Toxic Turmoil

the battle of men and masculinity

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Toxic Turmoil

Mason Arneson, Editor-at-Large

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For years on end, men have been subjected to gender stereotypes that are meant to reinforce the fact that they are supposed to be overtly masculine and that femininity is strictly reserved for their female counterparts.

This concept is commonly referred to as “toxic masculinity,” which The Good Men Project defines as,”a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression,” where,” supposedly ‘feminine’ traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”

Phrases such as “Boys don’t cry,” and “Man up,” are repeated like a broken record to remind men that they are supposed to keep up an image of strength and power in order to retain their status as a man. Displaying emotions is seen as a sign of weakness, even though holding one’s emotions in and not confronting them can lead to serious problems. Male friendships often lack a dynamic where expressing one’s emotions is acceptable and there are usually few people, if any, many young men feel that they can be transparent with. 

According to Tyler Elliott, senior, speaking out about issues or feelings is something that only a select few men do.

“Going off of social stereotypes, girls are a bit more likely to open up about their mental health and they let people know and get help from friends or other people, whereas guys aren’t saying anything because they don’t think that they can, and that’s where you get issues of guys bottling up their emotions,” said Elliott.

Another contribution to this issue, can be the living environment in which boys are raised in. The Children’s Bureau states that,“High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children.” When that nurturing setting is not present, it can lead to a drop in all of the social skills listed above.

“If you come from a household that shuns expression of male emotion, especially in father figures, it can be a lot harder to come to terms with your emotions later in life,” said Sam Randall, senior.

All of this can result in the repressed emotions causing men to reach a breaking point where they blow up, and the consequences of these moments can be dangerous to many people. When mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are not confronted and feelings are repressed, it can result in violence against others or themselves. According to Very Well Mind, the suicide rate for men was 3.5 times higher than it was for women in 2017.

There have been advancements in tackling mental health within all different aspects of American life, specifically at the high school level. Last school year, HHS created the Wellness Center to give students resources for mental health support and hosted the “Break the Stigma” event, which was created by the Hopkins branch of DECA to develop communication about mental health issues within the community. 

Despite all of these efforts to promote mental health and well-being at HHS and around the world, many men are still falling victim to the same motifs that men have been tripping on for generations before.

“Even if we kind of pretend that it’s going away, there are a lot of men out there that are afraid to show their emotions because it’s looked at as weak and they can be belittled by their peers for doing that,” said Julia Tobeck, junior.

It can be easy to discuss men opening up and talking about how they feel in theory, but stigmas that have been built up over the years stand near unbreakable, making it tough for guys to push through and break the harsh reality of toxic masculinity.

“No one wants to be the first one speaking out about their issues in high school. There are celebrity figures that speak out a lot about it, which is awesome, but it’s not something you see a whole lot at the high school level,” said Elliott.

The stigmas have been snowballing for such a long period of time that Elliott says that the issues surrounding toxic masculinity have become taboo.

“It’s hard to point at one thing as to why men don’t speak out about their mental health struggles. It’s more of just an unspoken thing. As a guy you don’t see other people doing it, and you start to wonder,’Should I be doing that if no one else is doing it?’” said Elliott.

Tobeck believes that another contributing factor to the culture of toxic masculinity is the fear of being the only one speaking up and facing alienation from peers as a result.

“People tend to stick with the majority. If the majority of people say to ignore it, we tend to go with that because safety is in numbers is just a human trait,” said Tobeck.

The pieces that create the intricate puzzle of toxic masculinity are numerous, but many students believe that there are methods to combat the difficulties that toxic masculinity present.

One available measure for tackling toxic masculinity is simply talking through mental health stresses a trained psychologist or psychiatrist.

“If there’s a way, if everyone had the opportunity to sit down with a therapist and just talk through things, guys could find out some stuff that they might need to deal with and that could help them out a lot,” said Elliott.

Randall feels that taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as taking care of one’s physical health.

“Mental health is just as crucial as physical health. There’s going to the doctor because you sprained your ankle and there’s also going to the psychiatrist because you’ve been feeling down or stressed and need some help,” said Randall.

Another technique that Randall says is a viable option for coping with toxic masculinity, is finding different self-directed or group activities that open up

“Find something that’s different and out there that involves something like meditation or mindfulness or some sort of group therapy. Something where you put yourself out there and get in touch with your emotions,” said Randall. “I think that people can really benefit from doing stuff like that cause they can find out a whole lot of new things about yourself.”

Men can also help other men stand up to the culture of toxic masculinity by providing support to their friends and allow them to be emotionally vulnerable.

“Other men can help the shift of toxic masculinity to be perceived away something that’s undesirable by talking to the people in their lives, and allowing them a safe place to feel what they feel,” said Annika Danielson, senior.

Also, women can play a part in ending the standard of toxic masculinity by giving guys an outlet to vent about their mental health issues, if they are not comfortable sharing with other guys. Elliott said that he believes that men are more likely to open up to girls than guys.

“Some of these girls talk to a lot of guys about their feelings and it’s amazing how much these guys are pouring out to them in return. I feel that guys are just more comfortable talking with girls about their feelings,” said Elliott.

Toxic masculinity is far from a black and white issue. There are miles and miles of grey area in between. There has been a societal push to acknowledge mental health throughout the U.S. in just the last couple of years, and it is about time to shine light on the gap between where men’s mental health and toxic masculinity is versus where it should be.

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