Toxic masculinity is defined as a sort of culture with established norms and standards that traditionally define “masculinity” within our society. Misogyny, homophobia, and violence are characteristic traits of toxic masculinity. Its effects upon others are fairly well-known. The upholding of patriarchal institutions is perhaps the most obvious effect. What is less obvious and less discussed is the effect of toxic masculinity on men, specifically young men.
I will admit from the get-go that I have exhibited toxically masculine views, tendencies and behaviors. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; our society itself is toxically masculine. Even knowing this, I still catch myself using phrases like “man up” or “grow a pair.” While these two phrases may seem rather benign, if albeit a bit vulgar and demeaning, they are perhaps some of the most emblematic symbols of toxic masculinity. They expose very plainly what a “real” man should do when faced with hardship or adversity: toughen up and fall back upon himself. This is, at its most simple, the worst effect of toxic masculinity. It can create a profound sense of loneliness, stress and depression. Indeed, when you’ve failed to be a “real” man, the emotional toll is surprisingly heavy.
Let’s take the college admission process as an example. I personally felt feelings of aimlessness, boredom, frustration, genuine anger, and of course, stress. It is incredibly overbearing and ever present. Indeed, over the course of December, I asked roughly six of my male friends of how they were handling the admission process. All of them described a similar feeling of frustration, weakness and aimlessness. Four of them explicitly said that they felt emasculated. While six is a pretty small sample, it says something that two thirds of them made explicit reference to their sense of masculinity.
This boils down to the fact that none of us had any control, regardless of whether it was real of perceived. Indeed, in our eyes, we’d lost it. I found that this loss took a harsher emotional toll on young men than it did on young women. We didn’t know what to do, and we didn’t know how to cope with it. We felt as though we were stuck. This, in a sense, created the aforementioned sense of emasculation and aimlessness. This was and still is compounded even further by the cultural pressure to have casual sex.
The expectation that men should be getting laid left and right is very harmful to young men’s emotional health. Guys are feeling down that they can’t find a girl hook up with. It sounds harmless and almost funny. However, this cultural standard is very damaging to young men, despite its prevalence in pop culture. We don’t know what’s to become of us, and we can’t even get laid to take our minds off it. We feel like we’ve failed as men in society, and we feel like we’ve failed as men in bed. My friends and I joke wryly about how even if we do find someone, we’re still lonely pieces of shit. It’s funny. We take it in stride, but it’s clearly a problem. We shouldn’t be feeling this way, let alone thinking it.
Young men are expected to uphold patriarchal institutions by exhibiting beliefs, behaviors and tendencies that take an extremely harsh mental toll on them. Just to give an idea of how stark things are, take the following comparisons: between ages 15 to 19, boys are 5 times as likely to commit suicide as girls; between ages 20 to 24, that number jumps to 7 times as likely. This is societal problem. It can’t be fixed by simply catching your tongue or avoiding snide comments. It requires a change in who we, as a society, want our sons to grow up to be. We, as men, have to become conscious of what we are doing to ourselves, to the women in our lives, to our children, and to the very fabric of our society. We have to ask ourselves one very important question: what will happen if we do nothing?