Toxic masculinity has done a number on men. It teaches them to shut down, toughen up and don’t talk. As a result, many men . . . don’t talk. They don’t talk to their wives. They don’t talk to their friends. They keep things superficial with their family. In parenting, they can give their children orders, throw a ball and perhaps even coach their teams, but hold a crying child, sit with a broken-hearted daughter or compassionately guide a bullied son through his pain, and they’re at a loss. They’ve been so trained to “man-up” that even their kids can’t get too close. Men think they shouldn’t be seen as weak. They can’t be too vulnerable, emotional or “soft.” In other words, they can’t be too human.
Many might read this and think, so what—that’s what it means to be a man. Be tough, be strong and do what needs to be done. Don’t let your kids grow up to be too soft—and don’t you be too soft, either. What’s the big deal?
The truly BIG deal is that this set up is killing our men. The big deal is that this whole “man-up, toughen-up” message we give men is leaving men isolated, lonely and, in greater numbers, dead. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that:
Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.
White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.
Firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides.
The rate of suicide is highest in middle age— in white men in particular.
The big deal is that more men than you realize are sad, depressed, disconnected and unable to speak about it. Countless men are suffering—in silence. Even when men want to talk about it—they can’t. For many men, the only person they have to talk to is their wife. Many wives, however, are contemplating divorce because they can no longer live with the emotionally unavailable men in their lives.
When women leave, the men are often left alone. Over and over again, the men in my office tell me they have no one to talk to. They have few friends, if any. If they do have friends, many say they don’t talk to their friends about their problems because, “that’s just not what men do.” They can play basketball with the guys, join a fantasy football league or go out for some beers with the guys, but open up? Not likely.
Consequently, rather than open up, get real or be vulnerable about their suffering, far too many men are looking for ways to numb out to the pain. They’re burying their pain in work, affairs, alcohol, sex or porn. They look for any outlet that is not seen as “weak” while also being a buffer from feeling. These “outlets,” however, are only exacerbating the pain they’re running from, leaving them more unhappy, lonely and shame-filled than ever. The more shame-filled and unhappy they become, the more extreme exits become possibilities. When this happens, every one suffers.
Toxic masculinity is toxic. It is not something to strive to achieve. It’s not something to be taught to our boys. It’s not what being a “man” is all about. If men and women alike don’t get ahold of this crazy messaging, our world will become increasingly more violent, aggressive, emotionally shut down and dangerous. We all deserve better than this.
Challenge: Tune in to the men in your life and check in with them. Pay attention to messages of toxic masculinity and counter them at every turn. Raise your sons to embrace their entire humanity and teach them to navigate all of their emotions. Don’t for a moment teach them that to be a man means to shut down and not feel.