Folks of all gender identities — we’ve all had our fair share of negative experiences with random men on the street, on dating apps, and in our classes. We’ve had our experiences with catcalling, name-calling, incel behavior, righteousness, entitlement...the list goes on (and on and on and on). But what happens when this behavior is exhibited in the men we hold near and dear, the good apples, the ones we love with all of our hearts? What happens when we see them let their own depiction of masculinity get in the way of who they want to be, the experiences they want to have in life, and their own definition of their gender?
There are three key cultural lessons that can impact a young man:
Emotional suppression and lack of vulnerability
Maintaining a hard exterior in the face of society
Violence = power
These three ideals of traditional masculinity can be ingrained in men from an early age, offsetting their emotional development and future relationships. It can disproportionately represent them in prisons, school discipline and academic setbacks, while also having the potential to give them mental health issues, such as depression, poor social functioning and body image issues.
This is not to say that all men are naturally violent, mean, evil beings. In fact, the toxic masculinity conversation was started by men. It's to say that society can fail them and cause them to develop skewed ideas about what gender is and what it means to them, and lead them down a path of not feeling like they are “man enough.” This can lead to different destructive behaviors, and sometimes, toward violence — abuse of women and children, gun violence, affiliation with the alt-right and so on.
It’s important for men to start this conversation with other men, and to have confidence when they do so. It’s also important to start these conversations early on, when young boys can be vulnerable to false ideas and restrictions on what it means to be a man, and while they develop their own gender identity. An important ideal in life is to be able to express yourself authentically and to feel safe while doing so. More men need to hear this truth and learn that it's okay to explore and define their own gender however it serves them.