Cultural expectations damage male self-perception

This story was originally published in the fifth edition of The Lion’s Tale (March 14, 2019).

Toxic masculinity is a term that has become popular recently. According to the American Psychological  Association, masculinity norms and toxic masculinity often cause men to have  worse mental health. This can lead to men acting out in anger and having higher suicide rates.  

However, toxic masculinity means many different things to different people.

Senior Laura Hidalgo said toxic masculinity pushes men and boys into gender roles.

“This discourages men from acting more feminine, or in any way that is outside of the norm,” Hidalgo said.

According to sophomore Sophia Knight,  it stops men from being open about how they feel.

“It’s a social pressure on males to act a certain ‘socially acceptable masculine way,’ like not showing emotions and acting all buff and stuff,” Knight said.  

Knight said the results are harmful.

“It also affects women because of how men act towards them,” Knight said. “It’s a social pressure to act a certain way, towards women and themselves.”

Freshman Nicole Fong has witnessed her friend be affected by toxic masculinity.

“I had a friend whose girlfriend just broke up with him, and he was crying,” Fong said.  “This girl was like, ‘Man, it’s really weird that you’re crying because boys shouldn’t cry like that.’”

Hidalgo has also seen the effects of toxic masculinity in the different ways boys and girls are raised.

“When given curfews, it is more likely for guys to get later ones, as people believe they’re more likely to be able to protect themselves than girls, which I’ve seen in my own family,” Hidalgo said.

However, freshman Alicia Gillis sees toxic masculinity as men excusing their actions due to their gender. According to junior Vincente Leon, toxic masculinity is the byproduct of men trying to prove themselves.

“They’re trying to be as masculine as possible, but it ends up backfiring on them and people around them,” Leon said.  “I think it is a pretty bad thing because you can be masculine without having to all the time prove yourself.”

Senior Jacob Bierley has experienced this view of masculinity from his mother.

“My mom tried to impress ideals of masculinity,” Bierley said. “She’d get upset with the way that I walked or talked, or things like that, because she said it wasn’t manly.” 

Toxic masculinity can pose threats to boys as they grow up, according to senior Sean Rice.

“It’s a problem because certain guys can’t express how they want to because they feel like they’ll be separated, or they won’t be treated like everyone else,” Rice said.

Rice has encountered this problem within his friend group.

“I have friends who weren’t the ‘Masculine Man,’ and they were made fun of, and they feel that they weren’t treated right,” Rice said.  “Their lives have definitely been affected socially, and pretty much every other way.”

According to freshman Nicole Fong, toxic masculinity is something that can affect men of all ages.

“It’s a really bad mentality because guys feel like they have be a certain way or act a certain way,” Fong said.  “Men in their 40s are the highest at risk for suicide because a lot of them don’t get help. They don’t know that it’s OK for them to get help.”

Perspective Discussions

According to AP Language and Composition teacher Kate Kammeraad, toxic masculinity is important to discuss so that people can learn about it.

“I want to allow all students the opportunity to express themselves and their experiences,” Kammeraad said.  “It’s an important topic because it lets us have a better grasp on what others are going through, feeling, experiencing, etc.” 

Kammeraad has opened this discussion within her classes by showing a Gillette commercial. The class then discussed its purpose and fallacies.

“Once we watched it, most students who were upset about its message realized that it was actually very positive about men,” Kammeraad said.

Kammeraad said that even though the commercial caught a lot of flak on social media, her students determined there was ultimately a good message in it.

“It was good because it showed how men can be better instead of using excuses to validate their behavior,” said senior Kayla Bachellor.

According to Kammeraad, the commercial showed that not every man is affected by toxic masculinity.

“I would say that a few ‘bad apples’ should not spoil the whole barrel,” Kammeraad said. “Just because a few men like Bill Cosby have used their power to dominate women, it does not mean that all men are villainous.”

Parental Influence

Bierley believes that toxic masculinity stems from how people were raised.

“My grandpa was really hard on my dad,” Bierley said.  “He forced him to do baseball and sports all his life and had high ideals for it, and it screwed up my dad a lot because it was like having a coach 24/7 yelling at you.”

Gillis said that parents tend to raise their kids the same way that they were raised, which can perpetuate the cycle.

“If the father grew up with his parents saying, ‘You’re great, blah blah blah,’ then he’s going to portray that to his son,” Gillis said.  “I think that the parents definitely help form that in their child.”

Kammeraad tries to avoid imposing gender roles on her two sons altogether.

“I’m very mindful of what ‘being a boy’ means,” Kammeraad said.  “We don’t talk about or establish what being a girl or being a boy is in my home.”

Even so, Kammeraad said some of her kids’ hobbies fall into gender roles.

“Some of our interests relate to our gender stereotypes, like my boys are into baseball and sports, but I don’t want my kids to think that their identity is based on their gender,” Kammeraad said.  

According to Kammeraad, raising children to be kind can remove a majority of toxic masculinity.

“I instill kindness to all people regardless of gender, appearance, sexual orientation, religion, etc,” Kammeraad said. “Just being a kind and helpful person negates any of those toxic masculinity beliefs. I believe just being a good human being will take care of most of the hatred in the world.”