How do we define masculinity nowadays?
The term masculinity has been around for hundreds of years with the root of the word being around since the time of the romans. The word masculinity comes from the latin word 'masculinus' meaning male which in turn, comes from the word 'masculus' which means worthy of a male. Nowadays, if you ask a young boy the meaning of masculinity or masculine, they will probably say being big, muscular and aggressive. This ultimately shows how the real meaning of masculinity has been lost throughout the years and how the media, parents and society have created a false definition and criteria on what it takes for men to be masculine.
So what is the true definition of masculinity?
The meaning of masculinity has long been debated between both men and women. Both genders have attempted to give their definition, but inevitably failed to come to a consensus. The dictionary definition of masculine is the traits you associate with a boy or man. That is a very broad definition and does not really give us a true insight on what constitutes on being a man. The true meaning of masculinity is providing security and reliability to those around you in a way that allows them to be comfortable and live their lives with freedom.
When does masculinity become toxic?
If you are a man, growing up you have probably heard certain phrases like, "be a man", "man up", "take it like a man". These phrases are key contributors on how a man develops toxic masculinity. Since the first civilizations to modern times, society has created a certain criteria or expectations of men that has caused negative effects as it causes men to conform certain social norms that they may not agree with or suppresses their personality.
Most men with mental health problems often find that they cannot turn to anyone to seek advice from. If they turn to their parents, they will be turned away asked to "man up". If they try and open up to a girlfriend, they may get labeled as "baggage" or "sensitive" and someone that needs to be babysat.
What are the consequences of toxic masculinity?
Men are only human and years of conforming to unrealistic and sometimes impossible standards is bound to take a toll and it has! Sadly, a large majority of suicides in the UK are from males. In 2021, between England and Wales 16 deaths per 100,000 for males with 5.5 deaths per 100,000 for females. Now just one suicide is bad enough but to 16 is just plain concerning and heartbreaking.
What is perhaps even more heartbreaking about these deaths are ages. The most common ages for suicide among males is between the ages of 50-54. These men could be fathers or husbands and often people say that the people most affected by suicide are those left behind to deal with the loss. This means there wives and children out there losing loved ones all because society expects their husbands or fathers to behave in a certain way that led to be so pressured that they would rather not live than to further deal with these impossible standards.
How are young men affected?
We've spoken about suicide in middle aged men, but how are young men affected by the pressures of masculinity. Social media is a primary cause for the suicide of young men. Social media has fooled most young men into thinking that if they are not rich or not wearing the latest shoes, driving the best cars they are worthless. There is also the fitness industry which is mostly positive but sometimes creates the wrong message that you need to be muscular to be man and that big muscles will help young men attract more girls when in actuality they should be focusing on growing and developing as a person as those are what women are ultimately attracted to.
What can we do to help?
As a society we must do better! We should normalize men crying and expressing their emotions. This would help men to decompress mentally help relieve some of the tension they feel within. To the women with boyfriends or husbands, be your partner's peace, ask them how their day went and become outlet for them that they can use to forget about the stresses they deal with. Be more considerate and less argumentative, always try resolve problems with calm words as shouting does not help anyone and only leads to unhappiness.
We should reward our men more, make them feel they are appreciated through gifts as often they are ones pressured to provide, take some of them pressure of them for a change and treat them to a dinner or to a new piece of clothing.
Let us try to be more understanding and appreciate what men have to go through in our society.