“Man up. What a cleverly disguised way to say shut up. Shut up, or fight back, or you deserved what you got.” -Riley Redgate, Noteworthy
On Toxic Masculinity: How We Can Help Crack the “Boy Code” and Help Our Sons Be Whole
How often do you hear coaches and parents yelling at their sons on the sidelines of sports games to “man up!” or “shake it off!” or “don’t be a wimp!,” no matter if your child is writhing in pain or upset about an unfair call ? Or how about the locker room at school? Ever overhear the dialogues that happen there? ” Yeah I’d f*&^ her.” ” Wait till you hear what a whore Dana was with Tyler last weekend!” “Yeah, I have F&^%ed 22 girls now, and counting!”
It’s pretty cringe-worthy. But let’s be honest. Toxic masculinity is an ugly reality that is pervasive in our western society, this notion that somehow in order to be a strong, confident man, one must stuff his emotions, be tough, and certainly don’t cry. And you must be a Cowboy With Swagger and add to your bedpost notches to be a true man. It doesn’t hurt to brag about your sexual conquests (or the fictitious version of what you want your friends to know), and most definitely you don’t deviate from Bro Code by using any supposed feminist lingo that would appear to indicate that women are to be respected equally as men in all ways and in all manners.
When we as parents, teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, family trumpet the chorus of shaming our sons for having feelings or expressing them, our young men develop and internalize a sense of shame. They learn that they are not good enough and they are less of a man, emasculated. And what young man would want to be ostracized and shunned from his peers or family, or society at large? We are not doing our sons any favors by enabling this idea that men should be stoic, macho, fiercely independent, dominant, in control, powerful, and invulnerable (Kastner, 2018). Yes, heaven forbid you show any form of vulnerability as a young man, lest you leak out any evidence of weakness….
But do you know what happens when boys and young men are shamed and ostracized for not being “man enough?” Over time, our sons internalize the message that they are powerless and worthless; they are subjected to ridicule and peripheralized in their peer groups. Boys become depressed, aggressive, violent, lonely. They absorb the projections of the mainstream culture telling them that they will never make it in this world. And then Orlando happens. And Sandy Hook. And Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. And Domestic Violence. And Rape Culture. And enabling rape culture to continue by looking the other way. Because, if you say any thing about it, well then, you aren’t man enough.
What can we do as a society to support our sons’ mental and emotional health in this bat-s*&^ crazy world? We must first and foremost:
1) Create a nurturing home environment that supports emotional intelligence and honors boys (and girls) divine right to be a emotional, vulnerable, empathic, authentic, compassionate, caring, human being.
2) Provide opportunities at home, in school, and in the community to talk about emotional language and how important that is for healthy social connection. Without authentic communication which involves vulnerability and empathy, we are devoid of compassion and healthy relationships.
3) Celebrate emotional intelligence as an asset to one’s personality, regardless of gender. Studies show that the most successful people have high emotional intelligence, and that includes men. Share examples of great male role models who are not afraid to show their emotion in healthy ways: (specific coaches such as John Wooden, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Jesus, etc.).
4) Teach respect for all genders and sexual orientations. Teach healthy boundaries from preschool on. Reinforce a no-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in any form in any setting for any gender.
5) Share the importance of social courage. Teach your son that if he overhears disrespectful language in the locker room about women, that he will speak up and say something. That to be a strong man is to say with his words and his actions what he stands for. Enabling others to verbally abuse or sexually objectify another human being is to be an accomplice to the crime.
6) Practice active listening, problem solving, empathy, and compassion as the parental role model in your son’s life. If you have internalized your own sense of toxic masculinity, check it at the door, breathe, and work on your own stuff. Most times, our children are our best teachers. We owe our sons the right to a safe, nurturing environment where being accepted for having feelings and expressing them appropriately is not only accepted but encouraged. Vulnerability, empathy, and emotional expression a sign of strength, not weakness.
Retrieved from: March 19, 2018: https://www.parentmap.com/article/how-boys-suffer-the-boy-code-and-toxic-masculinity
Retrieved from: March 19, 2018: https://www.alternet.org/gender/masculinity-killing-men-roots-men-and-trauma
Retrieved from March 19, 2018: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/axe-ad-shows-how-toxic-masculinity-impacts-boys