Let’s start with some numbers. This winter I created a one-minute Gender Stereotypes in Society Survey to see if I could identify any trends worth further investigation. Of 83 participants, 47 identified as men, and 87% of them were under the age of 34. Here’s what caught my eye with the men:
- 38.3% of surveyed men agreed that gender stereotypes are mostly accurate, 42.56% felt they needed to live up to those stereotypes, and 87.24% said that gender stereotypes are harmful.
- 80.85% of men believed they could change gender stereotypes, but only 38.3% said they had been taught effective strategies to overcome them.
What does this mean? At least from this sample, my first hypothesis addresses the future of masculinity: a critical mass of men think that gender stereotypes are mostly accurate and feel the need to live up to them — despite believing they are harmful. If that remains true, men will perpetuate the status quo of toxic masculinity in our society. It’s worth noting that only 19.44% of women in this survey described gender stereotypes as mostly accurate and 94.44% described them as harmful.
My second assertion is this: an encouraging number of men think they can change gender stereotypes, but far fewer know how. To have any hope of sustaining a critical mass of men who disrupt harmful stereotypes, we need to teach more effective strategies. Currently, as role models, mentors, and adults, we are falling short — but I’m still in the hope boat. When we create a road map to moral masculinity that is easy to access and rewarding to travel, the scaffolding of toxic masculinity will become obsolete.
Why we are failing with “toxic masculinity”
Over the past couple of decades, countless researchers, activists, and educators have raised our collective awareness of the negative consequences of masculinity gone wrong. Today, “toxic masculinity” is a convenient way of packaging and labeling masculine cultural norms that harm society and men in general. We talk about it in conversations about systemic racism, social justice, gender equality, DEI, corporate greed. Yet, despite our proficiency in naming it, we…