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Is masculinity toxic?


Toxic masculinity is a phrase often used in the media to describe the negative effects of the traditional male stereotype. Traditional stereotypes of men as socially dominant, along with related traits such as misogyny and homophobia, can be considered “toxic” due in part to their promotion of violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence. The socialisation of boys often normalises violence, such as in the saying “boys will be boys” with regard to bullying and aggression. Self-reliance and emotional repression are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.

Much is made, for good reason, about the negative effects that these have on wider society however very little seems to be said about how these aspects of masculinity are causing a great deal of pain and suffering amongst men.

Suicide is the biggest cause of death amongst men under 40, driven by a rise in suicides in men 18-35, a trend bourne out in the statistics over many years. This is a symptom of a wider disease that prevails throughout masculine culture in the UK and possibly the world. 

A recent study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has highlighted the high risk of suicide amongst young men, leading Nick Stripe, Head of Health Analysis and Life Events at the ONS said; “We saw a significant increase in the rate of deaths registered as suicide last year which has changed a trend of continuous decline since 2013. While the exact reasons for this are unknown, the latest data show that this was largely driven by an increase among men who have continued to be most at risk of dying by suicide. In recent years, there have also been increases in the rate among young adults, with females under 25 reaching the highest rate on record for their age group.”

The recent increase in suicides amongst young men and the all time high amongst young women is a clear marker of the problem that is facing young people growing up in the UK. Highlighting the key areas where problems arise is key to understanding how this can be addressed. Traditional male traits and roles include; self-reliance, emotional repression, normalised aggression, dominance, misogyny, homophobia, “breadwinner”, “family man” and being a success. 

Can we see how failure in any of these roles can be destructive to feelings of self worth? Some of the most commonly listed issues in the Samaritans report ‘Men and Suicide’ were; relationships breaking down, separation from children, job loss, addiction, lack of close friendships, loneliness and being unable to open up. With these problems spanning all male age groups, there is a clear issue with a lack of emotional language and support for men. 

The important thing to note is that these are all external judgements of value, in my experience self worth is an ongoing internal discussion and about personal experiences. 

I have worked in the service industry, as a political researcher, as a painter and decorator, founded, run and sold my own business, studied Politics Philosophy and Economics at university, coached youth and adult football and through all of these the greatest strengths and successes have been gained by relying on, helping and working with other people. 

So why do we not teach this to our young men? We, as a society, spend a lot of time extolling the values of individual strength and personal attainment, while in reality, communication and interdependence are the bedrock of any successful endeavour. 

Don’t expect to have all the answers, no one person does have all the answers, but you can find the best way for yourself through learning from others. A clever person learns from their own mistakes, a wise person learns from the mistakes of others.

If we teach our boys and young men the power of vulnerability and the strength to be found in others then we are part of the way to giving them the tools that they will need to navigate an ever changing and potentially dangerous social environment.

Life is a team sport! Let’s help each other out!