Toxic masculinity has been prevalent in many cultures from time immemorial. Many different cultures groom young men and boys to act aggressively and embed values of control and dominance in them. In fact, when these boys display the smallest/slightest signs of emotional vulnerability, they are told to stop “crying like girls” and to not show any signs of weakness. Time after time, they are told to maintain control of every situation. This leads many men to remain frigid, cold and unresponsive under various circumstances. Further, it prevents them from sharing their emotions and thoughts with their family members and friends. Not only does this contribute to mental health issues later on in their lives, but it also reinforces the idea of needing to remain in control of their feelings.
These patriarchal stereotypes force men to act tough and any signs of vulnerabilities are stigmatized. One of the longer-term consequences of these stigmas include the prevention of male sexual assault survivors from coming forward and discussing their experiences. They may be afraid to do so as it leads to the assumption by society that they are weak and to blame. These harmful stereotypes and expectations from men prohibit them from addressing these concepts of toxic masculinity and as a result many of them suffer in silence. When men are assaulted (cisgender + those from LGBTQ+ communities), they too experience a similar format of victim blaming that some women go through. They are told that it is their fault, that they were not strong enough and perhaps maybe they deserved what happened. All of these reactions from loved ones discourage male survivors from coming forward. For instance, the movie industry is just one example that perpetuate aggression and violence as important traits in men.
Many mainstream films reinforce that men should be dominant, strong, and able to protect themselves from any harm. Therefore, when some men do experience assault or harmful behaviours, they are told to suppress those experiences and the feelings that come with those times. Not only does this perpetuate internal shame amongst men but it also forces them to feel as if it is their fault. Challenging these mindsets only lead to them being deemed weak, unwanted or laughed at.
“Performativity” was a concept I learned in my undergraduate studies that I believe is extremely relevant in these situations. Coined by Judith Butler, this theory explains how people construct their identities throughout their lives. She argues that gender is socially constructed, and it is done so through speech and certain acts. This concept entails viewing actions, behaviours, and gestures as “the result of an individual’s identity.” All of these combined are what contribute to the formation of one’s identity. Throughout their lives, men are asked to “perform” a certain way and behave in a manner that aligns with how “regular” men are to behave. As discussed above, that means being strong and in control of their feelings. The ideal model of manhood promotes someone who engages in fights, who is eager to display dominance and does not display empathy or compassion. All of these toxic performative mechanisms prevent survivors from recognizing they have been assaulted and coming forward. Furthermore, even if men were to confide in their other male friends about their experiences, displaying compassion is not something they are taught to do and this lack of support from close friends also contributes to self-harming behaviours. As a society, we must do more to educate elder generations that displaying emotions as men is healthy and we much also teach them to be comfortable discussing their sexual experiences.
Written by: Shreeya Devnani