Toxic masculinity refers to the masculine “traits” that so often describe men. Masculinity has long taken pride in its high levels of physical strength, emotional detachment, and brute force. But these traits can quickly become dangerous when left unchecked. Brute force can easily turn into an unmitigated violence. Emotional detachment can spiral into an inability to form loving and cohesive attachments, and physical strength can take the place of rationality and logic. Due to this, I often ask myself, “How can I avoid raising boys who suffer from toxic masculinity?”
The other day I was driving my son Jonah to art class. These car rides are often an opportunity for us to chat, and today was no different. Apparently, he was upset at the way his stepfather is correcting him.
Rewind: Every morning, afternoon, evening when Jonah uses the bathroom, he slams the toilet seat down when he is done. My husband has asked, required, begged, joked, yelled, and even stood outside the door so when he opened it, he scared him.
This was the straw that leads us to the conversation in the car.
“It just really bothers me that he keeps…I don’t know. He keeps bringing it up,” he said.
“Okay, well, why don’t you talk to him?” I interjected.
“I mean he’s not wrong, but why does he have to…why did he have to stand outside the door?”
“Jonah,” I repeated. “I think you need to talk to him during dinner tonight. It is clearly bothering you, but I have to be honest, buddy. You are going to break the toilet with the way you are slamming it.”
“I’m not slamming it,” he answered. “And no, I am not going to do that. What do you want me to do? Cry like a baby that he is hurting my feelings?”
“Wait, why wouldn’t you tell him how you feel and how is your crying a bad thing?” I was shocked and a bit brokenhearted. I have worked so hard to try and show my boys that their feelings are valid and that crying is simply a physical reaction to an emotional one. But somewhere along the way, they picked up the idea that crying was weakness and withholding communication about their feelings was a sign of strength.
“Mom, of course it’s a bad thing,” he continued.
“You should at the very least tell him how you feel,” I said.
“Nah, I’m good.” I looked over at him and he just stared straight ahead. “Yeah, I’m good,” he reiterated to the air in front of him, though I had said nothing.
And I was rendered silent, unable to truly digest how lost and defeated I felt at having failed when previously I had felt successful.
Love and Light, my friends.
Ah, this is a tough issue. I’ve been thinking about how to raise an emotionally available boy and my son is only 2!
But I’d bet you are making a huge difference. Whenever I feel like I’m losing a battle against any particular developmental stage (and right now for me it’s the little girls making friends and labeling each other bossy), I remind myself it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Keep on keeping on!
Oh, I hope so. I also cannot imagine how tough it is to navigate through the world of a little girl. I just remember the drama when I was one! Good luck! And, yes, I agree. It is a marathon, not a sprint. That is a great thing to keep reminding myself.
I’m a single mother. My son will be 29 this coming month. He’s in the Army, 101st Airborne. I had to be tough tough tough bringing him up. We were on Welfare & lived in the hood. I was going to college & had all kinds of odd jobs. I got cancer when he was fifteen & he lied about his age to get a job in a nearby restaurant to help bring more money into the house. He’s worked ever since. He got a job as a union roofer right out of high school & two years after that, started college … He got a dual degree in English (my degree) & Film. He’s absolutely brilliant … a much better writer than I am. But I’m the better editor.
The thing is, I taught him that respect is EARNED, not a given. In today’s world, kids are taught that respect is a given, which is wrong. You have to earn respect. There was no “self-esteem” BS in our house. You get a sense of self-esteem from a job well-done, not from just being alive.
It wasn’t easy but anything worthwhile is NOT going to be easy. In fact, easy is not a word I particularly like … I prefer things that are challenging.
Men (& women) can be tough, strong, & commanding without being toxic. The thing is HOW these traits are manifested. Because of what we see on TV & in movies, toughness, strength & a commanding attitude are usually accompanied by name-calling, snark, nastiness & general toxicity. This is because of bad writing. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Turn off the TV. Read your kids GOOD books, the CLASSICS. Take them to the library & help them find books that they want to read & let them read all they want. They will find heroes that are not toxic. Take them to museums & parks & play with them. Be their parent & not their friend. There’s plenty of time for friendship when they grow up (believe me).
This is the most important job of your life. Nothing else matters.
Thank you so much for your response. I was a single mom for a few years as well. It sounds like your son is doing so well. I agree with everything you said. There is definitely a balance of all of those things. Can perseverance still exist if a person has full access to their emotions and are comfortable being strong but open? I am quite sure the answer is yes, but to date, I have often seen more of the extremes than the balance. Strength needs openness as well as flexibility. Emotional control still needs an opportunity to be shared and felt. These are just things I think about. The world is a tough place full of conflict. I do my boys no favors teaching them otherwise. Again, thank you so much for your perspective. Your son really sounds wonderful.