The problem

It is common nowadays to go out to run errands or turn on the news and notice an array of socially toxic behavior. When most people hear something racist, homophobic, or sexist, etc., it’s brushed off and ignored because this is what we’re used to.

Unfortunately, children receive their significant dose of toxic behavior from their parents. It’s not noticeable from most parents’ point of view because society has deemed this behavior to be “normal.”

Toxic Masculinity

When parents allow their male child to only play with toys that they have considered to be a “boy” toy, it begins to create a stigma in the child’s mind. If the child experiences sad emotions, they’re told to “toughen up!” If the child expresses emotional pain, they’re told to “take it like a man!” These examples of toxic behavior are how society has developed a social expectation of how a male presents himself, thus contributing to the toxic gender roles of society.

Erika Cosinera — outreach coordinator of LGBTQ Youth Space and writer of Toxic Masculinity and Gender Roles — organizes society’s expectation of men in a box which she calls, “The Man Box.” Inside “The Man Box,” Cosinera lists:

  • Do not cry openly or express emotion (except anger)
  • Demonstrate power and control (especially over women)
  • Don’t ‘be like a woman’
  • [Be] Heterosexual
  • Do not be ‘like a gay man’
  • Make decisions
  • View women as property/objects

Each of these toxic expectancies forces males into a dilemma, either conform to social norms or stray from the standards and face social outcast. However, males aren’t faced with the issue all at once.

According to Cosinera, society begins to enforce gender roles as soon as one hits preschool. In this stage, “children begin to learn how to ‘perform’ gender,” she states. Followed by the progression into middle school and high school. Which is a “demonstration of heterosexuality and dominance over girls’ or women’s bodies to claim masculine power and identity,” says Cosinera.

Society requires a repetitive display of masculinity – among other things – through social media, word-of-mouth, and upbringing, to identify as a “man.” This repetition is a significant factor in solidifying the toxic masculine gender role.

Man in gas mask

Toxic Femininity

The same concept of toxic masculinity applies to toxic femininity. This process — like toxic masculinity — begins the minute the parents or guardians start to associate material objects and their manner of speaking with gender orientation.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Ph.D. — a psychology professor at Cornell University — defines toxic femininity as, “Women expressing stereotypically ‘feminine’ traits,” in an article for Psychology Today.

Savin-Williams lists the following traits as “feminine traits”:

  • Passivity
  • Empathy
  • Sensuality
  • Patience
  • Tenderness

Such traits are what society expects from a woman. If they show any anger, they’re considered aggressive. If they fight for equal rights, they’re labeled as radical. These “requirements” of women are a male-dominated society’s effort to render women powerless and ineffective.

Impact of toxic gender roles

Sexual violence –

The belief that a woman’s sole job is to be sensual and a sexual mate endangers females everywhere. This belief is enabled through objectification, which allows one to commit immoral sexual acts such as rape without questioning their personal morality beforehand.

Homophobia –

Through means of media, like television and social media, the stereotypical version of a male is deemed the only acceptable way to be a “real” man. The idea that you must be heterosexual to be a man is dangerous to those who identify as homosexual. Homophobia leads to increased rates of depression, murder, and suicide of individuals who identify as homosexual. This is because modern culture essentially outcasts those who don’t fit the mold.

Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

How to change this

Future generations must break the way society creates toxic standards. We need to alter the way we introduce our children to gender orientation. The means that the way parents speak to their children needs to become gender-neutral. This means no more asking your son if they have a girlfriend or your daughter if they have a boyfriend. It’s as simple as asking, “Are you dating anyone?” When your child needs some clothes? Let them pick out the clothes, allow them to express themselves. Permit your youth to choose the toys they want without you associating them with gender.

Society doesn’t need some significant change or a new policy. It needs you and everyone else to treat everyone equally.

Always remember that the smallest efforts make the biggest changes

"What lessens one of us lessens all of us' sign.
Photo by Michele Henderson on Unsplash

Posted by:Cleveland Lewis III

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