Toxic Masculinity and Violence

The idea of what qualifies as masculinity various from country to country, place to place. However, in the United States, masculinity often embodies ideals of strength, respect, and pride. While all important qualities to strive for, there may be issues in the ways we are teaching them and expecting them of our men.

There are various ways in which the Americanized idea of masculinity can harm both men and women, whether noticeable or not. The struggle with this is that much of it is not noticeable (at least not without lots of analyzing and education). One way in particular that masculinity harms Americans is through the violence it reinforces. Jackson Katz, PH.D. and activist, addresses the issue of violence by noting that “boys and men in our society are conditioned to see violence as a solution to their problems, a resolution to their anxieties, or a means of exacting revenge” (Memo to Media). Resorting to violence when something goes wrong often results in others becoming victims of these violent acts. This is not to say that all men who get upset go and punch someone in the face as a way of handling their feelings. However, it is a standard in American society for men to use violence to outwardly handle their emotions. Katz mentions that, for men, “Anything short of full-scale emotional shutdown becomes a source of humiliation and shame,” and from this, men develop a “guise” which they use to hide their insecurities and vulnerabilities (Tough Guise 2). By doing all of these things, many men are taught that violence is the “go-to method of resolving disputes,” and the way to establish “masculine credibility” (Tough Guise 2).

Men may find themselves feeling alone and as if talking about what they are feeling will destroy the guise that they have put up to be respected and taken seriously in society.

In his research, Michael A. Messner interviewed some male sports players to identify the way masculinity was constructed in their lives. He notes that “what these boys needed and craved was that which was most problematic for them: connection and unity with other people” (Messner). Messner saw a common theme in his interviews: many men had joined sports teams in order to end their loneliness (Messner). From this, it can be determined that the way we are raising young men can be harmful to their self-esteem as well as their ability to exhibit certain emotions and feelings. Rather than being able to talk about their thoughts and feelings, they are forced to solve the issues on their own, which creates a sense of loneliness and isolation. This loneliness may eventually lead to an unhealthy outlet, a common one being violence. It doesn’t help that a commonly agreed upon standard of respect for men in America is violence. Through these unhealthy behaviors, they believe they will be respected and perhaps even popular. 

The issue of masculinity is even more pressing in today’s current political climate. Katz notes the way that men verbalize acts of violence. In the phrase “violence against women” or in the way men talk about how women are “harassed, abused, assaulted, or raped,” they are taken out of the equation (Tough Guise 2). It is no longer men who are committing violent acts against women, or men who are harassing, abusing, assaulting, or raping women, but instead it is women who are having these things done to them.

By ignoring or refusing to address the fact that men are responsible for most of this violence, the issue of masculinity is brushed under the rug and not taken seriously.

Considering recent mass shootings, the subject or perpetrator is often discussed as being gender-neutral. Instead of hearing the term “male” we instead hear “alleged shooter,” “suspect,” “murderer,” and so forth (Tough Guise 2). Yet, when discussing acts of violence that women or people of color have committed, these attributes are most always addressed and even viewed as a forefront to the story. Katz says that these aspects also contribute to the “a function of how dominant ideologies work linguistically to conceal the power of dominant groups” (Tough Guise 2). In today’s political climate, between issues of gun laws and sexual harassment cases, while considering various other aspects, we must not forget about the harmful ways that America has shaped masculinity and the way it has and will continue to hurt people until we address it and fight for societal change.