“You good bro?” “Yeah, I’m chillin’.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on both ends of that stereotypical conversation and how many times I wasn’t “chillin” and my friend wasn’t “good.” The thing is, as men, we’ve been conditioned for so long to sequester our emotions that it’s nearly impossible to take off the mask sometimes. Men are told that if they show emotion, they’re weak. Any display of vulnerability or behavior that is coined feminine results in your “man card” being revoked.
This form of masculinity is quite honestly unattainable (we are feeling beings, we have an entire amygdala in our temporal lobe to ensure that), and it’s not doing men any good.
What is it?
Toxic masculinity praises the over-exaggeration of socially constructed behaviors that call for men to be phlegmatic, violent, sexually aggressive, etc. Additionally, it’s rooted in the belief of the dichotomy of dominance and subordinance. It touts that in order for men to stay in that perceived “dominant” gender role conferred by patriarchy, they must convincingly perform manliness (whatever that is). The basic element to this form of masculinity is control. If men can exert and resist control, then their masculinity is confirmed.
It’s a shame because when you look at it, this form of “manhood” is contingent on the act of doing, rather than the act of being; there is no identity, there’s only action. When your status is based solely on what you can produce, your being is always at risk of loss.
You constantly have to perform for other men to reaffirm your masculinity. It’s like you constantly have to work toward this expected glorified form of being that’s just transparently unattainable.
How tiring is that?
Your “identity” literally can be taken away from you at any time if you go against the expectations of masculinity and display any non-stereotypical masculine behaviors.
You can never just be you.
This Form of Masculinity Hurts Men
As I mentioned, this form of masculinity requires that you don’t show your emotions. Not only is this impossible, but it can be detrimental to yourself and to others. For example, this suppression of feelings can lead to emotional incompetency in regards to relationships, whether they are romantic or platonic.
What’s the one thing that any relationship calls for? (Let’s all say it together!)
Without the ability to discern or display emotions effectively, it becomes very difficult to understand other people.
You can only suppress emotions for so long. These efforts can result in mood swings, anxiety disorders, depression and a myriad of other complications. Anger and toxic masculinity go hand in hand because anger is the one emotion men are allowed to express.
But honestly, if we look a little deeper, we know that anger is just a mask itself and can be an indicator of depression in men. Due to this emotional incompetency and the pressures put on men by this patriarchal form of masculinity, many don’t recognize (or choose to ignore) the signs of depression. Because masculinity touts dominance and control and propagates many harmful stigmas, the idea of mental illness is seen as something that’s weak (which it isn’t), so a lot of men don’t address it.
To me, this is terrifying. If you want to give an even more insidious face to the structures of toxic masculinity, just look at the statistics. In the US alone, 75%-80% of suicides are committed by men but yet some men still don’t see a problem with this performance of hypermasculinity.
Toxic Masculinity is A Threat On A College Campus
I think one of the scariest things to me in regards to this topic would be the ways in which some men engage in conversation about women. A lot of the banter hits upon exaggerations of sexual conquest and the objectification of women. Too many men view women only as channels for their sexual gratification and for some reason this narrative continually persists.
This often times manifests as aggressive and/or violent reactions (physically and verbally) in the case of rejection by women.
Correction, I think the scariest thing to me would be the normalization of this. This patriarchal form of toxic masculinity is encouraging the “dominant narrative” (which goes hand in hand with victim blaming) and perpetuating rape culture.
On a college campus (or anywhere) toxic masculinity is not okay because it’s harming so many individuals. No one is entitled to another person’s body or being, and that’s the bottom line. If there’s an ideology that propagates that belief, then it needs to be shut down.
What’s Really Good?
I think what I’m really trying to get at is the need for some change. I don’t like the current form of masculinity because it’s harming so many people that I know/don’t know and love.
Manhood shouldn’t be something that you need to gain or something that can be stripped away from you. It shouldn’t be about asserting your dominance or being afraid to be vulnerable.
I’ve never really fit into this mold of traditional masculinity. I like to sing, play the saxophone/drums, read, bake (my cookies are no joke) and most importantly I love the spontaneous deep conversations that you have at 2am in the morning. These aspects of my being don’t align with this patriarchal form of manhood and I’m glad. I don’t fall into its tight compartments and in fact, I don’t want to because there’s no one way to “be a man.”
Work is being done on campus to launch some healthy masculinity initiatives and programs, which will provide opportunities to unpack and understand the problematics of the various forms of harmful masculinity that we’ve been conditioned into as men.
I feel like we’re at a crucial stage right now. We always talk about change as something that will just occur (which is false, it has to be fought for) but to be honest, it’s up to us. I think a good first step would be to ask yourself, “Are you really good, bro?”
Written by John Adeniran, ’19