Masculinity is also called manhood or manliness refers to a set of attributes, behaviors and roles associated with boys or men. It’s a socially constructed concept. Behaviors that are considered to be ‘masculine’ are biologically or socially influenced and are a matter of debate as indicated by research. The standards of masculinity differ from culture to culture and across history. Masculine qualities are those which are typically expected from boys and men; and are considered appropriate for them. Various standards of masculinity include assertiveness, strong identity, courage, independence, strength, leadership.
Toxic Masculinity is a term used in psychology; refers to the traditional norms of masculinity that proves to be harmful and detrimental for everyone- be it male, female and the society also. The concept explains its agreement to certain traditional male gender roles, dominance, competition and socially irresponsible behaviors. The American Psychological Association (APA) doesn’t use the term toxic masculinity rather suggests it as the traditional masculinity in its report which is related to plenty of negative consequences in man’s behavior such as avoiding to appear weak, showing violent, risk- taking or adventurous behavior, being against feminism, etc. This whole concept has to do with ‘the Power given to males due to the patriarchal mindset’.
The patriarchal ideal masculine construct is the basis of all the developed negative masculine ideals present in the society. The ideal social definition of masculinity is that they ‘need to be’ tall, strong, capable of earning good for the whole family, should have good sexual performance. These masculine ideals are learned at a very young age. The qualities that one learns are toughness, self-sufficient attitudes, lack of emotional sensitivity and less connectedness. Men are often defined by outdated and baseless stereotypes that produce an unhealthy and unrealistic picture of what it means to be a male in today’s culture. These stereotypes range from being unemotional and power-hungry to narcissistic and violent. Assuming that men ‘should be’ protectors, breadwinners or leaders can be problematic and damaging.
Connection between Masculine Ideals and Violent Perpetration:-
Aggressive behaviors and violence were used to vent out emotions instead of correctly expressing them. This aggression then adds up to the power that they are provided within a patriarchal society which is shown when their masculinity is threatened (Pellegrini & Bartini, 2001). The restriction of emotional expression and pressure to act according to the societal male codes of being dominant, stiff, etc reinforces their potential to get involved in general acts of violence such as bullying, ragging, assault, physical and verbal abuse/aggression (Feder, Levant & Dean, 2010).
NEGATIVE IMPACT OF TOXIC MASCULINITY:-
The negative impacts of toxic masculinity is seen only when the set of standards that our society holds, end up damaging the life of people including their own life. So, the various negative impacts of toxic masculinity are the following:-
Suppression of emotions and feelings can be considered as a direct negative impact of toxic masculinity. It explains that men should only express emotions of anger, violence; etc which hinders them from getting in touch with many other things they feel and sense. This gradually distances them from people around them and restricts them from having any close relationships with their partners, kids, and even spouse. Increased psychological issues in men, such as depression, increased stress, and substance use disorders, are linked to self-reliance and emotional repression.
Encouragement of Violence is one of the direct negative impacts of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity teaches man to prove their strength and power through violence and discourages them from releasing their feelings in any other ethical ways instead of using destruction as a medium. Ex- Men are responsible for a great majority of mass shootings in the United States. This was stated by sociologists Tristan Bridges PhD and Tara Leigh Tober PhD in their sociological research and pointed out that men are more likely to attack when their masculinity and male privilege is threatened.
Discouragement to seek help or aid for bad mental health is exaggerating the toxicity of masculinity. Since mental health is already a stigma, it makes it more difficult for men to acknowledge that they need help to treat it. Because men are frequently pressured by society to “be men” in the traditional sense rather than just be human. Vulnerability is usually ignored, rejected, or combated by men. So, men’s mental health suffers when they suppress emotions, neglect sentiments, or dismiss feminine traits. According to APA, men are less likely than women to seek help regarding their mental health, They suffer silently because they are taught to avoid looking weak.
Homophobia– Masculinity as a concept has been constructed in such a way that it appears to be totally opposite to femininity, so whenever a man does something that is considered to be a woman’s role like- dating a man, then he is automatically considered less of a man. The pressure to be masculine creates a greater stigma for gay men than women. Many gay slurs are used to put them down for not conforming to masculine ideals.
Misogyny – Hatred or contempt for women is misogyny. It is a sort of sexism that is utilized to keep women in a lower social status than men in order to perpetuate patriarchal societal roles. As quoted by Tony Porter (an activist, author, educator) in a TED talk- “that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and just do what we say; that men are superior and women are inferior; that men are strong and women are weak.” In sum, toxic masculinity supports a culture that not only disrespects men for being “feminine,” but also disrespects women, by assigning specific attributes to males and valuing them above qualities associated with women. Toxic masculinity, like other parts of patriarchy, causes everyone to lose.
Development of rape culture– Toxic masculinity teaches men that the only way their identity as a man can be established; is when they exert their dominance over women by sexual assault or by offending their modesty.
TOXIC MASCULINITY AND VIOLENT CRIMES:-
In our patriarchal society, males are taught and are intrinsically ingrained with an outlook that women are inferior to them, they should control women, and they are mere objects; either directly or indirectly. So, how can we expect that there will be a healthy relationship of one gender with the other gender which is an inseparable half of the total population?
Due to this outlook we see such heinous crimes being committed against women in society. The various crimes are the following:-
Acid attack: This crime is used as a shocking weapon against women in the name of honor. Most of the time women suffer from acid attacks because of the choices they make like rejecting a marriage proposal or a sexual advance or even with the belief that she is causing dishonor to her husband and family. Sometimes it is referred as new gender terrorism.
Rape: This is one of the most heinous and condescending crime that especially harms women in context of toxic masculinity. It is caused due to the societal norms that grant men to have control over female behavior. This notion of masculinity is linked to harming one’s honor, showing aggression and dominance. There are certain cultural norms that prove to be supportive to this kind of sexual violence. Gender inequality is one of the prime and most basic factors of rape.
Marital Rape can be explained as the violence within the four walls of one’s home or violence which is committed within the confines of the family and it grants complete immunity and benefit of doubt to the husband. It explains that marriage is a sacred bond which gives the husband a license to force sexual relations on his better‑half without her consent, believing that it’s the wife’s duty to keep him satisfied even if it compromises her health, modesty and self respect.
Domestic Violence: The masculinity factor teaches men that women have no importance and status. Women are considered to be mere objects, only available at hand due to which they can be ill‑treated, beaten, thrashed etc. In some communities it’s a belief that “if you don’t beat up your wife, what kind of man are you?”
Ragging and Bullying: Here boys use their so called power and strength gained from their intrinsic thought process. It’s a behavior that is nothing more than expressing power equations. It also proves that strength is related to masculinity; with the idea to gain respect by force from your subordinates. Experts explain that there is a strong link between the upbringing of sons and ragging, where there is failure to impart qualities of compassion and respect for others at home that often leads to a violent assertion of strength to the outside world.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE NEGATIVE IDEALS AND PERCEPTIONS ABOUT MASCULINITY:-
Ignoring the negativity and unacceptable behavior of individuals which includes degrading someone, being violent towards others, etc exhibited during early years of childhood has a great influence on promoting them to have an expression of violence in adolescence and in adulthood. So, every detrimental behavior should be addressed clearly starting from the childhood so that it should not function as a risk factor. There are certain developing factors which contribute solely in strengthening the negative masculine ideals.
Here are the various developing factors:-
Gender roles– It refers to the social roles which include a range of behaviors that are considered appropriate or desirable for a particular sex. These are mostly based on stereotypes and misconceptions regarding masculinity and femininity and are intrinsically ingrained into one’s mentality from childhood which the individual exhibits later in life. Gender roles of male and females are framed as if these two sexes are different species. In this, males are expected to have individuality, autonomy, competitiveness whereas females are expected to focus mostly in establishing relationships instead of having their own identity. Society expects self-sacrifice and concerns for others from women and independent judgment from men. The most clear and simple gender role differentiated between male and female is- the head of the household versus taking care of the children respectively.
Socialization gives rise to the formation of gender roles which are learned from the caregivers at home such as parents, elders and also teachers in school. The socialized behaviors may not be totally unhealthy but causes problems when men and women are rigid in conforming to those expectations, which leads to health issues and violence against people. During early years of socialization, male children are taught to deal with their emotions in a certain way such as “don’t show your sadness, don’t show that you are hurt or weak, men don’t cry, be tough, be strong, etc.” and inversely women are taught to be “nurturing and nice”. The socialization of boys in the patriarchal societies often normalizes violence like bullying and aggression by saying “boys will be boys”.
Negative Masculine Ideals are otherwise explained as the patriarchal ideal masculine construct in literal meaning. These ideals are a result of socialization that one has learned at a very young age. Boys learn how to be men from men in their lives from their own experiences.
The various risk factors contributing to the negative ideas about masculinity are:-
Exposure of individuals to violence and inequality at home, in society, community and in various relationships – Individuals believe that discriminating behaviors towards women is acceptable because they observe that, elders or parents in their family are misbehaving or abusing women (wife, mother, sister) in their surroundings one way or another. Violent manhood is connected to inequality, injustice and power, and in inherent in the patriarchy belief.
Poor family functioning along with rejection from family, peers and friends etc- Children who are exposed to unjust family environments where they experience a poor emotional connection between the parents often notice that the relationship is limited to physical or sexual behaviour, or that parents lack romantic love and affection. The child learns from his first role models i.e. his mother or father?
Poor control of the bad behaviors or at certain times appreciation of such behaviors that are unethical and have sexualized intent. There are various social norms that are present in the society that excuses the adversely affecting male dominance and violence.
Presence of less number of aids and helping organizations that can heal the trauma and stress gained from bad experiences, which alternately lead to bad consequences because of not being able to bear the pain and recover from it.
Media and Movies plays an important role in contributing to the development of toxic masculinity. In movies and advertisements, we often find that passing comments, stalking, misbehaving or following a girl with alter intention is portrayed in a fantasize manner which in fact is referred as eve-teasing; showing that hitting a girl or trying to overpower her forcefully can lead a man in getting the love and attention of the girl. But all these behaviors in reality are the ones which harm one’s dignity. So, media and movies act as a medium for information to the masses but in a wrong way and should also exhibit that such unacceptable behaviors leads to bad consequences instead of showing a happy ending. Ex- Kabir Singh, Tere Naam, etc.
Objectification of women in mass media is plenty to increase the appeal of people towards a product or movie without even considering the dignity and interest of women. This includes the ways in which women are presented as sexual objects and for setting standards of beauty that they are anyways expected to show. Ex- Senseless advertisements of soaps, deodorants, even fruit juice, car, etc. Even there are many Bollywood songs which has trashy and offensive lyrics, these are often referred as ‘item songs’ because it solely fulfills the idea of objectifying woman for mere sexual gratification.
Societal stereotypes explain that showing emotions and feelings is a symbol of inferiority which male should avoid. Socially assigned terms and conditions, works like household chores and taking care of children and family is termed as a feminine work whereas professionalism and office works are considered to be for males.
There are many ways through which we can share the important message with the males throughout our lives to make them a better man. Here are some of the steps to raise emotionally healthy males who have rich relationships:
- Boys need to learn that emotions are healthy. We need to teach young boys from an early age that expressing emotions is healthy and help boys to label and understand their feelings.
- Showing our sons the same level of affection we show our daughters like piling them with hugs, kisses and hand holding for as long as the boys allow.
- Stop ourselves from using derogatory remarks like “mama’s boy” when we see a boy snuggled up to a parent. In this way our sons will start to accept our attempts of affection.
- Shifting away from harmful male notions and establishing a healthy masculine identity in childhood can have a cascading effect that prevents violence from being expressed in adolescence and adulthood.
- Teaching the males alternatives of aggression in an aggravating situation. Increasing empathy for others within them. Using ourselves as a model to control the aggressive behaviors. Increasing good communication skills or problem solving skills to mend the gaps in their approach as we chat with them.
According to APA, even males like granddads, uncles, athletic coaches, and boy’s scout leaders and community mentors can help form healthy relationships of boy’s in certain ways.
- Positive engagement in various activities with children that promote their social, emotional and cognitive development.
- Demonstrating them about warmth and responsiveness by providing them about child’s needs and encouraging them to develop willingness to fulfill those needs, compassionately and have trust in others.
- Observing children’s activities, their choices and being willing to interfere in the poor choices the child makes to improve their rationality and calmness.
Examples of prevention strategies may include the following-
- Educate parents on the negative consequences of physical punishment and humiliation techniques on children (e.g. – Violence-Free Childhood).
- Creating awareness among parents to maintain a safe, healthy, nurturing environment and relationships that prevent modelling violence to children, and teach them to express and regulate their emotions properly (e.g. – ACT Raising Safe Kids).
- Create marketing campaigns aimed at changing social and cultural conventions that promote an unhealthy male code and the violence that follows (Abramsky et al., 2011; Hossain et al. 2014).
- Having multi-level programmes that positively integrate men into society in a healthy way.
- Identifying and treating the psychological distress developed from gender role socialization. (Reidy et al., 2016)
- Promoting healthy relationship skills that decrease adolescent’s acceptance of traditional gender norms and dating violence (Berke & Zeichner, 2016).
Masculinity is the main product of patriarchal belief of the society that gets transformed into toxic masculinity when it starts harming the whole generation and the social environment. The report explains how masculinity develops from stereotypes, ideologies, age old beliefs that do nothing good to the human species rather it seems destructive in nature. It makes man more vulnerable to show violent behaviour and commit criminal activities. So, in order to counter the problems we need to foster a perspective in boys from a young age that emotions do not invalidate them or make them weak, to find methods starting from changing the home environment positively to give encouragement to large scale intervention programmes where we should focus on teaching men in our lives to develop and exhibit some amount of sensitivity, consideration, tolerance that would make them more of a real man instead of acting all tough , macho, etc because at the end, you are human and should act like one by promoting human values and kindness to everyone around you.
-Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is the best example of dysfunction that shows the feeling of distress that males experience in situations that hampers or threatens their idealized masculine identity. (Baugher & Gazmarian, 2015)
-According to World Health Organization, 2017 worldwide, 38% of murders of women are committed by male intimate partner.In US, men represent more than 90% of the criminal violence and 78% of the victims. (FBI 2007).
-According to Indian Government, more than 40% of husbands abuse their wives. Various researches show that more than 1 billion women are physically assaulted globally.
-Statistics have constantly been reporting that men commit more criminal acts than women. Self‑reported delinquent acts are also higher on the parts of men than women across many different actions.
-Burton et al., (1998) found that the low level of self control is associated with criminal activities. Various explanations explain that men have evolutionary tendency towards risks and violent behavior, sex differences inactivity, gender discrimination or social support.
BY- ADITI CHOUDHURY
Masters in Psychology, 1st Division
Utkal University, Vani Vihar
Papalia, D.E. (2019). Human Development (9th ed.). Chennai, McGraw Hill Education India