“Men will be men?” The Roots of Toxic Masculinity

By Amani Jamil.

Many people have come across the term “toxic masculinity”. Now what does this mean? It refers to certain cultural norms that harm society and to the men themselves. So there are two questions then, where did it all begin? Historically speaking, we had split from chimpanzees around 7 to 10 million years ago however we can see how behaviour towards the women chimpanzees reflect how men behave towards women, often being vicious towards them, taking their food, forcibly copulating with them etc. So, women have been oppressed since the dawn of time, after all it was in the genes.

In more recent years, there have been varying forms of oppression like not allowing women to vote until 1920. Even today in Bangladesh, women are not safe and are forced to stay quiet with laws in place such as criminalizing marital rape only when the girl is under the age of 13. To understand why this behavior takes place we go back to childhood.

“From a young age, boys are told, “boys don’t cry'' so they are taught to be tough and as a result often refuse to seek help for their mental health even if they desperately need it because it might make them less of a man. They are told to conform to certain gender roles and stereotypes like how boys don’t wear makeup and when they care about their body image and skin, they are told to “stop being a girl” as if caring about themselves makes them somehow less than. I have seen so many of my friends being told that caring about their appearance other than hair is feminine that they talk about in secret to their most trusted peers.”

Oftentimes, fathers don't show affection towards their sons and as a result these boys can’t reciprocate the love they receive and can’t form proper relationships or even friendships and end up unintentionally hurting other people. Over the years they don’t show much affection and make the other people they are in a relationship with feel worthless or incapable of being loved.

"These boys become emotionally stunted and don’t mature as they grow older."

The only people who show love to these boys at that age could be their mothers who are usually more traditional and reinforce outdated ideals. For example, many of the mothers reinforce the idea that rape survivors are somehow asking for it and this idea is instilled within the boys which causes them to often become controlling and manipulative towards the women in their life as an excuse to ‘protect them’. This often leads to any means necessary even domestic abuse, around 66% of Bangladeshi women suffer because of it.

As these boys go into their teenage years they explore more of the internet and come across more things like rap videos where women are objectified and stand-up comedy based on criticizing your wife which displays abusive behavior. Even in Hindi movies they have normalized unacceptable things like catcalling and eve teasing which perpetuates rape culture. This all makes the boys more entitled and thinks it gives them the license to do whatever they want to and even say very hurtful racial slurs very casually and without any accountability.

Most boys that I have gone to school with still do not understand the weight and the history of those words. To add on, in Bangladesh the teenage boy is given more freedom than teenage girls and I understand the reasoning behind this but it only emboldens these boys and makes them believe this world revolves around them. Even in villages, many people abort the female child as it is seen as a burden rather than a privilege.

As these boys become “men” and they enter the workforce. Here, these men become all too powerful. About 80% of women in the garment industry have suffered or saw harassment take place but were too afraid to say anything. Even at higher levels, these men are undermining women. Many women have the ideology to simply keep quiet and do her work so as to not offend anyone as she has been undermined her entire life. They understand that at the cost of being outspoken, they will be considered a “bitch” or a woman who nags too much.. Toxic masculinity has gone as far as to decide which jobs are for women and the general consensus is that a nurse can only be a woman. 

The second question is “What now?” Well the answer to that is simple. We need to hold men accountable for their actions and they need to be educated on why they are in the wrong.

“There needs to be a safe space for men to talk about their problems and unlearn all that they have learnt and impose positive masculinity.”

Parents need to be more open and communicate to their son to be respectful and raise them better. The standard for “men” needs to be raised so that it doesn’t disrespectful women or anyone else but advocate for them. The boys of today and how they are raised will redefine what it means to be a man tomorrow. Luckily, we can see some effects of it today with Ted Talks by men addressing this very issue which reaches millions and gives them something to think about and reconsider all that they’ve been taught. More people especially boys are starting to understand the plight of women in society due to toxic masculinity and are starting to protest it as was seen in Dhaka. So, there is hope all we have to do is keep redefining what it means to be a “man” and learning how to be a better citizen in society.

Image sourced from (Society6) Pinterest.