I'm sure by now mostly everyone is familiar with the term "toxic masculinity." The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as "a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly 'feminine' traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away." When we go on social media or the internet in general, we see attacks on men for having toxic behaviors due to their masculinity, and it is bringing awareness to the issue. It's easy to blame men for the way they behave but we don't bring enough attention to the root causes and how we need to help men.
I asked men on twitter if there was pressure to have a masculine, manly image growing up and a lot of them said yes. I asked the men who said yes if they had to hide parts of themselves to be consistent with this masculine identity, and again a lot of them said yes. Men are victims too. They're victims in different ways than women, but they are victims. Some men told me how they never developed a good relationship with their fathers because they were uncomfortable being their true selves around them. Some of them didn't have their fathers really in their lives so it was up to their older brothers to teach them how to be a man. Some of them couldn't listen to female artists or watch anime because it wasn't considered manly. Men became homophobic because they would be called gay for anything, even if they weren't interested in men. A lot of men dealt with sexual assault or even rape as kids and were never able to discuss these things with anyone because they were scared they wouldn't be viewed as a man. These are just some examples of what I've been told.
As a Middle Eastern woman, I have seen masculinity be toxic directly in my family. Boys weren't allowed to cry, even as young kids. Homophobia and transphobia are extremely prevalent in my culture. It was so bad that a lot of the older men in my family considered chewing gum gay and something that should strictly be for women. Women are disrespected and looked at as servants to men who are to stay at home and raise the children. Women are never supposed to speak against their husbands or defend themselves. Women who get divorces are frowned upon, even if their husbands were toxic and it was well known. I can go on and on but what I'm trying to say is I'm all too familiar with how masculinity negatively affects women and men. We talk a lot about how toxic masculinity affects women and the LGBT community, but we don't talk enough about how it affects cisgendered men too.
Toxic masculinity teaches men to suppress their emotions. When they're not communicating things and being transparent, the emotions build up and it can turn to coping unhealthily. It's hard for men to talk about their issues with people they're close to, so it's even harder for them to seek professional help. Mental health and therapy is stigmatized a lot already, especially when it comes to straight men. Instead of acknowledging they may have some problems that need to be sorted out, they just keep suppressing it. Men face pressure to be bigger and stronger physically. Men who have difficulty gaining weight, are shorter in height, or aren't that strong are prone to being insecure because they don't meet those societal standards. There's a pressure to be aggressive and not be seen as "soft." That gets to be mentally exhausting always having to maintain that persona in order to not be judged, and the men who don't want to put on that front usually get made fun of and put on the spot, especially on social media. There's pressure to be good at getting women and to be experienced sexually. There's pressure in the workplace too. Men still get made fun of if they pursue nursing for example. All of this can heavily mess with someone's self esteem and cause unhappiness and negative behaviors.
Instead of just attacking men, we need to listen to them too. We need to reinforce men being open about how they're feeling. We should normalize men crying during stressful times. Most definitely there are some men who will always be assholes because they're stuck in their ways, but that's not a reflection of all men. I am not a sympathizer of men who have done shitty things. I am merely saying we need to get to the root and fix it because a lot of men suffer from insecurities because of the immense pressure to "be a man." We've made a lot of strides in the last 100 years with women and LGBT community having more opportunities and facing less judgment, but we are still leaving in a patriarchal society where men are still considered dominant in the workplace, in the home, in politics, etc. However, we must keep in the mind that straight men are being negatively affected by it too and we must encourage and help them break those cycles repeated every generation by being more understanding and open minded. A lot of men need help learning how to be comfortable with themselves without having to try so hard to meet societal expectations that are still in place. We need to stop attacking men for not fitting these strict gender roles. Let's face it, gender roles are changing for women because our society IS changing. They should change for men too.