We are all victims of an invisible force that takes place silently in the mind of men. According to Sarah Sheppard, this force constructs ‘outdated and unfounded stereotypes which create an unhealthy and unrealistic understanding of what it means to be a man in today’s society’.
I am talking about toxic masculinity.
My experience with toxic masculinity
As a male that attended an all-boys secondary school and played football from a young age, I have witnessed the inner workings of toxic masculinity and the effect it has on men’s behaviour. I was brought up by a single mother and have always been a very lean male, so the toxic ideals of masculinity have always been something that I have had trouble subscribing to.
From a young age, I would never quite fit-in to what a lot of people would’ve expected of a young man. The players I played football with were always bigger and stronger than me and despite being a good footballer, my manager would always play teammates that were bigger and stronger than me. This manager would, on every occasion I saw him, tell me to ‘Eat more meat’ and ‘Get more meat on my bones’ - (I’m vegan now. Funny that.)
In my early teens, I rebelled against these expectations. Even now I still find myself comparing my stature with others, but I know that it doesn’t have any bearing on my value as an individual.
Why is it toxic?
Toxic masculinity means that men have to hide ‘unmasculine’ or ‘feminine’ emotions and have to remain tough. Being a man in a man's world can take its toll. The pressures of having to ‘man-up’ or ‘grow a pair’ are, unfortunately, all too clear in statistics of those that choose to end their life.
Rob Whitley, from Psychology Today, calls this “The Silent Crisis of Male Suicide”. He writes that ‘In Europe, men account for around 80 percent of completed suicides’.This is, quite obviously, a male problem. Perpetuated by ideas that men have to be physically and emotionally strong, toxic masculinity doesn’t allow room for men to talk openly about their struggles. It suggests that men should suffer in silence, which can have harmful implications for that person and their relationships with those around them. Not speaking openly about things that could be weighing you down can exacerbate those feelings and make you feel as though you’re the only person going through these feelings. But you’re not.
Being a man doesn’t mean that you are destined for a life of trying to be tough or hiding your emotions. Healthy or positive masculinity is the idea that men can be emotionally expressive, have female friends or mentors, and express their emotions without feeling emasculated. There are various ways that you can find spaces to be positively masculine.
Men’s Shed is a website that provides ‘in-person’ community spaces for men to connect and chat, wherever you are in the country, where men can enjoy practical hobbies. It isn’t therapy or connected to the NHS, it is just a place where you can be with people that are like you while doing something you enjoy, whether that is crafting something or having a cup of tea and some banter.
The map below is a visual representation showing you that you are not alone. Each marker is a Men’s Shed, proving that other men, all over the UK, are struggling too:
If you feel like you or someone you know could benefit from something like this then I urge you to find a Men’s Shed online here.
The best thing you can do is start the conversation about toxic/positive masculinity. Reach out to friends and relatives and help lift the weight of toxic masculinity from the backs of all those that bear its weight.