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Let’s TOK… About Toxic Masculinity

By Team TOK

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Recently I watched the brilliant comedian Daniel Sloss, and if you know anything about Daniel Sloss you’ll know that he has a dark sense of humour. Whilst nothing is off limits to Sloss, he does not use this to shock or anger his audience. He uses this to open up discussions and question our perception of topics. Topics such as disability, death and relationships, amongst others. Having seen a few of his specials, after aimlessly wading through the dense jungle known as Netflix to find a single piece of treasure, I was prepared for the kind of discussion and topics Sloss would bring up. However, I was still not prepared for how I would feel after this specific show.

Throughout his show, Sloss discusses the idea of toxic masculinity. If you don’t know what toxic masculinity is, it’s the idea and beliefs of what a ‘real’ man is and should be. Sloss discusses how it is weird for him to say that he loves being around children, specifically his goddaughter; or that it annoys him that he can’t go to the toilet with his male friends like our female counterparts so often do on a night out; or that he can’t tell his best friend that he loves him without being blind drunk.

Now, I am not a ‘man’s man’ by any means. I don’t really like football all that much, I’m absolutely rubbish at DIY and I cried at the Lion King (okay, maybe that’s an exception). But when Sloss spoke about these things I couldn’t help but think ‘I do that’. When I graduated and my dad told me how proud of me he was and how he cried when I got on that stage, I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of pride or accomplishment. I felt awkward.

Toxic masculinity is simply that – toxic. As young boys we’re told to ‘man up’ or ‘act like a man’ which means to not cry when we we’re in pain or feel down, to keep our emotions to ourselves rather than sharing them with the people around us. British comedian and actor Robert Webb puts it simply in his book How to Be a Boy: ‘Pain, guilt, grief, fear, anxiety: these are not appropriate emotions for a boy because they will be unacceptable emotions for a man… You’re allowed to be angry. It’s boyish and man-like to be angry’. Just read that again for a second.

As men when we go through the loss of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship or just having a general rubbish day, we shouldn’t show the pain, sadness or grief that is building up. Instead we should get angry at the world around us. As men, it is normal for us not to cry. As men it is expected for us not to feel down or upset. As men it is accepted that we should talk with our fists rather than our words. Which is completely and utterly ridiculous. If there was ever a blueprint to create a race of violent, repressed and frustrated robots hell-bent on “exterminating” any feelings other than anger, that’s it.

It seems the second we show any emotion other than anger we are instantly labelled weak. As men, we need to show our emotions more often, both positive and negative . Not only is it healthy, it can be life saving.

If you’re a male under the age of 50, you are the most likely thing to kill you. Not cancer. Not terrorism. Not a car crash: you. Recently the charity CALM announced its Project 84 campaign: 84 sculptures to represent the 84 males who take their own life every two weeks. We need to start talking to each other and open up more.  A simple ‘how you doing’ text to a friend can be all it takes for them to open up or it could lead to simple ‘yeah, I’m good’ but at least that person knows they can open up to you. Sometimes it’s okay to get angry, just as it’s okay to get depressed, or anxious, or happy. We have these amazing, wonderful emotions so why should we limit ourselves to just one?

Toxic masculinity not only affects us, it affects everything around us. Toxic masculinity reinforces this idea that men are superior to women. It is the old adage that the male must be the ‘man of the house’ or be ‘bringing home the bacon’ and the female must care and look after the house and children. The incredible #MeToo movement was born out of toxic masculinity. For years, men in powerful positions in Hollywood used their power to assault and use women because rather than view women for what they are: strong, powerful, intelligent, human. They viewed women as tools. So whilst we rightly teach our daughters that they have the power to be whatever they wish in this world, what are we teaching our sons?

Toxic masculinity starts and ends with us. We can go on reinforcing this idea of what a ‘real man’ is; someone who bottles up their emotions to the point where they can no longer handle it, someone who uses and abuses women. Or we can break down this traditional sense of what a ‘real man’ is and make it better. When my dad told me how proud of me he was, I did feel awkward but we still hugged each other. It was the arm around the shoulder, kiss on the head typical ‘lad’ hug but it was something.

When I left Daniel Sloss’ show I instantly messaged my closest friend who had moved to London and told him I loved him and hoped he was doing well. Like with my dad, although it felt awkward, that second of awkwardness meant nothing compared to the meaningful conversation I could have with my friend. So, tell me, what will you do to break down toxic masculinity?

Now excuse me, I’m going to text my dad…

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