The issue of toxic masculinity stems from an overly narrow definition of masculinity and power that can lead to men or male-identifying people to harm themselves and others.
Men who want to overcome toxic masculinity do not necessarily want to overcome manhood or their masculine traits. Instead, they want to be secure in their identity. They want loving, healthy relationships with the people in their lives. There are a few key ways men can challenge toxic masculinity.
Stereotypes of manhood revolve around men being completely independent, unshakable, and in control. There's comfort in this image of the unbeatable hero.
Real life, however, does not live up to this ideal. Toxic masculinity tells men that if they are just more aggressive, angrier, more controlling, more of a man — then they can't be harmed. It tells men that they are entitled to power over anyone who is less "manly" than they are. This attitude can lead men to dangerous and abusive behaviors.
It's easy to spot extreme toxic masculinity. It manifests as openly mocking other men for showing emotion or caring for others, violent homophobia, and pride in hurting or controlling their romantic partners.
There are also more subtle signs, however. Many men don't agree with all the social pressures of masculinity but still laugh at sexist jokes. They feel pressure to turn emotions like sadness or love into anger and lust. They are uncomfortable around gender-nonconforming people. Healthy men don't judge themselves for having these feelings, which have become deeply engrained in many societies, but they note them and try to improve.
A healthily masculine person may be gay or bi or straight. He may like fishing or cars or baking or fashion or any combination of traditionally masculine and feminine interests.
A man who is challenging toxic masculinity understands that he may naturally be masculine, but being naturally masculine doesn't make him better or worse.
Toxic masculinity argues that men and women are opposites and that if men are not sufficiently manly, they become like women, which is "bad." Where men are strong, women are weak. Where women are kind, men are tough.
Challenging toxic masculinity requires getting rid of this mindset. Both men and women can be strong and kind. Healthy men do not threaten masculine women or harass feminine men. They understand that men and women are not opposites and they're not even the only genders.
Toxic masculinity discourages men from nurturing others. Many men don't know how to form the kind of strong emotional bonds they want, and wanting these bonds may make them feel less masculine.
One of the best ways to challenge toxic masculinity is to reach out. Ask friends how they're feeling. Invite other men to open up about sadness and fear and be there for them. Recognize this doesn't make someone less masculine.
Many people are trying to nurture healthy, supportive relationships with the men in their lives. They want to listen to their feelings and stand up for them.
For a man who isn't used to this kind of support, it can be easy to retreat or react in traditional masculine ways. Part of combating toxic masculinity, however, is welcoming these connections.
Women and LGBTQ people are often the most harmed by toxic masculinity. Countless vulnerable people have been assaulted or killed by men who were taught to be disgusted by them.
Most men would never be so violent, but the few who would are emboldened when they hear other men make jokes or use slurs. One important aspect of unlearning toxic masculinity is making it clear that sexist, homophobic, and transphobic comments are not acceptable.
Toxic masculinity is all about control. It tells men to control their women, their environment, and their emotions to a degree that's virtually impossible.
Healthy masculine men don't need to dominate every situation, and they understand that control isn't always possible or necessary. Instead, they cooperate and show grace when things don't go their way.
No one is perfect and unlearning toxic habits is a process. When a friend comes to a man with concern for his well-being or to let him know he has hurt them, this is an act of love and trust. They care about him and their relationship enough to be honest.
Men challenging toxic masculinity should be willing to listen when they need to improve.
Toxic masculinity teaches men to be ashamed. It claims that men should be embarrassed by their vulnerabilities and emotional needs.
Men must learn to love themselves whether or not they are stereotypically masculine. They need to love themselves enough to reach out for help and support. This type of self-esteem is difficult to master, but it is what every man deserves.
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