WHAT DOES NON-TOXIC MASCULINITY LOOK LIKE?
Hint: it has nothing to do with violence, sexuality, status or riches
First off, what is “toxic masculinity”?
I don’t believe masculinity is a bad thing. If I did, that would mean that simply being born a man and having the biology that we have makes us inherently bad… no way. I love being a man!
Harris O’Malley (aka Dr. NerdLove… not an actual doctor but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express) describes toxic masculinity as follows:
“Toxic masculinity is 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.”
To me, it sounds like what he’s saying is that toxic masculinity is this cultural — not biological — norm thrust upon men from the moment we come out of the womb that tells us we’re supposed to think, speak and act a certain way or else we’re not considered “manly.”
I had a talk with a friend recently regarding this issue and I brought up the term toxic masculinity and he countered that he disagrees with that term because “masculinity is not toxic.” It made me stop and think for a second because he had a point, by putting it this way I can see how it can be interpreted to mean that masculinity as a whole is toxic, a bad thing, which it is not. But, the argument can be made the other way as well.
On the flip side, there is a lot of shame cast upon men not acting in accordance with what society deems “manly.” When we see men talk about their emotions, get in touch with their feelings, cry, hug, or do any other things that aren’t considered manly — rather are considered “feminine” — we’re quick to call them “gay” or “girly” or “p*ssies” or “weak” or “beta males.” I believe this causes the same amount of damage, if not more so, that labeling masculinity as toxic does.
Growing up in a latino society and spending many years as a professional athlete, I was constantly surrounded by a machismo culture that forced me to fit into the ideal of how a man is expected to be.
I felt like I was constantly doing a balancing act between the two: one part of me had to put on this manly front and not show any weakness, another part of me was begging to speak up and talk about these “unmanly” emotions I was feeling — I just never mustered the courage to.
So, if masculinity is not toxic and being emotional, sensitive and expressive is not unmanly, where does that leave us?
When we break it all the way down, whether we’re men or women, we’re all exactly the same in one big way: we’re all human beings.
Is that to say that men and women are exactly alike all the way through?
Not at all.
But, we all go through a lot of the same emotions and trials of life, like:
Not feeling good enough
… just to name a few.
What I believe is the biggest problem is that when women go through all of the above, it’s okay for them to call out for help, to confide in a friend, to cry while watching a romantic comedy and eating ice cream.
As men, we’re taught to suppress these feelings, to suck it up, to not ask for help, and that if we feel any of the above feelings and act upon them in any way, we’re at risk of being labeled anything other than the men we were born as.
So what does non-toxic masculinity look like?
It begins with facing fear. What fear? That voice that whispers in our ears “hey, don’t do that. What are people going to think about you if you do that? Men don’t do that.”
It begins with finding that true voice that we all have within us that is begging to be heard — that’s being deafened by that louder voice of ego and society — and letting that voice sing out loud.
There is this notion that sucking it up and not asking for help and going it alone is courageous — that’s what we’re supposed to do as men and as leaders — but I somewhat disagree.
You know what makes a good leader? Honesty and transparency.
It’s easier to act in accordance with what we’re supposed to, it’s much harder to go against the grain and challenge the expectations of how we’re supposed to be.
Facing the fear of the ramifications that may ensue when we express that true voice within us — especially if it goes against the norm — is WAY more fear-inducing and courageous than any occasion where we are forced to suck it up and be a man.
I believe it takes a lot more courage to feel that sadness, to feel that loneliness, to cry when we feel like crying, because that’s not what we’re supposed to do, that’s not how men are supposed to be. By getting in touch with these feelings and emotions and being honest about them despite the fear of ostracization is essentially being a rebel, and there’s nothing weak about being a rebel.
Non-toxic masculinity is about being yourself, whatever that may mean for you.
Think about all the people that we admire, that have truly inspired and touched so many lives, odds are that they were rebels. I don’t mean rebels in a political or violent sense, I mean rebels in the sense that even though society told them “hey, this is how you’re supposed to be because we said so”, they had the courage to listen to that inner voice and say “nah, you know what, I disagree. This is what I believe and this is who I am.”
Some of these rebels risked everything — from their families, their friends and even death — to be that voice that so many others have but are afraid to let be heard.
If you’re feeling sad, lonely, depressed, heartbroken, down in the dumps, feeling like a failure, not feeling good enough, scared, or worried, there is nothing wrong with you.
In fact, you’re a functioning human being feeling emotions, that’s one of the greatest parts of being alive!
Don’t bottle these emotions up and keep them hidden just because that’s what men are supposed to do — express them! Talk about them with someone close to you or at least write them down.
And women, encourage your men to do so and don’t shame them when they do. We have a right to sensitivity and emotions as much as you do.
This isn’t about standing out to say “hey look at me!”
This is about refusing to suppress what we feel because somebody one day decided that it was wrong to feel this way.
Masculinity isn’t toxic, but neither are the things that are considered non-masculine.
“To me , the true definition of masculinity — and femininity, too — is being able to lay in your own skin comfortably.”
— Vincent D’Onofrio
To hear more of my thoughts on masculinity, check out my podcast — Behind The Mask-ulinity — on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or other podcast directories.