What is toxic masculinity?
This idea that men need to act tough and avoid showing all emotions can be harmful to their mental health and can have serious consequences for society, which is how it became known as “toxic masculinity.”
Toxic masculinity isn’t just about behaving like a man. Instead, it involves the extreme pressure some men may feel to act in a way that is actually harmful.
There are many definitions of “toxic masculinity” that appear in research as well as pop culture. Some researchers have come to agree that toxic masculinity has three core components:
- Toughness: This is the notion that men should be physically strong, emotionally callous, and behaviorally aggressive.
- Antifeminity: This involves the idea that men should reject anything that is considered to be feminine, such as showing emotion or accepting help.
- Power: This is the assumption that men must work toward obtaining power and status (social and financial) so they can gain the respect of others.
Toxic masculinity glorifies unhealthy habits. It’s the notion that “self-care is for women” and men should treat their bodies like machines by skimping on sleep, working out even when they’re injured, and pushing themselves to their physical limits.
In addition to pushing themselves hard physically, toxic masculinity discourages men from seeing doctors.
A 2011 study found that men who held the strongest beliefs about masculinity were only half as likely as men with more moderate beliefs about masculinity to get preventative health care.2 Seeing a physician for an annual physical, for example, runs contrary to some men’s beliefs about toughness.
In addition to avoiding preventative treatment, toxic masculinity also encourages unhealthy behaviors.
The expression "boys will be boys" attempts to explain away aggressive behaviors that a small number of children exhibit by linking it with "natural" or "biological" impulses, without examining other reasons for the aggression.
A 2007 study found that the more men conformed to masculine norms, the more likely they were to engage in risky behaviors, such as heavy drinking, using tobacco, and avoiding vegetables. In addition, they were more likely to view such risky choices as being “normal.”