We’ve all heard this phrase being bandied about. It’s been used as an insult and explanation and an excuse, but what exactly is it? We asked social campaigner, political science graduate and former New Zealand kickboxing champ Richie Hardcore for his take on toxic masculinity and what it means to our society.
What is toxic masculinity and where does it come from?
Toxic masculinity is a term used to describe socially transmitted traditional masculine gender norms that include, but aren’t limited to, being violent, dominating, competitive, unemotional and the idea that men aren’t vulnerable or nurturing.
These stereotypical expectations of male behavior are taught generationally, both tacitly and explicitly. The jokes we are told in school, the ideas about men and women, comments our big brothers, dads and uncles might make, the notion that boys don’t cry, and phrases like ‘don’t be a girl’ or ‘harden up’ all routinely reinforce the beliefs that there is a binary of what is traditionally associated as feminine and masculine. This also assumes feminine traits are worth less, and not acceptable for men to express. Our advertising, music and media all keep these ideas in place and continue to teach them. Indeed, even the women in our life who grow up in the same culture can reinforce these ideas too. We all have a part to play in changing the status quo.
How deeply is it ingrained in New Zealand society?
A recent study by Gender Equal New Zealand showed that we’ve come a long way in accepting that women and girls don’t have to adhere to old fashioned ideas about what women can and can’t do, but a notable percentage of respondents to their study showed that there is still rigid thinking about what boys and men can and can’t be or do. When men are stuck in a box of socially imposed behavior, it has really negative outcomes for both men and women.
Why should we be concerned about toxic masculinity, how harmful is it?
We have some of the highest rates of suicide, self-harm, family and sexual violence in the world, so it is hugely harmful. These figures are echoed in other OECD countries too. Boys and men are hurting themselves and others in huge numbers. Socially enforced ideas of masculinity are hurting men and boys, as well as women and girls. Studies show that the more males try to fit in to socially constructed models of masculine norms, the more psychological distress they have. Outside of the worst-case scenarios, even the daily struggles of just not being happy, not pursuing your actual desires, or being in an unhealthy relationship take away our joy. It doesn’t need to be a statistic for it to be a problem.
How can men help each other?
I do believe things are slowly changing and things are getting better. I see more men that can show vulnerability, which is great and needs to be continued. Men can gently challenge each other, if something sexist or stereotypical is said or shared online, rather than jumping down someone’s throat.
We can be open about our own feelings, and vulnerabilities.
I think coaches in any sport have a big responsibility to play too, about showcasing good language and values.
Men can talk to their sons about the importance of respecting women and what porn is perpetuating isn’t healthy.
We can not share shitty jokes and memes that embed old ideas, and instead use social media to share a new, healthier, broader idea of what masculinity is.
For help with any of the issues raised in this article you can contact the following organisations