It’s 2020, however, the topic of gender is hot as ever. Our patriarchal society’s negative effects on women often make male struggles difficult, as shown through something called toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is an archaic construct which primarily affects men. Men of all ages are pressured to achieve a hyper-masculine ideal, valuing brute strength, courage, and machismo.
The concept of toxic masculinity has existed since the formation of modern society, but it became a popular topic of discussion during the late 1900s. While women make up just 25% of the US Senate, 23% of the House of Representatives, and only 7.4% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, but men’s power has limits outside of the political, professional, and academic worlds. Despite their privileges in society, 70% of homeless Americans are male, men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide, and men are less likely than women to seek help when ill. These disadvantages, among others, exist because society shapes men to equate emotional vulnerability with weakness. More often than not, boys are expected to act violently or aggressively, not creatively or gently. This belief has been amplified by social media thanks to the very popular but unacceptable ‘boys will be boys’ mindset. Boys are more likely than girls to be punished in schools, especially boys of color. Toxic masculinity affects males of all ages but can be especially common during adolescence. Teenage boys often feel pressure to hide their emotions, be strong and athletic, and avoid seeming ‘gay’ or ‘girly.’ Male adolescents are known to tease each other for exhibiting feminine qualities. RHS’s male students participate in a range of extracurriculars, ranging from the arts, athletics, and political clubs. Could sports promote bullying or aggression? Could this be an issue in our community? After interviewing both male and female students as well as staff on the effects of toxic masculinity within their daily lives and extracurricular activities, the answer became apparent.
When RHS students were asked whether strength or sensitivity is more valuable, 41% responded with strength. Our survey showed that gender did not significantly affect responses to this question, though these respondents played competitive sports or participated in the debate club. Although other student-athletes had responded with sensitivity, we wondered if sports were even a contributing factor in RHS students’ attitudes towards masculinity. One boy said, “I also do think that student-athletes at RHS tend to look down at other students who participate in the arts simply because of their personal preference and not because they have anything against them as a person,” in reference to the school’s culture. They added, “In sports, physical strength is definitely needed for success, but on top of that, you’re supposed to channel your emotions into winning and staying ahead of your opponents mentally, so there is little time to express yourself,” when explaining the needed prioritization of strength. A coach said team sports are “good for working together,” and “working out problems, not beating up on each other,” as he explained the value that lies within high school sports. Athletics are intended to more so teach students about the value of teamwork, rather than tearing each other down over trivial matters. While aggression may make a difference on the field, not all athletes value dominance in their daily lives.
Dismantling toxic masculinity starts with the individual. Obviously, changing something so deeply ingrained within our societal norms will not happen overnight. We should call each other out for saying things that perpetuate toxic masculinity, including ‘teasing.’ We must encourage men to share their emotions and seek mental health advice. One of the teachers we interviewed recalled a quote that resonated strongly with him, “we need to explain to boys that having a heart or an emotion is a human need, not a liability.” Allowing yourself to be emotional takes more strength than hiding how you feel, and in these trying times, how we feel matters.
Lily Glenning, Caroline Deiss, Sonali Wagh
Graphic: Isabella Harelick