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What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is the reason why women do not feel safe in the streets.

Source: funky-data/iStock

The tragic murder of Sarah Everard this past week sparked conversations about women’s safety, misogyny, and male violence. It is not the first time that our society is alerted to what has been termed "toxic masculinity." There have been many opportunities for discussions and self-reflection recently, particularly with the #MeToo movement a few years ago—and even further back in history, too, with countless feminists and other women speaking up over the years.

Why haven’t we listened yet? Why are there still men who are surprised to hear women’s daily experiences with misogyny? How many more stories of rape, violence, and murder must we face before we confront the roots of toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is the result of a set of strict rules that prescribe what being a man should be. These toxic "man rules" include:

  1. A man should suffer physical and emotional pain in silence.
  2. A man shouldn’t seek warmth, comfort, or tenderness.
  3. A man should only have the emotions of bravery and anger. Any other emotions are weaknesses. Weakness is unacceptable.
  4. A man shouldn’t depend on anyone. Asking for help is also weak.
  5. A man should always want to win, whether in sports, work, relationships, or sex.

We don’t have to look far to see traces of toxic masculinity in many men. Why is that? It is not because men are naturally bad people. It is because men were boys who were often taught terrible lessons from a very young age—for example, "boys shouldn’t cry," "boys shouldn’t be sensitive," "boys should defend themselves," "boys shouldn’t want to play with girl’s toys," "boys should be rough," "boys should want to conquer the heart of girls," etc. These are only a few of the very common damaging messages boys grow up to absorb.

The consequence of this kind of messaging is boys becoming men who are emotionally blunt, and who may find it hard to connect with others—particularly their girlfriends or wives, if they're heterosexual. In most cases, these messages will make it difficult for these men to have a good relationship with their partners. But in the worst of cases, it can transform into rage and, unfortunately, murder.

Toxic masculinity doesn’t only kill women. It kills men, too. Within those strict "man rules," men can become desperately unhappy and unable to reach out. Three-quarters of deaths by suicide in England and Wales are men.

If we want to change the world, if we want to stop misogyny, if we want women to be safe in our streets and men to be psychologically healthier, we need to start with how we raise our boys—in every single household, in schools, and in our communities.

It’s a long road to changing our society, but we must start now. Turning a blind eye or not challenging those "man rules" is colluding with them. We must challenge those rules every single time, and then, in time, we may prevent future tragedies.

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