Men Conditioned to Hide Behind a Mask of Toxic Masculinity

Emilia Caney, Opinions Editor

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Recently, Gillette Razors released a new commercial. The commercial was titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” and was based around the concept of toxic masculinity. It focused on reversing negative male stereotypes. The controversial ad demonstrates how many boys grow up to be men who continue to enforce these toxic ideals. Our culture, as seen in the commercial, promotes the ideology that masculinity is rigid and emotionless. No matter what stage of their life, societal expectations are constantly forced upon men. From childhood, boys are told not to cry. In their teen years, they are supposed to bottle up their emotions. The young adult years are expected to be spent partying and pursuing women. As adults, they need to be successful, become the head of their family, and be the breadwinner. Because of their environment and their upbringing, they learn these traits are what make them a man. If boys vary from these expectations, their masculinity is figuratively revoked.

For decades, the images of strong, built, and athletic men have been idolized through media, television, and pop culture. Men, such as Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Rob Gronkowski are figures that boys look up to. They’re viewed as the epitome of success and power, and they represent what any father would want their son to be. Since young boys are often pushed down the route of sports by a variety of outside pressures, being athletic is considered an important part of being a man. Sometimes if a boy strays from these athletic expectations and invests in artistic activities like fashion, design, drama and dance, they are viewed as unmasculine.

In high school and college, boys enter a culture that qualifies binge drinking and sexual conquest often with the excuse “boys will be boys” to make morally wrong actions justifiable. In the documentary, “The Mask You Live In” created by Jennifer Siebel Newsom in 2015, one man was talking about how he’s always been seen as a loser and bullied “because I don’t want to fight and I don’t want to have unprotected sex with all these girls and celebrate over beer and a joint.” The very scary reality is that by the age 12, 34% of boys have started drinking and by 13, they have minimally tried drugs, according to the previously mentioned documentary. Sex, drugs, and drinking is expected amongst boys, especially in the adolescent years, and if they don’t participate they’re looked down upon.

Like athleticism and social activities, a man’s sexuality is a huge part of his masculinity. Being straight has always been the norm for men, and those who weren’t heterosexual were led to believe something was wrong with them. In the past, men who were gay were mercilessly bullied and assaulted. In some parts of the country, men were even killed, like Matthew Shepard in 1998. According to a survey done in 2009 by the Gay, Transgender, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, about 90% of LGBT middle and high school students reported being physically or verbally harassed. Although hate directed towards homosexuals seems much less prominent in today’s society, there are still people who discriminate against gay men, thinking they are less because they aren’t the “norm.” Alternate sexualities are not a measure of masculinity.

How many times in your life have you heard the phrase “boys don’t cry”? Boys are often raised to believe they’re not allowed to show emotions. Many young boys are told not to cry in public, and if they do, they’re not comforted. Boys are told not to “be a girl.” This not only creates the mindset that females are the only sex that can show emotion, but creates the false notion that a boy who shows emotion is doing something wrong. Even simply talking about their feelings is frowned upon, which often is harmful to men’s emotional growth. They’re taught bottling up emotions is what men do, and they should deal with emotions in a more physical way which can result in violent behavior. According to “The Mask You Live In”, this leads to fewer than 50% seeking help for depression or any form of mental illness. The sad truth is suicide is the third leading cause of death among boys. In reality, three or more boys kill themselves every day. Boys between the ages 10-12 are three times more likely to commit suicide than girls, boys between the ages 15-17 are five times more likely, and boys between the ages 20-24 are seven times more likely. Boys often ignore their feelings, making it hard for them to understand the emotions of themselves and those around them. This can be detrimental, especially in relationships. Women tend to be better communicators in relationships and more in tune with their feelings since they are encouraged to display their emotions. Men should be taught to express their emotions in order to improve their mental health and relationships.

Furthermore, in this day and age, we are all too familiar with rape culture. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted according to rainn.org. 90% of all rapes are against women and those are the rapes we hear about in the news. We often hear the excuse “boys will be boys” used in an attempt to justify the sexual harassment, assault, or rape against women; as in the rape case against Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and only spent three months in jail. Men don’t have to sexually harass, assault, and rape women. It’s not in their DNA when they are born. It’s a choice that a boy chooses to make. However, women are not the only victims of rape and sexual assault. What we rarely, if ever, hear about is that 10% of rape victims that are male. According to rainn.org, one out of every ten rape victims are men; one in every 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. The common reason men choose not to report rape, according to the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, is because “they fear being disbelieved, ridiculed, shamed, accused of weakness, ignored or, in the case of heterosexual men, being perceived as gay.” One of the worst fears male survivors face is being blamed for their own attack because they were not “manly” or “macho” enough to protect themselves or prevent the assault. Men should feel able to come forward with cases of sexual assault, just as women do.

The new Gillette Razors ad depicts boys being bullied, and men sexualizing women and engaging in violence. Their fathers try to justify their behavior with the phrase “boys will be boys.” It goes on to include some men being a positive influence on their children. The commercial enforces the idea that some is not enough, implying that all men need to act as role models to the young boys in their lives. The commercial concludes with the assertion that we need to make changes to better ourselves and society as a whole “because the boys watching today are going to be the men of tomorrow.”