What Makes a Man

By Sonal Randeny

In an era when social constructs surrounding gender norms and sexuality are being defied and questioned, the term ‘toxic masculinity’ seems to be at the tip of everyone’s tongue. It refers to a set of standards deemed as inherently masculine that “real men” are expected to meet. What sets them apart from general traits of masculinity are their harmful potential to damage lives of the men who follow them, and their acquaintances alike. 

From a young age, boys are encouraged to hide, ignore or suppress their emotions. We are fed the idea that expressing emotions such as fear or sadness are a sign of weakness. As a result, we resort to other — often destructive— emotional outlets such as violence or substance abuse; further distancing men from their feelings and people. The resulting lack of emotional intelligence can hinder the ability to form and maintain intimate relationships as men are unable to be vulnerable with themselves or anyone else. 

In addition, men are also far less likely to seek help for or even acknowledge issues regarding their mental health. The idea of a “tough guy” who doesn’t struggle with emotions can force men to live through untreated mental illnesses. As a result men all over the world are suffering in silence because toxic masculinity teaches us that needing help or being afraid “is for women”.

Furthermore, patriarchal beliefs promote the idea that anger is the only acceptable outlet of emotion, which is often a precursor to aggression or violence. Toxic masculinity teaches that violence is the best way prove your manliness, especially when domination, humiliation and imposing control are idolised. These ideologies horrifically in the many horrifically high rate of violent crimes committed by men. 

We are all familiar with the “Macho Bully” archetype who expresses their anger through violence often toward innocent bystanders: we this is as toxic behavior because the narrative dictates it. However, many of the most popular heroes in mainstream media also exhibit these traits. A prime example is James Bond: frequently depicted objectifying, harassing, and forcing himself onto his female counterparts. Conversely, as they are the “Good Guys” their actions are perceived as admirable displays of domination, power and manhood. Though this may be blatant misogyny, it’s framed as acceptable and excused because it’s “just a man being a man”. 

Speaking of boys being boys, our culture expects all males to conform to fixed masculine identity; leaving no space for gender non-conforming and gender-queer individuals. Especially during teen years when we’re all experiencing turbulence, forming our own independent gender identity is crucial, but teenage boys and girls alike, are constantly told their authentic self is invalid. To the same extent, non-heterosexual males must face endless challenges because their idea of love does not fit in the patriarchy’s idea of society. Such repetitive trauma causes deep psycho-social disparities. 

However, the silver lining is the emerging awareness of toxic masculinity. The young generation is one that has completely discarded the binary ideas regarding gender and sexuality. They are a generation of beautiful, atypical, multicoloured, multi-gendered freaks who strive to create their identity out of the bounds of norms and expectations. 

The term “toxic masculinity” does not imply that masculinity or men are toxic. It only criticises the cultural construction of manhood that negatively impacts our lives. The patriarchy hurts men as well as women, and completely disregards non-binary folk. 

The predetermined roles that each unit of society is expected to play is antiquated and impersonal. It is up to us, as a sole being, to define what masculinity or femininity means to us.