Am I Kenough? Mental Health In The Dichotomy Of Toxic Masculinity And Kenergy
September 04, 2023
TW: sexism, grooming, toxic masculinity, suicide, domestic abuse.
With the critical and commercial success of Barbie (2023), the world has seen a resurgence of bubble-gum pop, plastic toys, and the conversation around toxic masculinity. This topic of debate gained traction during the rise of modern Feminism, was revisited during the MeToo movement, and, once again, the spotlight is on the Mojo Dojo Casa House of toxic masculinity.
What is toxic masculinity?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, toxic masculinity is “ideas about the way that men should behave that are seen as harmful, for example, the idea that men should not cry or admit weakness”. The latter part of this definition is just as important as the former. The first part of the definition relates to harmful behaviour by men. There has been a lot of focus on this message by people who oppose the idea of toxic masculinity, such as Andrew Tate who brands himself as the ‘king of toxic masculinity’. Many of his messages contain a deflection or victim mentality.
“it’s hard to be a man you’re going to […] perform anyway not to sit there and cry your eyes out” and “We want innocence, that’s what men are biologically attracted to. […] A 19-year-old is more attractive than a 26-year-old woman […] the 19-year-old […] she’s fresh and I can […] put my imprint on her and make her a good person”.
The first quote relates to seeing himself as a victim due to having to be a “man” but in the same sentence reinforcing those ideals that make it hard to be a man. Whereas the second quote uses reductionist and outdated pseudo-biological ideals of men to excuse the grooming of young women.
To further break down Andrew’s quotes, it is useful to look at the three core components of toxic masculinity as defined by VerywellMind:
- “Toughness” – men are expected to be more physically strong, emotionally stoic, and aggressive in behaviour
- Anti-femininity – Men are expected to reject aesthetics, emotions and actions associated with traditional femininity
- Power – men are expected to work to be in power at work, in relationships, and in finance.
In relation to “toughness”, it can be very taxing and arbitrary to only be able to express certain emotions. There is an overemphasis on anger as if this emotion is fundamentally different to sadness or happiness. Research does not support that men are angrier than women but men are more likely to express anger. Somehow, anger and rage have become associated with strength and protection. This is notwithstanding the point that empathy has been a crucial part of human survival just as much as hunting. Women were also found to have participated in up to 80% of hunting activities in human prehistory. The idea of man as the sole provider and protector of a family is fairly new in human history. This idea has been particularly prevalent around the emergence of a Nuclear Family ideal and has led to the erasure of history that challenged this perspective. Such as the active roles that women had in both World Wars which were undermined in a lot of cinematographic representation. These things considered, history and biology are on the side of men and women being equal in strength, aggressive behaviour, and survivor.
However, this is not the full picture. Societal ideation of men as strong stoic characters not only disregarded women’s equality, but it also had detrimental effects on men’s mental health. With the need to be “tough” and anti-feminine, men became less likely to express emotions or reach out for help, which has led to men being three times more likely than women to commit suicide in the UK. Men were also found to be more affected by relationship breakdown and were more likely to commit suicide than women. This is due to men relying on their partners for emotional support as their social circle may uphold traditional masculine ideals that make it difficult to express feelings. The risk is greatest for men over 30 years old, but it is difficult to say whether that is due to increased stressors associated with older men such as redundancy and relationship breakdown, or whether there is an effect of cultural shift around masculinity.
Power and control can be sources of either stability or anguish, but the result can change as fast as a coin toss. Men are able to see golden masculinity as an ideal or a mask that they must maintain. If their partner does or says something that could “dishonour” them, can lead to shame and impulsive reactions. Toxic masculinity can lead to greater instances of domestic violence as a way to regain control. This is most often seen with job roles that are regarded as “masculine”. Soldier militarism can seep into their domestic life which results in increased instances of domestic abuse, and has made it incredibly difficult for victims of military household domestic abuse to seek help due to the perceived high priority of their spouse’s role. This is echoed in enforcement careers where over 1,500 UK police officers were accused of violence against women in a 6-month period in 2023, and 80% of UK police officers accused of domestic abuse kept their jobs. Domestic abuse and toxic masculinity can be a double-edged sword. One study found that 76% of men reported not seeking help for domestic abuse to not be labelled a “victim”.
A way forward?
Could we find an equilibrium between Barbie Dreamhouse and Mojo Dojo Casa House? According to Barbie (2023), yes.
But it is not as simple as agreeing to share power. Feelings of power and stability are often the main drivers for men hanging on to toxic masculinity. This can become increasingly more important during uncertain times of the post-pandemic cost of living crisis world. Men are also seeing the effects of other genders gaining more rights, which may seem like rights being taken away from them.
Feminism is often seen as an attack on manliness, but it is a fight for rights that men already have as well as liberating men themselves from the confines of toxic masculinity-induced suicide rates and reduced well-being. Men do not have reminders of their privilege, other than being accused of it, which can lead to a mindset of the ‘grass is greener on the other side’.
However, by highlighting the harm that toxic masculinity brings to themselves and people around them, and by introducing coping strategies and encouraging conversation, we may begin to move away from toxic masculinity, to social equality where all genders feel empowered.
If you are struggling to disclose your feelings, or have been affected by the stressors discussed in this article, we are here to listen. Mindsum has dedicated support that fosters open communication and works to combat bias. There are multiple therapists who will be happy to work with you towards empowerment.