A Costly But Valuable Lesson in Toxic Masculinity


Let’s face it! It is 2019, yet the world is still full of knuckle-dragging neanderthals incapable of accepting that females can be master DJs and that men can be midwives or nurses. Technology has evolved exponentially but has our collective conditioning kept up? Gender equality has come a long way. Due to the unrelenting work of feminist activists throughout the years, much attention has been given to female issues such as gender discrimination, sexual freedom, and sexual harassment. Recently the #metoo movement has empowered women worldwide to share stories of sexual violence and exposed powerful men for crimes of sexual misconduct.

We may have come a long way on attitudes about gender — but we still have a very long way to go, based on the results of a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

As a man in this “modern” world, I have suffered from the social expectations placed on men who do not meet masculine ideals. Men struggle to define their masculinity in a society that increasingly stigmatizes things like competitiveness, sexuality, aggressiveness. These issues are often overlooked as boys entering into adolescence learn that they are expected to be fierce creatures, that don’t shed tears, talk about their problems and show emotions. As a result, boys are prone to become detached, lazy, self-centered adults who are not emotionally available to their partners and forsake their children.

Hegemonic Masculinity and Homophobia

Another issue affecting men is that of homophobia. Contrary to what popular belief, homophobia affects all men, gay, straight, or where on the spectrum he may fall. As adolescents, we learn how to categorize our peers based on their appearance, behavior, and interests. The boys who wore Jordans, played football and rugby were considered more macho than those who were interested in the arts. Our efforts to maintain a strong front covers everything we do. What we wear, how we speak, walk, talk and act. I recall growing up in elementary school and the number one word used to emasculate other boys was: faggot. We need to examine the root of this hatred and cut off at the source. As men struggle to define their masculinity, the word “gay” or “faggot” is used as a weapon to derail him in his efforts of achieving this ideal masculinity. We learn from a young age that the freedom girls have to wear a wide range of clothing is not afforded to boys. Girls can wear jeans, cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots because it is OK to be a man, but for a man to look like a woman is degrading because society’s construct of ideal masculinity has misled us into thinking that being feminine is degrading.

What makes a man a man.

Us men are under constant scrutiny of other men. Other men watch us, rank us and then label us. Only those who display the stereotypical traits and behaviors of ideal masculinity are granted acceptance into this sacred brotherhood. Men speak to each other by the manner in which they dress, in the swagger of their walk and in the pose they adopt. Some men talk to each other through the size of the car they drive, and yes, some speak to each other through the women who accompany them in public. Women have become a kind of currency that men use to better their ranking on the masculinity scale. The more girls a man can attract the higher he is held in esteem by other men. As men, we create a façade of masculinity to feel accepted. This façade is known hegemonic masculinity.

The term hegemonic masculinity refers to the way masculinity is presented as an ideal for both men and women. Consider this, women who play sports and become lawyers and doctors are doing normative masculine things; we readily approve of these undertakings. The same isn’t true for men; men are often discouraged from doing things that are perceived as feminine; such as knitting, gardening, becoming a nurse or an elementary school teacher. I have witnessed men being jeered at for ordering a cranberry cocktail at the bar, with taunts such as “ Do you have your period? Are you pregnant? Real men drink beer.” Men who do not fit the mold of ideal masculinity experience feeling of inadequacy, therefore, subconsciously men divert from any activity that could potentially be interpreted as “feminine” or “gay,” like being submissive during sex or engaging in anal play. Perhaps most harmfully, men learn to fear those whom sexuality does not fit within society’s narrow standards. Therefore, the cycle of homophobia perpetuates. The plight of women differs in this area. Concerning gender expression, women have a lot more leeway than men, they can try to acquire the esteem that comes with attracting a man by emphasizing their femininity and drawing a man’s sexual attention, or they can strive for ideal masculinity. Two women holding hands in public attract little to no attention. It is not uncommon for lesbians to meet straight men who fetishize them, look at the way men in the WWE celebrate girl on girl action.

Studies show that society has more tolerance for lesbians than gay men and that gay men are significantly more likely to be victimized or targets of violence.

Women can exude masculine and feminine traits without judgment, but men are faced with conforming to narrow gender expectations. However, women like men still suffer under this system of patriarchy because women are not respected; men will never see women as their competition because it is masculinity, not femininity, that is considered hegemonic, or in other words- right for everyone.

How can a casual observer identify a man’s sexual orientation? What are the giveaways? The way he walks, the way he talks? The way he dresses? The bigger question is why do we care to label others?

As a teen, I once asked a friend of mine if she could identify someone’s sexual orientation at a glance, her response was “ I know a man is gay when he really cares about me.” A next friend told me that she knows a man is gay when he shows no interest in her. Now, let us imagine what a heterosexual man would do to ensure that he fits his gender role. He would form a set of negative rules about behavior, strive to be emotionally unavailable, aggressive and exaggerate sexual interest in women.

In an online study, women were asked what they were most afraid of, most women said that they were terrified of being raped or murdered. Men responded that they were fearful of being laughed at or humiliated.

Masculinity is a social construct that is instilled through socialization from birth. Boys learn early on what is expected of them as men. Many fathers are uncomfortable with hearing “I love you” from their sons. Many parents force their sons into playing football and discourage them from expressing emotions of vulnerability. Fear and sadness, in particular, are unacceptable emotions for males to display. We implicitly are taught from a young age that men are not supposed to cry. Masculinity becomes a defense against the perceived threat of humiliation in the eyes of other males.

As a people, we need to recognize each man as an individual and celebrate his uniqueness. I hope that one-day society perceives manliness as having the ability to simultaneously be soft and courageous, nurturing and outspoken, competitive and considerate. American feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem put it nicely, “the first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” We have a shared responsibility to unlearn these harmful behaviors which restrict freedom of expression. These outdated monolithic gender roles have no place in modern society. Together we can forge a more progressive society for future generations.


Man Talk, Masculinity, and a Changing Social Environment. https://sta.uwi.edu/crgs/april2007/journals/Linden_Lewis_pm_07.pdf

Gloria Steinem Quotes – BrainyQuote. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/gloria_steinem_164928

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