The rise and progression of women’s empowerment movements leave many questions for what it means to ‘be a man’ in 2018. Here’s how to talk about toxic masculinity with the men in your life, and why it’s necessary.
Men need feminism
Thanks to the de-stigmatisation of the feminism and women’s movements going mainstream, women are speaking up. But it’s not just about women unlearning the ideologies and identifying the ways patriarchy affects us. Bringing men to the table is an important step in dismantling these issues, too. This is not a new notion, and dismantling the patriarchy is necessary for men as well.
Psychologist Jack Sawyer said in 1970, ‘Male liberation calls for men to free themselves from the sex role stereotypes that limit their ability to be human. The battle of women to be free need not be a battle against men as oppressors. The choice about whether men are the enemy is up to men themselves.’
Today, movements centering around men’s roles in female empowerment like #AskMoreOfHim and Emma Watson’s #HeForShe are allowing men to speak more openly about toxic masculinity. Groups of men are meeting to discuss, well, their feelings. In an article by Brian Barth, he explores one such group called The Huddle. Michael Kehler, a University of Calgary masculinities studies professor, explains the chain reaction.’Until recently, there was an allowance, or even an expectation, for men to behave badly, like it was a natural way of being’. He says, ‘If you didn’t talk about sports or engage in sexualising banter, other men might question the adequacy of your masculinity.’ It’s time we change this.
Here is how to talk about toxic masculinity with the men in your life:
1.Pick your battles
There are men who want to deconstruct the ideals that they are also oppressed by and struggle against, and there are men who acknowledge that male support is necessary in the progression of women’s rights. But this is by no means the norm. Learning who wants to listen and who wants to talk is important.
2. Key word: constructive
Call-out culture has bred a problematic mentality where the act of calling out becomes more important than conversing. This defeats the point. Without deconstructing problematic actions, ideas and habits, we end up with a situation where both parties feel threatened, and act out aggressively. Making sure that your intention is constructive is important, because if you didn’t care enough about that person, or about continuing your relationship, you wouldn’t be explaining why their actions or words are hurtful or against your ethics.
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3. Unlearning toxic thought patterns
Masculinity, like feminity, is not something to be ashamed of and neither are traditionally ‘masculine’ traits. They only become toxic when practised at the expense of the individual’s respect for others, and their own wellbeing. ‘Masculine’ characteristics that are toxic include, for example:
-interactions always being competitive and not cooperative.
-the inability to have platonic relationships.
-thinking that emotion is weakness, unless it is anger.
-thinking that men cannot be victims of abuse.
-anything that dictates what a ‘real man’ should be, do, and feel.
-needing to constantly assert dominance.
-thinking that certain interests are feminine, and therefore emasculating for a man.
But how can he unlearn these things?
Assuring the men in your life that vulnerability is necessary in emotional fluency, and that it is an empowering quality, can help them begin to talk openly with you, and themselves, about their feelings. Asking for help needs to be de-stigmatised too; it is not weak or feminine.
There are many ways one unconsciously plays into power dynamics. Acknowledging this is a key step to allowing the sharing of power to begin. For example, men generally feel entitled to be heard, probably because they are encouraged to speak up on a daily basis. Realising how they are unconsciously dominating conversations and therefore silencing others can be eye-opening. Ask him to encourage feedback and to practise allowing space for people to respond.
Men also need to begin having their own conversations with each other, whether that’s reaching out to a friend who needs to talk, or calling out someone who is acting offensively. Male spaces are where misogyny and harmful practices like locker-room talk thrive. Owning his own problematic behaviours is important. To move forward he must acknowledge his own possible roles in encouraging these mentalities, ask himself why this is, and then start to share his thoughts with other men.
Addressing the above behaviours and thought patterns is not just about female empowerment. As writer Ted Bunch of the organisation A Call to Men points out: promoting a ‘healthy, respectful manhood that values women and girls’ is necessary to ‘decrease and prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying, homophobia, even gun violence and male suicide.’
4. Check yourself
You also have a part to play in making sure that you are not encouraging harmful notions of masculinity with phrases like stop being a sissy, you’re a man you’re supposed to…, men don’t…, man up, etc. These phrases might seem harmless or be meant in jest, but they are emotionally damaging, and play into the patriarchal views that separate femininity and masculinity, thereby encouraging problematic labels of what a man or woman is.