It’s time to put toxic masculinity to rest

by Lindsey Anderson, Contributor

The term “toxic masculinity” has been reintroduced to society within the past couple of years amidst growing social movements. This term refers to the cultural norms that create pressures for men to behave in a certain way and leads to a highly narrow definition of “manliness.” 

If we look at toxic masculinity as having stemmed from unattainable expectations set for men by society, then we can see the problem is not in the idea of masculinity itself but in what defines it.

The first part of this definition involves knowledge. Men are expected to know just about everything from fixing cars to refinancing homes — an expectation that has detrimental impacts on men’s learning and growth.

A 2015 study found when men ask for help, they are viewed as less competent and capable, as opposed to women who are viewed as inquisitive and promising.

And this happens all the time. 

Recently, a male friend of mine came forward with his own experience with toxic masculinity. He shared that when he asked for guidance on how he should pursue sawing down a large pine tree due to his lack of experience using a large chain saw, he was met with hostility, aggression and disbelief by his fellow male coworkers.  

 This is where toxic masculinity comes into play: men are viewed by others, including each other, as less manly and less qualified when they ask for assistance on such things. 

The worst part is many of these toxic masculine norms are taught to boys at the earliest stage of development and become further ingrained as they grow older.

In order to illustrate this point, let me introduce you to the three most common phrases told to boys and young men: 1) “Don’t be gay;” 2) “You fight like a girl;” and 3) “Man up!”

The phrase “don’t be gay” creates fear amongst young boys toward showing emotion of any kind. Men are expected to be these stoic, emotionless beings that are deeply affected by nothing, creating a huge divide between “manliness” and vulnerability in showing one’s emotion or sharing one’s mind.  

Both phrases “you fight like a girl” and “man up” illustrate the male expectation of toughness. Along with being knowledgeable and stoic, men are expected to be strong warriors. When they show any sign of physical weakness, men are likened to a woman; and when they express any form of emotion, fear or mental-physical struggle, they are told to be more of a man.

The biggest issue here is that we are the ones teaching these manliness constructs to our children and in doing so, are creating this unattainable expectation of what a “true man” should be. 

When one searches for the definition of “manly or “masculine” on Google, a list of synonyms comes up. A few of those listed are “well-built,” “fearless,” “knowledgeable” and “handy.” If you look a little closer on the list, you’ll find the antonyms — “effeminate” and “weak.” If you go one step further and look up the definition of “handy,” you’ll find it to be “skillful.” The antonym? “Inept.” 

Think about that. 

A man who may not be the perfect representation of manly is weak. He is feminine. A man who may not be able to fix a leaky faucet or repair an old car is suddenly inept. He is incompetent, unskilled and inferior because he does not fit the definition of being “manly.” 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the meanings we assign to the biological human body. In doing so, we dictate the ways one should and should not be, defying nature and assigning our opinions to the ways in which people choose to fulfill their lives. 

It is time that we rewrite this definition to encompass all men — those who fit the manly norm and those who don’t. 

Because men who choose to write poetry, ask questions and display kindness deserve to be just as righteous as Mr. Tough Guy in his big pick-up truck. 

Lindsey Anderson is a senior studying rhetoric and writing.