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  • Grace Dowd

Toxic vs. Authentic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is a collection of cultural norms, behaviors, and beliefs that describes traditional and stereotyped versions of masculinity. They are only recently identified and described as toxic and harmful to not only men, but to all genders in our society. Calling out toxic masculinity does not mean that all masculinity is bad or that men are bad, but rather it holds abusive behaviors accountable and elevates the possibility for men to grow into their full potential.

Toxic masculinity is not a good thing. It does not elevate a man to become a good man, but actually causes harm to him and his community. It instead elevates unhealthy ideals, such as emotional "toughness," dominance, aggression, and the cutting off of "feminine" behaviors. All of this can lead to the following complications in a mans life:

1. Emotional repression: Men are often encouraged to not express their emotions or to be vulnerable, leading to the suppression of their emotions and causing a lack of emotional maturity and an increase in reactivity.

2. Violence and aggression: The pressure to appear strong and dominant can contribute to aggressive behaviors, both verbal and physical, as a way to assert power.

3. Gender role limitations: Toxic masculinity encourages conformity to traditional roles, limiting exploration of roles/tasks that may be seen as more "feminine." This can often lead to a lack of balance in relationships and tending to the home enviornment and parenting falling on the other partner.

4. Homophobia and transphobia: Toxic masculinity stigmatizes homosexuality and transgender individuals to maintain an image of superiority and domination.

5. Health and self-care neglect: Due to toxic masculinity encouraging men that they are invulnerable, men are more likely to not seek help for mental or physical health concerns, or even downplay symptoms.

6. Relationship difficulties: Due to the impact of toxic masculinity on emotional repression, it can hinder healthy communication, empathy, and intimacy within mens relationships.

It's important to note that toxic masculinity affects individuals differently and operates within various cultural and social contexts. Efforts are being made to challenge and redefine traditional notions of masculinity, promoting healthier expressions and attitudes that embrace a wider range of emotions, behaviors, and identities.

So what then is healthy or real masculinity?

Healthy masculinity is not a monolithic concept or experience. Masculinity can be expressed in a multitude of ways and is much more inclusive and constructive than toxic masculinity. Here are a number of aspects that encompass a broad range of healthy masculinity:

1. Emotional intelligence: Healthy masculinity promotes and values emotional awareness and intelligence. It includes and encourages men to be aware of their feelings and to be able to communicate those openly. This leads to men that are able to feel and engage in empathy.

2. Equality and Mutual Respect: Healthy masculinity promotes an enviornment of respect for oneself and others, regardless of gender identity. It rejects sexism and misogyny and instead elevates equality and recognizes the uniqueness of individual identity.

3. Authenticity and self-expression: Healthy masculinity upholds the belief that each individual has unique interests and strengths, regardless of traditional gender roles. Healthy masculinity encourages men in their individuality.

4. Healthy relationships: Healthy masculinity encourages healthy relationship dynamics built on mutual respect, trust, and consent. It involves active listening, emotional support, and collaboration, rather than dominance or control.

5. Responsibility and accountability: Healthy masculinity encourages an environment in which men take responsibility for their behavior and actions, with the capacity to learn from ones mistakes rather than accepting limiting beliefs of "that's just how I am."

6. Positive role modeling: Healthy masculinity encourages men to be a positive role model for upcoming generations of young men, through demonstrating the aforementioned qualities of healthy masculinity.

Healthy masculinity recognizes that gender is a social construct and allows for a broad spectrum of expressions, including those that may not align with traditional masculine ideals. It emphasizes the importance of individual agency and self-determination in defining what it means to be a man, enabling men to live authentically and free from the constraints of toxic masculinity.

A personal favorite is the TedTalk from Justin Baldoni on why he is done trying to be "man enough," as well as his book that transpired after this talk - "Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity." If you are struggling to fit in with the stereotypes of manhood or are questioning your gender identity, reach out to us today for a free consultation.



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