Toxic masculinity (and how to end it)

image credit: the mighty pucks

You may be aware of a recent event when a young woman, who was jogging on a public highway, was approached by a young man who wanted her to stop and pay him attention. The story goes that when she rejected him, he “blacked out” and when he woke up, he discovered her dead in his car. Several of the comments about this event cited toxic masculinity as the cause and called for young boys to be taught respect for women. Many of those who remarked on this event seem to believe that men have this idea that they are allowed to accost women and that women have no rights to reject men.

An article appeared last year that pointed out that men need to learn the difference between masculinity and toxic masculinity. I believe that the real issue is that no one is teaching boys about masculinity at all. It is quite usual for young women to be given information about femininity and women’s rights, but I have never seen anyone outside of a boys’ school discuss masculinity and men’s rights with boys.

If you pay attention to the news and the comments on news stories, you might get the impression that males are the cause of the world’s ills. Certainly, much of the death and destruction that makes the headlines around the world is perpetrated by males. That does not mean that men, in general, believe that they have the right to do what they want and that the rules do not apply to them, but certainly there are males who act as if they believe that they are entitled to have what they want.

Let’s look at this a different way. Perhaps the problem is that young males have no idea what their place is in the world, and therefore no concept of what it takes to be, or become, a man. What I see is that many boys are neglected by those around them except when they are told what not to do. The complaints that I hear from parents and teachers are that boys are too noisy, they are rough, and they will not do what they are told. Well, yeah, that would describe a young boy’s behavior. The problem is that boys are told what not to do, but they have few role models who show them what behaviors are acceptable. No one is giving boys the opportunity to develop methods to lay the groundwork for being male.

College fraternities are being closed or pushed off campuses because of hazing, excessive drinking, and behaviors that have led to serious injury or death of members. Sororities also engage in hazing, but there is no call to remove these groups. The Boy Scouts now admit young women to the Eagle Scout program which was once a hallmark for young male excellence. However, there is no call to allow boys to join the Gold, Silver, Bronze award program for the Girl Scouts. There seems to be a belief that boys by themselves are likely to get into trouble and that mixing them with girls will dilute the effect. What young boys tell me is that in mixed groups, girls are frequently seen as the stars and boys are told to act like the girls.

Well, they are not girls, and when they are told that they should behave like the girls, many boys will do just the opposite. One of the worst insults that a boy can receive is that he throws a ball “like a girl.” When people find out that I work with schools to help teachers develop methods to teach boys, the usual response is that I have a hard job. I point out that boys are easier to teach than girls as they are the first to tell you when they don’t understand something. Yes, they can be difficult if you try to get them to sit down and be quiet, but when learning uses an experiential approach, boys are the stars.

The real issue is that we need to give boys examples of what positive masculinity looks like. Look at the people around your son – who are his role models? Does he see men who respect women and who are respected by the women they are with? Yes, there are good men for your son to emulate, but how many women does he know who like men? As with so much in life, learning respect also means that you must be respected. If your son hears people trashing men, he is not going to want to be a good man.

If boys do not see people respecting good men by responding positively to them, then boys are likely to believe that the only way to get what they want is to grab it and that is the essence of toxic masculinity. When boys see others succeeding by force, they will believe that is the way to go on. Telling boys to wait, share, and be kind does not work either as they see that as the way girls behave. Giving them examples of men who wait, share, and are kind helps boys learn that positive masculinity respects all people, men and women alike.