LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Traditional masculinity is toxic and here's why


I recently read an opinion column published by Central Michigan Life which discussed the term “toxic masculinity” and its meaning. The author of the column mistakenly interpreted this term to mean that masculinity itself is toxic, which is not the case. 

The New York Times describes toxic masculinity as "what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them “feminine” or weak.” 

The column's author cited the recently published “Guidelines for Practice with Men and Boys,” by the American Psychological Association. He specifically has qualms with the mention of how “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression” are harmful. 

It is important to note that the APA’s research and subsequent guidelines were directly motivated by the fact that men commit 90 percent of homicides in America and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. Men are also three and a half times more likely to die from suicide than women. These startling truths are a direct result of the toxic traits which are ascribed to traditional masculinity.

This apparent discrepancy begs the question, why? The answer can be found in the ways which traditional masculinity expects boys and men to conduct themselves. According to the APA, “traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict, and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” This empirically-backed statement is in direct contrast to the way in which men in America are too often stereotypically raised. 

Traditionally, men are taught to suppress their emotions and act tough at all times. Anything less than this is considered weak and is likely to undermine one’s identity as a man. This lack of emotional vulnerability is directly responsible for the vast amount of men who do not seek treatment for their mental illnesses, and end up at a breaking point. 

If we’re not teaching men to talk about their feelings, what are we teaching them? 

The answer is aggression as a method to assert dominance. Men suffer greatly under this pressure. When we teach young boys that their identity as a man is directly dependent on their abilities to physically dominate others, we stunt their emotional development and teach violence as a means of problem solving. The most effective leaders are not those who dominate, but those who cooperate. 

What we can learn from the APA’s guidelines is that not all masculinity is toxic. The explicit purpose of this research was to foster a healthier, more open-minded environment, one in which we teach expression through vulnerability rather than stoicism, we teach confidence through assertiveness rather than aggression and we teach strength through leadership rather than dominance.

- Payton Jakiemiec, Rockford Senior