“Are you man enough? Big and bad enough?” - these questions, posed by the Four Tops in their 1973 song “Are you man enough?” sets the tone for the pressure that is created through toxic masculinity. With the social pressure surrounding masculinity coming to the forefront of people’s attention, enhanced through social media, such as Tik Tok, these old perceptions are now rightly being challenged. The general theme of being a “man” and abiding by societal expectations goes a long way to create toxic traits and habits; traits that if you follow the old line that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, will be an issue that will stand for generations to come. The growing need to change however is becoming stronger, with a realisation that even seemingly innocent jokes can cause an adverse impact such as “you throw like a girl” as to suggest doing anything that is perceived as feminine should be actively avoided. Men should be men. That’s it. That is your purpose. Go and be a man, and a strong one at that.
The impact this has had on my life cannot be understated, and after reading more about the topic, I began to discover how toxic traits are interspersed amongst my life, from the more explicit “men should provide for their family” to the more unconscious behaviours, such as being more likely to become frustrated than upset. I also remember leaving my local Highland Dancing class before I attended secondary school in the fear of being ridiculed and for fear that my masculinity would be called into question.
With damaging stereotypes surrounding expectations of men and how they ought to behave slowly decreasing, it is encouraging to see a new generation who are accepting of themselves and how they should not be held back by these unhealthy perceptions. The focus however needs to be both on the short and long term, with a focus on how it is OK for men to be open about their feelings and encouraging the expression of these. The issue is if we do not do this, then the mental health of not only men but those around them will continue to be negatively impacted. Of course this would involve being more comfortable with vulnerability, but change can happen. Shell shock was not accepted during WWI and few soldiers were offered sympathy; the soldiers that suffered from it had to accept that their ability to be a man had decreased. Now however it is not only recognised, but treatments are available, and importantly, it is now acceptable. With change however comes the important part of having an option; the choice of whether to be openly emotional without this decision being influenced by toxic external factors.
A popular example of change is Mulan - who brought shame on her family by taking her father’s place in battle despite being more than adept at fighting. Throughout the film there exists unhealthy themes; the song “Man out of you” exudes traits associated with being an acceptable man. However in the end we see acceptance and true realisation of what Mulan was capable of doing, and the wider understanding that follows.
The impact toxic masculinity has is widespread, and men are statistically less likely to seek help for depression, yet account for around 3/4 of all suicides within the UK. With perceptions that men should “suck it up” rather than seek help, it is truly worrying to think that men would be perceived as weak for seeking out support and assistance; particularly when they truly need it. I regularly find myself attending my GP with a list of issues which have developed, and truthfully I have only gone because one of those issues has gotten to a point where it needs to be acted upon, otherwise I would never have visited.
Throughout our lives we are constantly attempting to reach out and make meaningful connections with others. If I can live my life knowing that toxic masculinity did not get in the way of this, I would be happy, and I hope others would be too. The question is, are we big and bad enough to make that happen?