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Unravelling the dangers of toxic masculinity – and how you can help

Unravelling the dangers of toxic masculinity – and how you can help

Neuropsychologist Hannah Korrel explores the danger of toxic masculinity.

Unravelling the dangers of toxic masculinity – and how you can help

You might be familiar the term ‘toxic masculinity’. That term is very loaded. Landing the ‘Y chromosome’ and just ‘being a man’ does not make you evil or ‘toxic’ by default!

The term is often misunderstood as meaning that ‘masculinity’ is toxic, but in actual fact, it refers to how too much masculinity can have detrimental effects on mental health.

When does masculinity ‘get toxic’ for our mental health?

Another misconception about ‘toxic masculinity’ is that it always refers to men being the perpetrators of hurt to others – like being overly aggressive for example.

What is often missed is that toxic masculinity also refers to the mental health of men themselves.

It can be really toxic when our boys are not okay but do not seek out help and/or talk about these difficult emotions with a supportive friend or health professional.

In Australia, male suicide is three times the rate of suicide among women, with men representing 75 per cent of all suicides (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). 75%!

So what’s is going on with our boys? Our sons, our brothers, our fathers, our mates … The research appears to suggest that men are experiencing a very real lack of emotional support and inability to be open about personal problems with their male friends.

Why is this happening to men?

The research tells us, sadly, just as women get bombarded by societal pressures to be thin, long-haired, barbies – men also get proverbially smacked in the face with pressures to be ‘real men’ and ‘harden up’.

So if ‘big girls don’t cry’ then ‘real men’ sure as hell don’t cry! The idea that ‘showing or talking about emotions is weak’ is toxic to our mental health – because it stops us from showing or talking about our emotions!

And for men, the research tells us that our male friendships are being limited by masculine concerns like appearing ‘self-reliant’, fear of showing emotions, and a fear of judgement.

‘I don’t need to talk about my feelings’ – Yes actually, you do.

Have you ever sat at the pub totally surrounded by your chums but felt totally alone? Ever felt like you were falling apart inside, but the buddy sitting next to you appeared oblivious, or perhaps even awkward at the mention of any emotions and rapidly changed the subject?

Compared to women, men struggle to talk about loneliness or seek help. Research is now showing that women tend to meet up with their friends to just talk! While men tend to meet up to do physical activities – and not talk.

Beyondblue (2014) conducted one of the largest Australian studies on males’ experience of friendship in Australia. Half of men agreed they don’t discuss their feelings with friends and don’t feel emotionally supported by their mates.

A whopping 80 per cent said their ‘friends were unable to help with personal issues’. Think of your closest male friends – statistically, more than half of them probably aren’t feeling truly supported – are you?

The really sad thing about toxic masculinity is that it’s doing men a huge disservice – because men actually want to help each other.

Men assumed (67 per cent) that their mates would be ‘uncomfortable talking about their personal issues’. But a third of men said they wished they could open up more to close friends and want their male friends to open up to them in return.

So stop playing emotional chicken, and take the first step to getting some serious mental health gains.

What can we do about it?

  • Talk. Start actually talking about what’s happened – the divorce, the breakup, the job loss, the loneliness. Meet, call, text… to talk. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will make them uncomfortable to bring it up and don’t cop out with ‘I offered’ with no follow through… Because that’s old school mentality is doing you blokes more harm than good. Every six minutes a man takes their life in Australia.
  • Try one on one catch ups rather than in a big group if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Be the brave one, open up yourself first. Research tells us your mate wants you to, and this helps them to open up back!
  • Don’t tease. Males tend to compensate for any accidental or close encounter with ‘emotions’ by teasing one another. Emotional sharing is not weak. Teasing is weak.
  • Acknowledge it. Don’t you think it’s weird a woman is writing this article? That’s because men tend not to know this information. And the sad truth is that it is probably more likely to be women reading this than men. So, everybody, talk to your partner, your male friends, your brothers, your sons, your fathers, your uncles, your nephews about this.

Men were raised by fathers who grew up in a time that they were shamed for acknowledging their feelings. Things are different now for you. And for your sons. But they will only learn this message, if you actually start talking.

Neuropsychologist Hannah Korrel is the author of How to Break Up With Friends (Impact Press $24.99) and has spent over a decade becoming an expert in why the brain makes us do the things we do. A fierce mental health advocate, Hannah brings neurology and psychology together to explain common life dilemmas, minus the BS. Hear more from Hannah at www.hannahkorrel.com.

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