Toxic Masculinity; The Way We Raise Our Boys


Grace Swanson, Reporter

For years, we have taught our boys from the moment they come into the world, that to be a man you can’t show emotions, respect is connected to violence, and repeatedly ingrained three toxic words into their minds: “Be a man.”

“‘Be a man’ is one of the most destructive phrases in this culture,” states former NFL player Joe Ehrmann, “American culture classifies masculinity as a hardened, strong, domineering, powerful, and controlling state of being.”
As boys struggle to stay true to themselves, they are constantly suffocated in hypermasculinity – the idea of extreme male stereotypical behavior, including an exaggeration of sexuality, physical strength, and aggression. Hypermasculinity’s intent to oppress boys into a simple minded, stereotypical definition of a man has flow under the radar for too long in our society.

The Mask You Live In, a Rocky Mountain PBS film, has been an impactful documentary that seeks to bring to light how our society can raise a ‘healthier’ generation of boys.

As a culture, pressure on both genders through media, peers, and the adults in their lives, have created a fragile line for both to walk on.

“Sex is a biological term. It refers to what chromosomes you have… Gender is a social construct,” explains neuroscientist Dr. Lise Eliot. By the time a boy is ten-years-old he is already taught not to cry in front of people. By the time a boys is 12, people will assume he is gay if he shows any sign of sensitivity.

“Masculinity is not organic. It’s reactive. It’s not something that just happens. It’s a rejection of everything that is feminine,” states Dr. Caroline Heldman, a political science professor at Occidental College.

Research from experts in neuroscience, psychology, and sociology shows that boys in the U.S are more likely than girls to dropout of school, drink or do drugs excessively, commit violent crime, commit suicide, and be diagnosed with behavior disorders.

In 2014, statistics showed that males accounted for 79% of all U.S. suicides. In fact, males are three-to-five times more likely to commit suicide than females.

When we tell our boys this is what a man is – they drink beer, have sex with lots of women, and get into fights – this is how our boys behave. For some, the stress to conform to hypermasculine ideals becomes too much to bear.

“The way boys are brought up makes them hide all of their natural, vulnerable, empathic feelings behind a mask of masculinity. When they’re most in pain, they can’t reach out and ask for help because they’re not allowed to,” claims Dr. William Pollack.

Not being allowed to express their emotions is a common and dangerously misunderstood version of how males – and humans in general – are supposed to act.

50% of boys report being abused at home. Abused and neglected kids are nine times more likely to be involved in crime. A strong father figure is one of the most influential developmental things for a boy. To have a male role model for a boy, someone to look up to, and get support from, is immensely impactful.

When your father abuses you mentally or physically, tells you to stop being a p***y, man up, be faster, stronger, and even beats you when you don’t live up to his expectations, that stress and pressure to live up to that can be lethal.

“Masculinity is rated on a three-pronged scale of athletic ability, economic success, and sexual conquest. Any man seen to fail in one of these areas fails as a man. Where’s the room for softened humanity and compassionate understanding in this?” Says Ehrmann.

Boys are two times as likely to be suspended and four times more likely to get expelled than girls. Not only are we not providing boys the support and education they need, but socal pressure of guys in high school and middle school becomes more extreme when they are expected to perform hypermasculinity. By age 12, 34% of boys have started drinking, and the average boy tries drugs at 13.

Not only are these boys forcing themselves to be someone they are not, but one-in-four boys report being bullied in school, though only 3% of those who are bullied notify an adult. Something is seriously wrong with that.

Being quiet is expected. This idea forces guys to feel alone and disconnected from their friends and family, all because they feel like they are not supposed talk to anyone. Coming to someone and being vulnerable is considered wimpy and feminine, when in reality expression is what makes us human. When all of these emotions are suppressed, that’s when people break and do something irrational – such as massacring their peers with a semi-automatic weapon.

Hypermasculinity not only affects men, but society as a whole. 94% of homicides are committed by males. Why is gender never considered when there are mass shootings, when it is clearly a determining factor? These pent up feelings are destined to come out, most often in unhealthy and harmful ways.

When you’re told from day one “don’t let anyone disrespect you” and “grow some balls”, when boys think that they are going to be humiliated or their actions are going to result in failure, these boys feel like they need to prove themselves as ‘men.’

We need to teach our future generations of boys to be able to speak their minds, feel supported, and accept themselves as masculine even when not falling into hypermasculine, socially constructed stereotypes.