Melissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S
Toxic Masculinity and its Negative Impact on Health & Happiness
Updated: Jun 26, 2022
“If we want masculinity to be different, we must confront and tackle the baseline instead of longing for exceptions.”
Vivek Shraya, I’m Afraid of Men
You may have heard the words “Toxic Masculinity” being used more in the past few years but what does it actually mean? Toxic Masculinity is essentially our society’s expectation on how men should behave to the point that it becomes unhealthy, having a negative impact not only on men but our society as a whole. Toxic Masculinity means not asking for or accepting help, appearing stoic and not showing emotions, not talking about emotions, and appearing powerful, strong, and in control at all times. Often, we view men as only being able to have two feelings: neutral or angry. Anger is often viewed as the only acceptable emotion men are allowed to have and anything outside of that is perceived as weakness.
To be clear, masculinity is not bad! Only when our expectations of masculinity impact the health and happiness of ourselves and others does it become toxic.
Here are some examples:
Refusing to get a yearly physical or go to the doctor when sick.
Refusing to go to individual counseling or couples counseling despite having mental health concerns such as major depression, substance use, or a failing marriage.
Not reporting when they experience sexual abuse, which is not due to being male since females are unlikely to report too, but the reason for not reporting here is more about not wanting to be perceived as weak or “less of a man”.
Viewing male promiscuity as a conquest and achievement.
Impacts of Toxic Masculinity:
Men feel lonelier and more isolated since they do not view sharing their experiences or feelings as acceptable.
Men attempt and die by suicide more than women. “In 2019, the suicide rate among males was 3.7 times higher (22.4 per 100,000) than among females (6.0 per 100,000).” This is likely a result of not seeking or accepting help OR sharing feelings with others.
Men are more likely to engage in domestic violence. Toxic Masculinity and Masculine Gender Role Stress (MGRS) has been linked to violence against women and gay men.
What Can We Do About It?
Don’t tell little boys not to cry. Crying is perfectly normal and we should encourage all kids to express their emotions in healthy ways.
Reflect, normalize, and validate children’s feelings from a young age. Example: You look sad. It’s okay to be sad.
Teach emotional regulation and healthy ways to cope with all feelings, including anger. Encourage kids to go for a walk or run, take deep breaths, or listen to music when upset.
Allow them to play with all toys, not just stereotypical masculine toys. Playing with dolls will teach them to be great fathers. Playing in a toy kitchen will teach them it’s normal to share in meal preparation and other household responsibilities. The same goes for little girls being able to play with cars, trucks, balls, and tools!
Teach respect for others. Talk to your kid about respect for their friends and future partner. Talk to your kids about bullying and ensure they understand it’s okay if not everyone acts or behaves the same way they do. “The 2015 National School Climate Survey found that 85 percent of LGBTQ+ students reported being verbally harassed at school over their gender expression or sexual orientation.”
Teach empathy for others. “Encourage your child to pick up on feelings, facial expressions, body language, verbal language, emotive expressions in others. And get your son or daughter to reflect on why that might be.”
Be mindful of what they consume through YouTube, video games, television, movies, music, and books to ensure the messages don’t promote unhealthy views of what it means to be masculine (or feminine).
Be as physically affectionate towards your son as you are to your daughter. They need hugs and kisses and cuddles too!
Maintain work-life balance to get rid of the belief that men should be workaholics to provide for their families.
Focus on self-care. For some reason it’s okay for women to go get a pedicure or a massage or go out to eat lunch with a friend, but men do not do this as much. Men should have time to themselves to do something they enjoy.
Be empathetic. Validate the feelings of others.
Be vulnerable. Share your experiences and feelings with a friend and maybe they will feel more comfortable to do the same. If it feels uncomfortable to do this with a friend, seek out a mental health professional who will be paid to keep your secrets, and feelings, safe!
It is going to take a long time to undo the toxic aspects of masculinity to aid masculinity in being healthier, but small changes over time will make a profound difference.