Toxic masculinity is something that has affected my whole life even without fully understanding it. I grew up in an environment that allowed me to express myself but that was also laden with toxic male views. These ranged from subtle hints towards gender norms with comments about “women being unable to run the country” or the idea of “men being men” by hiding their emotions and repressing all feelings, both good and bad. This led to me experiencing anger and confusion in my teenage years. It took me a long time to communicate my own thoughts and feelings and unpack how my own mind worked and, more importantly, how my actions impacted the people around me.
Understanding the effects we can have on each other is crucial, as humans we communicate, challenge and thrive on the mutual changes we make to each other. As I’ve grown up, something I have seen too often is the toxic male trait of being unable to see a perspective that isn’t their own, which in more than one case leads to mis-informed and often offensive views. As a man I have in more recent years begun to challenge my own perception of what I am consuming both in art and general media and question representations of characters and the stories they embark on. Art and media have been a huge part of my life, some of my earliest memories are of going to the cinema and being swept up in whatever story was being told and being emotionally invested with characters, crying when they cry, cheering when they cheer and laughing when they laugh.
Often I’ve looked to art, film and TV for inspiration and to help me understand my own emotions and challenge my perceptions. For a long time I watched art house and award winning films that explored thought provoking themes and unearthed deep meaning. The only problem was it was all male perspectives. It’s worth noting that a lot of the male perspectives in these films still challenge many “traditional male values”, with some even fully subverting them. However there are equally just as many harmful and toxic male perspectives that are heralded as classics in my family home.
As child I was raised on a lot of films with “men being men” and women being regulated to muted positions seen only as conquerable sex objects or evil misandrists who are only present to disgust and antagonise the hero during his mission. Films which heavily leaned into the male gaze were prized in my household as “men’s films”. This had a huge impact on how I viewed the world and how I had to act as a “man” in society.
It look a long time for me to break out of these habits and genuinely allow myself to enjoy rom-coms, musicals and art from queer culture and to learn new persepctives from it. As an artist and someone who loves creative mediums I find the best way for me to learn is through consuming media that is geared towards subverting and challenging traditional values. Art has an incredible ability to allow for people to understand and empathise with characters or situations that they themselves may have never experienced. It allows them to question their own views and understand why they feel a certain way. Personally, art has allowed me to do this and it is important to me to listen to the other creative voices, and support local drag and creative scenes led by marginalized artists.
Through listening to these artists and understanding their experiences I’ve been able to understand the importance of art and its ability to allow us to empathise with each other and unify. For me personally it’s a very therapeutic thing as it allows me to view the world outside my own perception and understand the importance of giving more space to different conversations.