In January of 2019, the razor company Gillette put out an ad that called out toxic masculinity in our society. It asked the question “is this the best a man can be?” which is similar to Gillette’s catch phrase “the best a man can be. '' They criticized toxic masculinity by showing men degrading women and boys fighting. They showed us that a man could be better by showing how to correctly handle these situations. Their youtube video version of the ad gathered a whopping 33 million views, 1 million dislikes, 811 thousand likes and opened a lot of debate. The feedback on the video was ranging. Some appreciated the conversation that it brought and the problem it addressed. Others hated it and said it wasn’t an accurate depiction of men and the way they acted, and they thought it was an unneeded conversation.
According to The New York Times, “toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can't express emotions openly, that they have to be ‘tough all the time.’ That anything other makes them weak and ‘feminine’ or weak.” Not all men are toxic. Some men realize they can express themselves in the way they choose to and grow out of that teaching. Teaching and raising young boys that they have to be aggressive and physically strong to be considered a man is the wrong way to show a boy how to be a man. It was never okay to teach them this because this type of teaching has damaged their outlook on themselves and everyone around them.
This teaching starts early. The American Psychological Association says, “Gender identity development begins before birth, shaped by the expectations that parents and other significant adults have for how a boy should be treated and how he should behave.” Adults set expectations on the unborn child. Let's say he didn't live up to these expectations, then he's not a disappointment but he's just not what they expected. This is sad because he’s going to feel this disappointment and he's going to try to live up to that expectation to make his family happy. However, at the same time, he’s making himself unhappy because that’s not who he truly is and in doing that he is damaging his self image.
This toxic masculinity outlook is teaching young boys that they have to be aggressive to validate themselves as a man and bottle up their feelings, pushing them to the side, and not addressing them. Also this outlook leads to men believing that they have to provide for their families non-stop and even if it hurts, they need to keep going because giving up isn't an option. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach boys the value of hardwork, but we should let them know that taking a break and feeling emotionally weak is okay and nothing to be ashamed of.
Jonathan Garrasteguy, a freshman student at Walpole High said, “I think men are misunderstanding their feelings and aren’t able to express them in a healthy way because of the way they were taught to be stronger than women, and they [women] are the only ones who should show their feelings when in reality men are totally entitled to [show their feelings].” Men lack knowing how to deal with their feelings because they were raised thinking they should keep feelings bottled up when in actuality that is damaging to mental health. They could be feeling alone and unable to feel like they matter.
Men are raised to be aggressive and to fight back at anything necessary to prove their manhood. A writer on the conversation.com wrote, “there’s no need for anyone to prove their masculinity through aggression.” The way men are being raised shows that they aren't in touch with their feelings and they feel the need to act out just to show that they are “manly.” They think they have to fit a certain physical criteria to be a man but there's so much more that defines a man than physical characteristics.
The way I define a man is a person who is compassionate, takes care of business and their family, behaves cool under pressure and is secure in themselves and their feelings. Notice how my explanation of a man did not include anything about their appearance. Appearance means nothing—it never has and never will—but, unfortunately, societal norms have made them believe that the way they look and how aggressive they are is all that matters when in reality there's so much more than that. When we decide as a society that men’s feelings are more valid than we make them out to be, we will see generations becoming more aware of feelings and see how men will feel better with themselves.
Raising a boy in the way we do is harmful not only for him but also for the people that he builds intimate relationships with. If men don't know how to be truly loved, then they won't know how to truly share their feelings and won't be able to build that emotional bond.
To the men out there: you and your feelings are valid. I'm sorry on behalf of society as a whole that we haven't made you feel that way. We can stop toxic masculinity. We can nip it in the bud with our boys and halt the behavior in our men. We can teach our boys to be strong and that showing and sharing their feelings is okay. I say “our boys” because we all have that moral responsibility to be kind to one another and they are the men of the future—the ones that are going to mold the way the world works for generations. We can teach them that there are different ways to be a man and we can continue to teach them the value of hard work. We can let all the men and boys in our life know that they are worth more than society leads them to believe.