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By Mark DaCosta- In Part I of this series, the question was raised: who can be hurt by toxic masculinity, and how may such harm occur? The answer to the first part of the question is simple: everyone involved can be hurt – the person afflicted with toxic masculinity will almost certainly be harmed at some point in life, and, anyone with whom that person interacts can suffer the terrible consequences of the problem.
In Part I of this series we learned that, “Masculinity” refers to the roles, behaviours and attributes seen as appropriate for boys and men in a given society. In other words, masculinity refers to a particular society’s expectations of males.
We know that in Guyana, boys and men are generally expected by society to be strong, active, aggressive, tough, healthy, heterosexual, emotionally inexpressive, and dominant. This expectation is enforced by most Guyanese parents, teachers, media, schoolmates and other peers, and many other social and cultural influences. In the local context of Guyana, those attributes constitute the cornerstones of masculinity.
In Part I, it was noted, too, that The term “toxic masculinity” points to a particular version of masculinity that is unhealthy for the men and boys who conform to it, and harmful to those around them.
The phrase, ‘toxic masculinity,’ emphasises the worst aspects of stereotypically masculine attributes such as assertiveness and toughness, taken to extreme and dangerous heights. Toxic masculinity is the result, and it is represented by harmful, and hurtful qualities and behaviours such as violence, dominance, emotional illiteracy, sexual entitlement, and hostility to females.
According to researcher Michael Flood of the Queensland University, this version of masculinity is seen as “toxic” or poisonous for two reasons.
“First, it is bad for women. It shapes sexist and patriarchal behaviours, including abusive or violent treatment of women. Toxic masculinity thus contributes to gender inequalities that disadvantage women and privilege men.
“Second, toxic masculinity is bad for men and boys themselves. Narrow stereotypical norms constrain men’s physical and emotional health and their relations with women, other men, and children.”
In other words, Mr. Flood emphasises that toxic masculinity is the origin of gender-based violence against women. He points out, too, how the problem hurts the afflicted man. Such men, says Mr. Flood, will have poor health and bad relationships.
With regard to the issue of poor health, it is easy to see how this would happen. A man who is toxically masculine is likely to believe that going to a doctor for medical help is a sign of weakness. As such, he may ignore symptoms of illness. In the worst-case scenario, he could die from a curable condition, thereby depriving his children of a father, and his wife of a husband.
Mr. Flood clarifies his findings as follows: “Toxic masculinity” highlights a specific form of masculinity and a specific set of social expectations that are unhealthy or dangerous. It points (rightly) to the fact that stereotypical masculine norms shape men’s health, as well as their treatment of other people. Understood properly, the term “toxic masculinity” has some merits. It recognises that the problem is a social one, emphasising how boys and men are socialised and how their lives are organised. It steers us away from biologically essentialist or determinist perspectives that suggest the bad behaviour of men is inevitable: “boys will be boys.”
In summary, this – the second part in this series of articles – has addressed the question of who could be hurt by toxic masculinity, and how they could be hurt. And we know that the answer to the question of who is “everyone involved.” We have also learned that the problem is avoidable, and the “boys will be boys” attitude is inappropriate and unhelpful.
In closing, it must be emphasised that while the examples of gender-based violence against women, as well as the health of the afflicted man were used in this article, those limited examples are not the end of the matter. Evidently, numerous other examples may easily be cited. But, they would be too many to fit in one article.
This series continues with further exploration of the issue.