The term “toxic masculinity” has been in the popular lexicon for a few years now. I have been a part of this conversation at The Good Men Project and I definitely miss writing for them (they changed their submission policy). However, they are a leading voice on the web for improving the conversation about men, masculinity, and how men are in the world around us.

In the recent past, much of the acceptable behavior by men has included very negative things like overt homophobia, racism, and blatant sexism of both word and deed. Women have been the primary victims of sexual assault, groping, and inappropriate contact that should have never been tolerated. Treating women as objects to be fondled like fruit at the grocery store is hardly the type of positive masculinity our society needs. We need men to be positive forces for good, not date-raping women in seedy bedrooms like Brett Kavanaugh or masturbating into plants like Harvey Weinstein or exposing themselves like Louis C.K. That is not masculinity, it is puerile and should be rejected wherever it is found.

However, does that make men and masculinity “toxic?”

We Need Those Manly Men

Masculinity has some great perks. Masculinity has given us a great civilization. It has helped us go over the next hill and cross the next boundary. It has brought us tremendous inventions from things as banal as fire to quantum physics. This is not to downplay the many and varied contributions of women. Masculinity is what keeps us safe. Men are great protectors, providers, and are willing to strike out into an unforgiving world and help humanity continue to survive. Men are an important part of children’s lives too. Although popular culture has downplayed the role of men in parenting, fatherhood is an important part of teaching children things about the world and themselves. I’ve always thought the fatherly attitude towards minor childhood accidents, “Are you dead? No? Keep playing!” to be very healthy. Masculinity has some wonderful benefits but there are some significant downsides as well.

Masculinity: Now on Broadway!

Masculinity is performative in a way that femininity is not. In our society, being a man is not merely a state of being it is a series of actions. It is dressing the right way, acting the right way, and doing things a certain way. These rigid standards don’t allow for men to really be themselves but rather to be in a race to make sure their public perception remains “man.” Part of this is the cultural attitude that to be a woman is to be “less than” which has its own negativity. This performative masculinity has some sharp downsides because men are not necessarily allowed to be human in the same way women are allowed to be human.

Let’s look at the current state of men:

  • Men die earlier than women
  • Men suffer the bulk of workplace accidents
  • Men have a higher rate of successful suicide (women have a higher rate but fail more often, this is a tragedy that men are better at)
  • Men are more likely to be homeless
  • Men have small social circles
  • Men are more likely to lose custody of their children
  • Men are more likely to be incarcerated (and for longer)
  • Men are touch starved (fighting that masculine performance again)
  • Men are expected to be insatiable sex hounds
  • Men are portrayed in a poor light in popular culture

This is not a comprehensive list but if we look at this list from a human perspective, we would realize that 50% of humans are in a terrible crisis that needs real solutions right away. Fortunately, the psychologial community is beginning to see the light here.

Men on the Couch

The mental and emotional health of men has come into sharp focus lately. Psychologists have added new standards and advise for therapists about how they should be treating the mental health of men and how to help men in ways that reach out to them. Many men don’t want to visit therapists and don’t want to be considered “weak.” Performative masculinity strikes even this area. Many men would benefit from psychological help. Not because they are crazy but to create habits that would help them over the long term.

There is much that we can do to help men become the tremendous forces for good that we all know that they can be. If we can help men work on their mental health issues then we men can become better, less abusive people. The charges levied against men are terrible human behaviors. The task before our society and before men is to become better human beings.