Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Toxic masculinity

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Toxic masculinity

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Japan

When I was a boy watching Tarzan and cowboy movies, I was mesmerized by all the manly feats of bravado, strength, courage, ropin’, ridin’, and derring-do. Wow! Those were real men, or so I thought. I asked myself, when I grow up, do I have to do all those things to be considered a real man? A manly man? After all, real men lived in a log cabin and roamed the woods. If I wanted to be a “warrior man” I should be physically and emotionally strong and be aggressive. But, I was too shy to dress like Tarzan, and I was afraid of horses. In any case, little boys are raised with the antifeminine notion that men reject showing emotions or accepting help.

Unfortunately, men and boys are often discouraged from expressing or discussing their emotions. Traditional masculinity, the American Psychological Association (APA) specified in its Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, characterized by emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness, leads to aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict. Wait, look at Marion Morrison, a feminine name. After Marion changed his name to John Wayne: his career took off. After joining the Boy Scouts, camping in the woods, learning to tie knots in a rope, and sitting by the campfire, I, too, was on my way to becoming a grown-up man.

According to psychologist Erlanger A. Turner, displaying traits of toxic masculinity can lead to numerous negative outcomes. For example, adherence to rigid masculine norms may lead to problems with dating and interpersonal intimacy, depression, anxiety, abuse of substances, interpersonal violence, sexual assault, spousal abuse, high blood pressure, and psychological distress. Did Neanderthals have these issues?

According to the APA guidelines, today’s masculine men need “more encouragement to enhance one side of the masculine virtues — the dignity, responsibility, self-control, and self-reliance — while inhibiting others, such as machismo, violence, and drive for dominance.” There is a range of masculinity ideologies, but most people are used to traditional and toxic masculinity to mean the same things, which they are not. A 2018 study by  Silver, Levant, & Gonzalez, delineated four common areas of masculinity in American society: 1. no sissy stuff  i.e., men should avoid anything feminine or associated with females, 2. the big wheel, i.e., men should strive for success and achievement, 3. the sturdy oak , i.e., men should not show weakness and handle their problems independently,  4. give ’em hell i.e., men should seek adventure, be risk-takers, and use violence if necessary.

However, men certainly don’t have a monopoly on bad behaviour, Dr. Rebecca S. Heists stresses. Though toxic behavior is demonstrated by one gender at disproportionately higher rates than the other, it is the behavior itself that needs the label. Yes, sexual harassment is toxic. Yes, bullying is toxic. Yes, intentionally hurting another human without cause, is toxic. We need males and females, as equal advocates, to make the world a better, less toxic world for everyone. Further, if stereotypes and cultural expectations are removed, there isn’t many differences in the basic behaviors between men and women. 

The effects of masculinity expectations can also affect health care. A 2011 study found men with the strongest beliefs about masculinity were only half as likely as men with more moderate beliefs about masculinity to get preventative health care. Seeing a physician for an annual physical, for example, runs contrary to some men’s beliefs about toughness. Toxic masculinity glorifies unhealthy habits. It’s the notion that “self-care is for women” and men should treat their bodies like machines pushing themselves hard physically. 

If you feel like you’re experiencing the negative effects of toxic masculinity, reach out to someone. A mental health professional can help you recognize how it’s affecting your life and help you break free from the unhealthy patterns that may be keeping you stuck. Speak with a Military Life Consultant and read Instant Insights, with valuable suggestions to improve relationships with women on Amazon/Kindle.

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Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at his website or at InstantInsights@hotmail.com.

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