You may have heard a lot about toxic masculinity. And while a lot of the conversation has focused on how it negatively impacts women in our society, the truth is it hurts everyone, including men.
Before I start, I want to be clear that being confident and being comfortable as a guy is not toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is thinking that being a guy makes you inherently better than women. It is thinking you are entitled to something merely because of the sexual organs you possess. It is as outdated as smoking on planes and while one of those practices has long since stopped, the other one needs to.
It needs to stop because it hurts everyone. For men who live with mental health conditions, or physical impairments, or who simply don’t fit the stereotypical macho guy, toxic masculinity hurts by making people doubt themselves and feel uncomfortable in their own skin. For men, like me, who live with mental health conditions, it is such a high barrier to seeking help. When I was younger I was so concerned with being a ‘guy’s, guy,’ whatever that meant, that I never thought to talk to anyone about the fact my sleep was a mess and I constantly had thoughts about who would miss me if I were gone. Men didn’t need to ask for help, was just one of the many thoughts that stopped me from reaching out.
And even when someone in my school said they were concerned about me, no one referred me to get help. The girl in question was a girl I had a crush on, who cared about me as a person, just not as a possible romantic connection. And when my advisor tried to talk to me about it, he tried to be buddy-buddy about it, talking about getting back on the horse, when in fact it was more about my depression than it was that one girl.
And I don’t blame him. The number of school employees with training to recognize the red flags of mental illness are too few and far too far between. The point of this was not his failure, but mine. Because even when I had an opening, a chance to ask for help from someone who cared, I couldn’t.
As our society continues to grow more diverse in its thinking, it is so important that we drop the idea that you have to be physically and mentally tough in order to be “manly.” Because that doesn’t make anyone look good, it just hurts men who don’t fit such ridiculous standards.