‘Toxic masculinity’ doesn’t mean that masculinity is toxic. Not all men are bad or evil, but the cultural ideals that are associated with being a man are extremely harmful. The concept of ‘manliness’ has had a negative effect on both women and men, with ‘manhood’ being expressed through misogyny, homophobia, violence and substance abuse. These destructive messages provide men with the dangerous idea that they have the right to participate in such negative behaviours.

In most cultures, men police each other’s masculinity, labelling only specific actions as ‘acceptable’. These traditional cultural norms include being:

Conformity to these traditional male gender roles is harmful to society as a whole. Women fall victim to violence, sexual assault, psychological abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and discrimination because of it. Men who don’t adhere to it also experience violence, psychological trauma and discrimination, but it harms those who do too – the pressure to look ‘strong’ and suppress one’s emotions to fit the ideal form can cause aggression, addiction, as well as suicide. Those who aim to be an ‘alpha male’ are a danger to themselves and others.

As a society, we must come together to combat toxic masculinity. The first step is to remove the detrimental norms from masculinity by redefining what it means to ‘be a man’ and developing healthier expectations. Allow boys and men to feel their feelings, and teach them how to express their emotions instead of resorting to violence. Violence-prevention is key, and by providing them with the tools to handle conflict nonviolently, we can create a safer society.

Learn more about men’s mental health here.