Toxic masculinity is unsafe...for men

March 22, 2020

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Toxic masculinity is unsafe...for men

More men die from COVID-19 than women. Why? I think that the answer lies in something that this research piece deals with—the “toxic masculinity” syndrome. It is an important piece for now and for men’s wellbeing generally.


The belief that “real men” must be strong,tough and independent may be a detriment to their social needs later in life. A study found that men who endorse hegemonic ideals of masculinity—or “toxic masculinity” – can become socially isolated as they age, impacting their health, well-being and overall happiness.


What the researchers say: “When we age, there are certain ways that we can ensure we maintain our health and well-being,” said the lead author. “Having people with whom we can talk about personal matters is a form of social support. If people only have one person that they can share information with, or sometimes even no people, they don't really have an opportunity to reflect and share.”


He added that when issues arise, like health or financial problems, it puts individuals in an incredibly disadvantaged position if they don't have anyone to share this with, which also might have negative consequences for their mental health.


“Social isolation is common among aging adults. Changes such as retirement, widowhood or moving to a new home can disrupt their existing friendships,” said the researchers.


“Older men who endorse the ideals of toxic masculinity can become siloed off as they age,” they added. “Not all older men are at risk—just those who favor a particular set of ideals.”


The researchers analyzed nearly 5,500 U.S.older women and men from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey, which administered the Hegemonic Masculinity for Older Men Scale.


The study—published in the journal Sex Roles—is one of the first to treat masculinity as a spectrum rather than a simple yes-or-no binary category.


“A lot of gender research is based on simplistic binaries of women or men, feminine or masculine, either you're hegemonically masculine or you're not,” said the lead author. “Because of the data set that we're using, our study actually looks at masculinity on a spectrum.”


The study also found that embracing toxic masculinity is self-harming.


“Often, toxic masculinity is a term that we use to describe how masculinity affects other people, especially women,” the researchers said. “But our study shows how toxic masculinity also has detrimental consequences for the men who subscribe to these ideals. The very premise of hegemonic masculinity in some ways is based on the idea of isolation because it's about being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion. It's hard to develop friendships living this way.”


As baby boomers prepare to retire from the workforce, they face challenges in finding and sustaining healthy friendships.The researchers suggest social isolation may be alleviated by embracing an alternative understanding of masculinity that doesn't rely on independence and toughness as the only way to be “real men,” or at least easing up on the principles of hegemonic masculinity.


So, what?The idea of the toxic “real man” is actually quite new in historical terms. It began with the myths that grew up about the American expansion west. In particular, the myth of the self-sufficient cowboy.


In reality humans—even men, and even cowpokes—were not designed to be self-sufficient (neither, of course, are cows).We are mutually dependent creatures—that’s our survival mechanism since we have no other. The characters that John Wayne and his ilk played were always dysfunctional and sent quite the wrong message. Unfortunately, this message is still being spread through television, films and the more right-wing internet.In times of crisis, it is incredibly dangerous as well as toxic. “Real men”don’t seek medical advice, don’t wear face masks and certainly don’t wash their hands with soap. More fools them.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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