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What does it mean to “be a man?” Many would claim that is a question that can only be answered by the male population. Interestingly enough, it is the societal definition of masculinity that becomes the root of its toxicity. Those who define masculinity as pure assertion and readily encourage type-A behavior, claiming that the Weinsteins of the world are reserved to only the rich and highly influential, are part of the problem.
Everyone has a different experience with men in their lives, but it is ignorant to state that most women have never met a toxic man at least once. Whether the toxic mannerisms were overt or not, all men are affected by the behaviors toxic masculinity pushes onto them, whether witnesses or participants. The issue is not passivity. Males are encouraged to be very assertive in terms of achieving what they want. This is where the toxicity of masculinity is bred.
Just as the concept of femininity can be used as a form of female oppression, society must become aware of how the concept of masculinity has victimized men. A statement as seemingly simple as “I would rather have the man make the first move,” or, “I would rather a man ask me out than the other way around,” places a greater pressure on men to be assertive when such a thing may not come naturally. Many females, as well as fellow males, do not encourage an environment that inspires individuals to do what they are comfortable with when they place rigid expectations on one another so casually. Telling boys that embodying traditional masculinity will make a man more desirable in the eyes of women can become equally as toxic as telling women that it is more desirable to look thinner or lighter-skinned. Think about it in terms of today’s race relations. Men of color, especially black men, are viewed as threatening if they display any form or anger or assertiveness. While this is an issue all on its own, the pressure for men to be more assertive is life-threatening in terms of the environment black men must navigate every day of their lives.
In this way, it is ignorant to state that we need more or less “masculinity” in the world because the idea of masculinity can be just as toxic as the concept of femininity. We can either work to change the widespread notion of what it means to “be a man” the same way as we are changing what it means to “be a woman,” or we can work towards eradicating the concepts entirely. Facilitating unhealthy assertion is no longer an option.
Stop telling young boys to keep trying when another boy or a girl says no. Stop romanticizing male anger or intense assertion. Stop telling boys that vulnerability is a weakness. The Weinsteins of the world are, in fact, not reserved to those with money and fame. Any man that has been impelled to adhere to a traditional concept of “manliness” can break under the pressure. Men should not be expected or encouraged to abide by the unhealthy terms society sets for them just as much as women should not be expected to abide by the oppressive concepts of femininity society defines on their behalf.
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