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Don’t you know that you're toxic?

  • Published at 08:34 am November 21st, 2019
Toxic masculinity
Illustration: Fabiha Atiq

"S" once said that when he had moved to Dhaka from his hometown for higher education, it was very difficult from him. Joining a renowned private university in Dhaka, he felt the pressure to fit in. One day, while in conversation over coffee, S opened up about how he was under immense pressure. It was then that he started talking about a guy in his class who had been bullying him. The very first conversation they had was where the guy had told him to “man up”, because he was wearing a pink shirt that particular day. He had been labeled as “not manly enough” from then onwards.

S himself is what one might address as masculine. He is tall, dark, has a good build, and well dressed. He is often addressed as “girly” or “feminine” because of his interest in fashion. 

What is the exact definition of “manly”? What is exactly considered proper masculine behaviour?  

Stereotypical masculine behaviour has always been spread out in this world since the beginning of time, but it was the #MeToo movement that brought the term “toxic masculinity” to light. 

What is toxic masculinity? 

Toxic masculinity is a social concept that describes masculine gender roles as unemotional, and aggressive, amongst others. They are usually said to be anti-feminist. 

To many men, being called “feminine” or “girly” feels like an insult; saying that they are suffering from depression, or being called emotional, is an attack on their masculinity. “Real men” are said to be strong, and cannot be victims of abuse; talking about it is considered shameful for a “real man.” Interest in one’s personal looks, fashion, cosmetics is also considered “feminine.”

Sometimes, even asking for help is what corners a man into being called out for not being “manly enough.” Toxic masculinity teaches boys that they cannot express emotions openly, and that the have to be tough at all times, no matter what the cost,and anything other than that will be considered weak.  

A diverse group of friends, were asked what they think it means to be manly. Everyone had their own take on what it takes to “be a man.” Some threw the obvious stereotypical, “ men need to strong at all times” statement, others said: “You can never be emotional if you are to be a man; women are emotional, men are not.” 

Tony Porter, in his Ted Talk asks people to not “act like men.” Tony Porter, an author and activist, shared stories from his life. He had heard phrases such as, “ A man has to be courageous, dominating, strong. He must not show emotions, except anger, and he can never show fear.” Porter talks about reshaping and redefining what we know about manhood, and suggests that men are a big part of the solution, as well as the problem.

Growing up, boys are taught to have a strict set of codes they are expected to follow; show no emotions, be strong, do not cry. If they do not follow any of these codes, they are called names by friends and peers. It is the starting of how a person is pushed towards an eternity of stereotypical masculine behaviour; behaviour which not only has effects on men, but on women too. 

The definition of “being a man” needs to be reshaped. Men can wear pink, men can be into make-up, men can sip on “girly” drinks, men can cry, men can be depressed, men can be victims of abuse and speak out about it. 

Speak out, express your emotions, call out the bullies for their toxic thinking. 

Let there be no restrictions on how a man can and should be; live and let live. 

The man box

“The ‘man box’ has the ingredients that define being a man and I want to say that there are absolutely wonderful things about being a man, but at the same time, there are some things that are just straight up twisted and we really need to begin to challenge, look at it and redefine what we come to know about manhood.”

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