I’m no one’s idea of a Nigerian man and this is how it has been since I was a boy. It’s not all arrogance, rage and dominance. I don’t watch football. I don’t do cars. I like to play dress up. I love to cook. I hate video games. I care about skincare. I’m scared of guns. I find the vast majority of Marvel films dull and characterless. I’ve never thrown a punch. I don’t view women as sexual objects. I scream when I see rats. I really enjoyed that Gillette commercial (you know which one). I’m a lamb in sheep’s clothing. I’m not violent. I don’t take pleasure in asserting my dominance. I never bullied. I’ve never laid my hands on a woman. I take “no” for an answer. I say thank you and accept help. I’m patient, kind, vulnerable, graceful and non-judgmental. I talk (loudly and proudly) about my emotions and mental health and I am normal.
Toxic masculinity could be silent and unconscious but gradually, you find out you’ve grown and inculcated the traits too:
- Suffer pain in silence
- Have no needs
- Never lose
- Show no emotions other than bravado or rage
- Don’t depend on anyone
- Don’t do anything that could be construed as weakness
- Never snitch.
The ‘man box’ also requires that men buy into a rigid hierarchy in which straight men are dominant over everybody else. Furthermore, among straight men, the man box decrees that hypermasculine men are dominant over men who reject or find themselves outside the box. If you don’t fit in the man box, you pay the price. At best, you risk invisibility. At worst, you risk disrespect, bullying, or even violence.
But this scramble for dominance and denial of emotion comes at great cost. It blunts men’s awareness of other people’s needs and emotions, drives domestic and sexual violence, makes aggression look like a reasonable way to solve the conflict. Toxic masculinity even invades life’s small pleasures.
Now, there is a difference between traditional masculinity and toxic masculinity: There is nothing toxic about working hard, providing for one’s family, winning at sports, or being loyal to friends. Most importantly, there’s nothing toxic about wanting to be respected. All humans want to feel respected. We all want to know we are valued, recognized, and affirmed.
While there’s nothing toxic about needing respect, taking desperate and extreme measures to force what looks like respect (but is actually fear) is a direct result of toxic masculinity. Men who don’t feel respected may make up for it by dominating others.
A lot of this begins at a really young age. Try not to lean into gendered assumptions such as telling boys to ‘shake it off’ but letting girls cry when they are hurt or upset.
To end toxic masculinity, good men have to take action against it now and raise boys who are free of its constraints. And yes, this is revolutionary.
Speak out; don’t remain silent in the face of it. When the conversation in your male group turns to someone being told ”don’t be a pussy” or ”are you queer?” That’s a cue to correct them.
Don’t teach boys that they shouldn’t express their emotions. Don’t humiliate them when they’re upset. Don’t attempt to ‘toughen them up’. It’s okay to feel what you feel, it is normal, it is admirable.
Be open with other men. Dare to be vulnerable. Show strength by crying. Do this in the knowledge that all men go through emotional difficulties.
Ending toxic masculinity has to be started by men so it becomes socially unacceptable. Let’s start the change now. It’s difficult to fight against these ideas when they are so pervasive. But we have to do it, friends. We have to liberate each other from the toxicity, learn how and where it hides, and, like anything worth doing, practice how to live without it. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of women to correct toxic masculinity, it’s the sole responsibility of men like myself and you.
At some point, we have to decide how to redefine manhood and masculinity for ourselves and then pass it on to those around us.
There is no new ‘war’ on men, and there is no need for anyone to ‘prove’ their masculinity through aggression.
It’s time to put an end to toxic masculinity.