encourage men not to feel the pressure to be anyone else but their true selves. The demands of societal conditioning have a negative impact on them as well. Patriarchy has led to toxic masculinity which in turn has led to the subjugation of women.

How do we tackle the issue of ‘toxic masculinity’ as a society?

We need to restore back the balance. Neither men nor women should have unrealistic expectations placed on them. Both men and women need to help one another in our journeys together. Let’s give the men and boys in our lives, the opportunity to give in to their emotions. Let them cry. Support is the key. Equal pay for equal work should be endorsed along with paternity leave. Stay-at-home fathers should be respected just as much as women who work. The definitions of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ must evolve with time. That’s when real change will take place.

I will leave you with this very touching first-person narrative of Jordan Stephens, a writer/performer best known as one half of British duo ‘Rizzle Kicks’. He is someone who confesses to abusing his power in the past but now wishes to lead a more positive life and shares his candid view on toxic masculinity. Here is an extract from the article:

“As far as I can see, this toxic notion of masculinity is being championed by men who are so terrified of confronting any trauma experienced as children that they choose to project that torture on to the lives of others rather than themselves.

What’s even more upsetting is that often when men allow themselves to feel this pain, it’s so new to them that they kill themselves. We live in a society where men feel safer killing themselves than acknowledging pain. Accepting the patriarchy from a place of false benefit will prevent you from ever truly loving yourself or understanding others. It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to have loved your mum and dad growing up. It’s OK to have missed them or wanted more affection. It’s OK to take a moment when you’re reminded of these truths. When you allow your brain to access these emotions, it knows exactly what to do. So nurture yourself. Talk honestly to the people around you, and welcome the notion of understanding them more than you have ever done before.”

Published here earlier.

Image source: still from the movie Dabhanng and Flickr

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About the Author

Ashwini S Menon

Like any other writer, I am always on the lookout for those golden words that can touch people's hearts. But more often than not, I just write so that my soul can speak. Either read more...

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