A Google search on ‘toxic masculinity 2020’ brings up 6,710,000 results – the first three are:
1. ‘We need to redefine manhood. Our warped ideas are causing a mental health crisis’,
2. ‘Men are less likely to wear masks – another sign that toxic masculinity kills’ (1 & 2 are both from The Guardian) and;
3. ‘TOXIC MASCULINITY IS UNSAFE… FOR MEN’…
A new pilot study (‘Reactions to contemporary narratives about masculinity: a pilot study’ Barry et al) shows that a majority of men and women agree with the last statement on toxic masculinity — but not because, as the author of that piece writes, “The belief that “real men” must be strong, tough and independent may be a detriment to their social needs later in life” — but because they find the term itself to be insulting and potentially harmful.
The study asked participants about their attitudes to toxic masculinity, traditional masculinity and positive masculinity concepts – and how they imagined these concepts could impact on individuals and wider society. The study also asked participants whether they’re feminists, whether women should have equal opportunities to men and whether they believe that Patriarchy prevents women from having equal rights to men.
It was found that the higher people’s self-rating as feminist was, and especially the more they agreed that Patriarchy prevents women from having equal rights to men – the less insulting both men and women found the characterisation of ‘toxic masculinity’.
As the study explains though, higher self-esteem is correlated with lower suicidality – and a favourable attitude to masculinity is correlated with higher self-esteem in men. So maybe the branding of men and boys with ‘toxic masculinity’ really is a killer; because it attacks the favourable-attitude-to-masculinity-barrier against suicidality. 88% of men are concerned about boys hearing and/or reading about ‘toxic masculinity’ for fear that it will have a harmful effect and the demonisation of masculinity that we see within the psychological field (for example the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, 2018) could dissuade men and boys from seeking help – or exacerbate their problems if they manage to access help.
Sex differences are fundamental features of humanity – but the complex interplay between biological and cultural drivers is obscure and it’s right to be mindful of how social pressures to conform to sexpectations may negatively impact on some individuals. Masculine archetypes that involve ‘providing and protecting’ tend to breed less societal empathy than traditional feminine archetypes, and I think there’s room for improvement there.
“However”, as Barry et al point out, “rather than challenging this view of men by moving to a more equal position of greater empathy, contemporary socially constructed Western narratives of gender, reflected both in social policy and the media, are in danger of amplifying these archetypal differences even further,” and “notions of male power, patriarchy and even toxic masculinity, may be leading to a “double-whammy” of lower self-esteem in men coupled with decreased compassion for them.”