Much talk of military suicide and PTSD among returning soldiers and the opioid epidemic among middle-aged, unemployed men focuses on our inferior health delivery system and the lack of mental health care, but others realize the role that toxic masculinity plays in not only developing the symptoms, but the inability to overcome them.
Toxic masculinity relates to the definitions of masculinity that has been taught to boys for decades and harms them today: don’t be a sissy; be strong and silent; wealth, power, status, and risk-taking define a man. Today, none of that advice is good for men, good for society, or conducive to good mental or physical health. The “boys will be boys” mantra that excuses aggressive and sexual misbehavior means those young men are directing that aggression at someone – your daughter. Liberation from these harmful role patterns, domination, and oppression will free men to reject toxic masculinity and become secure, confident people in positive relationships.
Life has changed in drastic ways for women in the 96 years since the ERA was introduced. But it has not changed in an equivalent measure for men. When I grew up in the 1950s there were all-male colleges, an all-male military and all-male working environments. I was told I could not be a doctor, a racecar driver, or the president of the United States because only men could do that. That world is gone.
But the ideology of masculinity has not changed. When boys were told not to be “sissy” that meant not being anything like females. However, today it’s recognized that the skills women bring to the workplace are often those precisely needed – de-escalation, negotiation, collaboration – and in fact these skills work better in our highly competitive world. Today men are encouraged to be more like women at work.
Wealth, power, status, and risk-taking were in the past markers of masculinity. But fewer and fewer people have access to those goals as the middle class shrinks and power and money devolve into fewer and fewer hands. Risk-taking is less valued as the cost of losing in multi-national corporations or government ventures increases.
The strong, silent type is no longer an ideal in the communication age. Inflexibility is not a virtue but certain death as technology and society change so swiftly around us. Men adhering to that role are often emotionally unavailable and thus do not have good relationships with their children, partners, or other men friends. In my father’s generation, the men did not have “friends” but were friends with the husbands of the wife’s friends. Today, my brothers and nephews have their own set of friends apart from their partners.
When fathers’ were the only disciplinarians and the mother threatened, “wait till your father gets home,” children did not run and jump into their dad’s arms when he walked in the door. They were more likely to go hide under the bed shaking in fear. If men are defined as only disciplinarians, it’s hard to be a loving father.
The compassion and patience necessary for fatherhood, the empathy necessary for friendship, and the attention to maintenance of a successful partnership have been in the past in short supply among men. But many young men I know today are very involved in raising the children, from changing diapers to cleaning throw-up, to dealing with temper tantrums, to listening to the agonies of teenage angst. They and their children are richer for it.
In Sweden they started a “Daddy Days” program that began with 20% of men taking parental leave. That figure is now up to 90%. That supports real “family values.”
In an international study of whether a society was prone to rape, those societies where fathers’ were more involved in child rearing had fewer rapes. So dads, if you are justifiably worried about your daughter’s safety in our rape-prone society, or your sons behavior, do more child rearing.
Gender equality has done much for men and will do more – at work and at home. At work, it will end sexual harassment that makes good men cringe. Gender equality in the workplace results in better working conditions, a better bottom line, and stronger companies. It will result in more family-friendly workplace policies that means men can spend more time with their children and really become an important part of their lives. Gender equality in society will result in better decision making as well as better health outcomes for all.
Men who truly love the women in their lives want them to live in a world that recognizes them for who they are and accords them the same respect that is accorded to men. Men should not shy away from the #metoo and #timesup movement or the revived move to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. They should embrace it because it is in their interest – it is freedom for them too. True gender equality would be a positive gain for men so they can experience the full spectrum of the human condition that enriches us all.
Dianne Post, ERA Task Force AZ