Man up! Get some balls. Don’t be a pussy. That’s so gay. These are a few of the tired phrases often tossed around at those who identify as male. These words are used to elicit macho behaviour, because by degrading anyone who is deemed unmanly with these phrases, it urges them to act “stronger.”
What fuels the need to not to be seen as “weak”? Toxic masculinity.
This has been a hotly debated topic this past year and has been scrutinized in light of the recent Gillette commercial released in January 2019. The advertisement ends with the tagline “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.” However, it would seem that not many agree with this phrase, judging by the backlash that hit social media after the commercial first aired.
Toxic masculinity refers to harmful behaviours and attitudes such as the repression of emotions, and in turn, the perpetuation of stereotypical gender roles within society by acting like an alpha male. Western culture has begun to acknowledge this concept, given the rise of the Me Too movement, and has shifted the paradigm to challenge this sort of behaviour. But I don’t see the same happening in South Asia.
The idea of being a strongwilled man is encouraged by the culture within the Asian communities in both the Western and Eastern hemispheres. Abiding by gender roles is encouraged because it is thought that this is how our culture is and always has been — thus, we should continue to follow that tradition.
I’m not saying upholding cultural practices is a bad thing. As a person of colour, I’m very proud of my culture, but I’m also disappointed that toxic masculinity is encouraged in the name of tradition.
The reason it’s dubbed toxic is that, by repressing their emotions and abiding by the roles prescribed by society, men are not given the freedom to try stepping outside of their traditional gender role. In turn, this restricts their ability to form meaningful relationships, causing mental isolation.
Many of my fellow Asians have shared stories about how they feel they’re not that close with their fathers because they don’t communicate or talk about their feelings with them. Many of their emotional exchanges with their fathers are full of uneasiness and tension. This behaviour can be dangerous as depression, anxiety and suicide are on the rise because of the behaviour promoted by toxic masculinity.
For example, India has nearly 1.4 billion people, with men making up 52 per cent of the population. As of 2016, the suicide rate for men was about 18.5 suicides per 100,000 men. This is attributed, in part, to the constant pressure that men face to be strong and never show vulnerability. Perhaps, they felt like they had no one to confide in.
For me, this topic is complicated due to multiple factors, but the solution can be simple. I want to encourage men to be vulnerable and allow themselves to step out of the gender roles they have been encouraged to fulfill since they were kids. Share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust — go to a counsellor, try therapy, or talk to a friend that you feel comfortable confiding in.
Why stop yourself from experiencing growth or happiness when help is only a step away? It’s not going to be easy to do something you’re not used to, but it’s a step towards improving your mental health. Like Gillette asks, “Is this the best a man can get?”
Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor