If you’ve ever been on the internet you’ve heard the term “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity is a term that describes the cultural expectations of men. It’s a term that focuses on the emotional stunting in men caused by culture, or normative male alexithymia.
I’ve always been a tomboy. I never really had too many girl friends, not for any particular reason I just tended to gravitate more towards the guys who played WoW instead of the girls who hung out at the beach. As I’ve gotten older my friends have included more and more women. There are women I connect with, women I strive to be like, women that mentor me in various aspects of life. This is the first time I’ve really had a group of women I can call my friends and seeing the differences between how women connect and how men connect is honestly startling.
As we’ve grown older the concept of hanging out with friends amongst my male friends has pretty much become obsolete. If we’re asking to hang out it’s usually all together or at a bar/pub. It was weird to be hanging out one on one and a giant stigma of a man and a woman with no romantic relations alone together. What that ultimate accumulated into was this idea that men and women can’t be friends. There’s a multitude of reasons this exists.
Can’t keep hands to ourselves
The idea of not being sexually attracted to each other goes hand in hand with the idea that men are these next level Neanderthals. That they are ruled by their urges and can’t think beyond the primal urge to procreate. It’s the year 2019, this isn’t true. Men who use that excuse and women who excuse that type of thinking are doing just that — making excuses. Of course men can think, any man that defaults to the idea of being lonely is one who doesn’t want to deal with having to actually put someone else’s needs above their own. Dealing with the idea that you can’t always get what you want is tough. It faces you with the reality that regardless of how hard you worked for something or how bad you think you deserve something it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to it or that it comes without consequences.
This type of thinking revolves around the idea that people can’t be considerate of others. That one’s own selfish desires supersede any rational thought. This story reminds me of the thoughtless thinking that happened when Lena Dunham accused Odell Beckham Jr. of being disgusted with himself for being attracted to her because he ignored her. We’re so accustomed to this idea of hyper masculine men who think with their dicks instead of their brains that the idea of not being attracted to someone or of being smart and faithful enough to not act on any attraction is bewildering (and that’s without considering the racial charged background of a hyper sexualized black man).
Men have simple needs
This one is a little harder to dissect. I don’t mean that men are treated like tamagotchis but also in a way I do. I once told a girl friend not to date a man looking to date his mom. What I mean is that there is a certain type of man who wants nothing more than a woman that will take care of him. I don’t mean emotionally being supportive — I mean the type of guy who will suddenly talk about how good his girl is because she folds his laundry, scrubs the bathtub, and gets his meals done before he gets home. There’s no inherent issue with these tasks in themselves — there’s an issue when it’s expected of the woman because they aren’t the man’s jobs.
I once spoke to a couple who had been married for half a decade who didn’t split household chores by any means. When the wife went on vacation the man came to the realization that he’d been kept for so long he couldn’t figure out basic necessities. He couldn’t figure out how to sort the recycling properly or remember that if he didn’t buy the toilet paper there would be no toilet paper to use.
All of these things seem really simple in themselves but are incredibly taxing all together. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year reported woman’s unearned labor amounted to $40,000 a year.
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If these numbers seem startling to you it’s probably because we as a society don’t really consider the actual damage of gender assigned work. Nobody questions why your wife or your mom always has toilet paper in stock, it’s just expected to be around. That type of attitude is seen as expected rather than out of the ordinary.
If you’re looking for a rabbit hole of how bad can it get just read this:
What this means in terms of friendships is that often a man doesn’t need more than one female friend — the woman in his life has already taken care of him in every aspect. He’s dating his mom because she provides the emotional and physical labour to patch up all the invisible holes in his life.
So what is emotional labour?
Emotional labour is a one way relationship. You’re leaving yourself available to be the stone in your s/o’s life. Although it’s great to be the pivotal help your s/o needs it shouldn’t be the basis for your relationship. Being the beacon for all the painful moments can be mentally exhausting and it’s never good to mix your own bias into emotional labour. Men are often taught to only rely on their girlfriends or wives as their best friends but then hyper focus that attention so that no one else can help take away their pains.
You can’t always be there for him and you shouldn’t have to. Being devoted to each other doesn’t mean you dump all your feelings and hope for the best. Sometimes it’s necessary to allow yourselves to seek a fresh perspective. We need to have a talk about actually considering professional help for professional needs and to utilize these resources properly. Therapy in men is not a weakness.
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Using a girlfriend to dump feelings isn’t fair to anyone and it doesn’t matter if it’s intentional or not. I know too many men who only have the support of their wives because being allowed to be vulnerable outside of their homes is not okay.
Therapy isn’t for everyone
It takes a lot to be open to a therapist especially when society still struggles to treat mental health as a real issue. Beyond that, it can be expensive and not available to everyone. So what can we do as a society? We encourage emotional connections that we have pushed to the side into the mainstream.
Relationships amongst men need to evolve beyond game night or lacklustre conversations that don’t actually get to the root of the issue. The take down of toxic masculinity is asking men to let themselves be vulnerable and accept that being broken doesn’t mean you’re unfixable.
I remember the first time I had an honest real talk with my friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend of whom he had intended to move in together with. He’d dropped the news in front of a group of people and all the men had kind of shrugged and patted his back saying he’d get over it. I’d seen him take the step (albeit in a terrible setting) and watched the lack of resolution at the same time. I reached out to him and asked him first and foremost if he was okay.
What he’d done and the situation in which they broke up was not a good one. He’d screwed up and he’d done it intentionally because he wasn’t emotionally ready. I wasn’t going to baby him and tell him he hasn’t been an asshole but I wanted him to know that there was a problem here that stemmed beyond they weren’t on the same page.
It has been a relationship that was too serious for him and he didn’t know what to do about it. He’d broken up with her a couple of days before signing the lease and bowed out because he thought she deserved better. I called it bullshit — he’d ruined their relationship and didn’t give her the closure she deserved.
They didn’t reconcile. But at the end of the day I wanted him to be honest about why he was scared and to recognize these feelings head on but in such a way that he could deal with it. It didn’t mean anything if he said he was scared but refused to deal with it — it meant the next girl would face that same problem when he decided he’d had enough. I encouraged him to recognize what he felt wasn’t disingenuous or rare but also that he had to ride out the feelings and decide what to do about it instead of running.
Eventually we ended up at a crossroads; ultimately he decided I didn’t get it. I wasn’t the one in a relationship with him and I never had been. I was headstrong in asking him to tackle his feelings but he didn’t know how. He’d been brought up in a home where the man was never around and his parent’s relationship was tumultuous at best. He’d been the head of the household and learned to take care of things when he really shouldn’t have.
We both decided if I wasn’t the one to talk to him then that was fine but he needed to find someone that understood him and his feelings better and that that someone could connect with him properly. He ended up speaking to another mutual friend of ours who had been there when he’d announced his breakup — another man who had commitment issues a mile wide. Together they discussed why they had troubles keeping relationships and what it meant to be afraid.
I don’t really ask him about these sessions but I do know that they’ve connected a lot more often than before. We discussed it recently and he told me it was a great move from not knowing who to talk to, to having a group of men who shared similar issues but also understood the difficulties in expressing those problems.
I told him I was happy for him and wanted him to keep exploring the feelings he has. I’m happy he’s found his own path to exercise a safe environment because ultimately it means he’s not only expressing himself but expressing himself for himself. He doesn’t have someone telling him to talk about his feelings anymore because he’s talking about them on his own. And that’s the best we can really ask for, we all want to improve ourselves but because we want to improve ourselves.