The term “toxic masculinity” has been around for a few decades, mostly used in the past in academic gender studies courses , but it has only recently become more widely used. It refers to a set of attitudes and behaviors that are associated with traditional masculinity, which can be harmful to men, women, and society as a whole. These attitudes and behaviours include things like aggression, violence, dominance, and emotional repression. Those behaviours and attitudes associated with a form of masculinity that has in effect not grown with the times and where ideas of power, dominance and control sit at the centre of relationships to others.
In this interview, Psychotherapist Noel McDermott sums up the core behaviours and attitudes as:
- The use of violence and control.
- Gender normative and highly restrictive attitudes in regard to, for example sexuality and social roles.
- Rejection of emotional intelligence and of expressing feelings (apart from anger).
- The projection of power.
McDermont insists that, “Men who avoid showing emotions are damaging their own mental health and in turn this can have major consequences for themselves, their relationships and society as a whole. Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, including the men who ascribe to it and the boys who are taught it. Our boys are at risk of worse mental health, and criminal justice and general life outcomes due to this unhealthy masculinity and we need to address it urgently”.
Signs of toxic masculinity:
- Lack of empathy and emotion
- Aggression, both sexually and in day-to-day situations
- Strong sense of self-sufficiency and not needing anyone else
- Need to dominate or control conversations and situations.
The rigid and narrow definition of manliness in toxic masculinity is damaging to the psych of the men who adopt it. In less maybe extreme examples, we can look at social media platforms and sexual and violent misogynist postings towards women who speak out against injustice, online abuse by unwanted sexual images, use of revenge sexual images and videos on sex sites etc. In its extreme form we see examples of harmful masculinity in the Incel movement of men who are adopting extreme attitudes to women and organising into effectively domestic terrorist cells to attack the feminine. I
Normalisation of toxic masculinity
The development of these behaviours and attitudes in online spaces and the lack of legal restraints on behaviour which in real life (e.g., flashing) would lead to arrest has normalised this toxicity. The online spaces in particular have been prey to ‘influencers’ who have many young men followers believing and supporting their extremely unhealthy masculinity. For many young men consent in sex online or real world has been lost almost completely with extreme attitudes to being a dom, or daddy etc. These are some of the more extreme elements and anti-women and anti-social aspects of harmful masculinity, but don’t look at the harms to men themselves and the risks our boys face with modelling from such men.
Tragic outcomes of harmful masculinity
It’s well known that men make up 75% of suicides and there is a gender split when it comes to severe mental health problems with men being disproportionately represented. Also, men face much higher levels of criminal prosecution for crimes of violence and for sexual offences and all these outcomes have been clearly linked to harmful masculinity. The emphasis on denying distress in masculinity and refusal to seek help but to deal with distress as weakness and use anger and aggression clearly lead to violent and criminal acting out. The same is true of hyper heterosexuality; seeing control and dominance as essential in sexual acts leads directly to sexual offending.
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offers at-home mental health care, and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home – www.noelcdermott.net