The term ‘toxic male’ originated in the 1980’s from the mythopoetic men’s movement. This was a movement founded by men for men that grew as a reaction to the second-wave feminist movement. A variety of self-help workshops and retreats provided a way to liberate men from the constraints of the modern world which they felt did not allow them to be their true masculine self. Rituals during retreats gave men an outlet for their ‘manliness’. Men basically felt threatened by the power women were assuming. They implied that if they could not be ‘manly’ then the result could be chauvinistic or aggressive behaviour towards women. This movement provided an safe outlet for the squashed ‘manliness’ that was now in question. The stereotype of what society said a male should be was challenged by the women’s movement. The male image was being threatened by a powerful new image of women.
Growing up during this time I was well aware of the changing images. There was tension as the roles were changing. Men would receive conflicting messages – good manners dictated he hold the door open for a woman but some women now found this act demeaning and asserted that they could open doors for themselves. Both genders were struggling with expectations and identity.
Today the term ‘toxic masculinity’ refers to a set of behaviours and beliefs that portray males as tough, stoic guys who suppress or mask their emotions and equivocate violence with power. These males follow the Boy Code, sometimes intentionally sometimes incidentally. We immediately recognize a toxic male when we see one. And most of us believe that would never be our sons. That depends on how you parent your boys.
Even with the best of intentions we may inadvertently be perpetuating this societal pressure by innocently saying things like – ‘big boys don’t cry’, ‘take it like a man’, ‘don’t be a wimp’.
There are cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way. This most likely affects all boys and men in some fashion.
When boys and men feel the need to avoid showing emotions, to mask them and push them down, the result is often apparent in a fragile mental health state. This avoidance can have serious consequences in society – thus, the term toxic male, when men do those things that appear in our headlines; violence, rape, suicide. Their emotional world explodes.
Society treats boys differently and the way we can protect our sons is to be aware of the unspoken messages society sends, and then look at our own unconscious biases so that we can intentionally parent our boys to become remarkable men. If we do not become aware of the potential problems we are apt to be part of them. To give our boys the best chance to become remarkable men, we need to become aware of what affects their emotional world and how we can best support them.