Current American Male Gender Norms Need to Go

by Roy Chebaclo

Current American gender norms call on males to be tough, rough, and unemotional figures.  These unsustainable and unnatural standards have led to the emergence of toxic masculinity.  Toxic masculinity is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.”  Toxic masculinity forces men to conform to the perceived right way to be a man: hiding emotions and being tough at all times.  These stereotypical male actions are extremely damaging, as clinical psychologist Victoria Tarrat says, “suppressing your emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, grief or frustration, can lead to physical stress on your body.”  Peggy Orenstein in “The Miseducation of the American Boy” further explains the adverse effects toxic masculinity has on males: “[T]hose who rigidly adhere to certain masculine norms are not only more likely to harass and bully others but to themselves be victims of verbal or physical violence. They’re more prone to binge-drinking, risky sexual behavior, and getting in car accidents. They are also less happy than other guys, with higher depression rate and fewer friends in whom they can confide.”  Toxic masculinity is severely damaging to men both physically and mentally as it forces them to act in many unhealthy ways in order to fit the mold of the hyper-masculine “ideal man.”

No one is immune from socially constructed stereotypes.  Even expert psychologist Peggy Oresntien holds them when she talks about the six feet tall, eighteen year old, broad shouldered student she would later interview about masculinity, sex, and love, “If I had closed my eyes and described the boy I imagined would have never opened up to me, it would have been him”.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, it is clear that society as a whole has a clear picture of how they think men should look and act.  Based on the effects of these stereotypes, it is clear that they are better forgotten and left in the past before they hurt anybody else, so it is the duty of men and women to work together to tear down male gender norms and toxic masculinity.

It may seem like a tall task to break this heavily ingrained societal norm, but it is possible if we get to the root of it: Have men always been called on to be aggressive and unemotional figures in society and why? Orenstein writes “according to Andrew Smiler, a psychologist who has studied the history of Western toxic masculinity, the ideal late-19th-century man was compassionate, a caretaker, but such qualities lost favor as paid labor moved from homes to factories during industrialization.”  However, after women proved they could keep the economy humming on their own in WWI, Smiler says the country’s leaders “doubled down” on male’s inalienable right to power in order to emphasize their more logical and less emotional natures as a vital part of leadership.  Toxic masculinity was built on sexist beliefs and misogyny and it is the duty of our generation to end this way of thinking.

As a society today, simply conforming to these damaging norms that have been passed on to us is unacceptable.  We can’t allow standards that are evidently based on sexism to hang around for any longer.  We must work together: men and women, to educate the masses on how current male gender norms in America cause toxic masculinity and how we can change them for the better.

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