Men On Unlearning The Poison Of Toxic Masculinity

To be vulnerable is your power.

Human Interest

Toxic masculinity has been masquerading as traditional masculinity for centuries. Toxic masculinity bans men from a healthy relationship with themselves, where they are allowed to be vulnerable, sensitive, empathic – basically every emotion society often labels as feminine. And it stunts their mental and emotional growth that perpetuates false ideologies of manhood that hold them back from having a better understanding of themselves and showing up for their loved ones.

The stress toxic masculinity puts on men


Men are continuously given the objective that they must be independent, self-reliant, physically tough, etc. Society often tells men this false narrative as the only way to make them successful in terms of business, maneuvering in society, and finding a partner. They are taught that they simply can't afford to be vulnerable because it'll be ridiculed.

The American Psychological Association's Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men mentions that raising boys into "traditional" masculinity is harmful to their health and wellness. Licensed professional counselor Eric Patterson at mental health startup Choosing Therapy notes that "toxic masculinity is an ever-present issue." I asked him some questions regarding the mental and emotional distress toxic masculinity puts on men. His response brought forth insight and clarity.

Patterson stated, "Unfortunately, toxic masculinity puts very little stress on the men who are actively perpetuating notions of superiority. They tend to be oblivious to the impact their views and behaviors have on others. The men that hope to be more enlightened may struggle with their place and their role. They want to support equality without denouncing their entirety of their sex, which can prove challenging at times."

Sadly, toxic masculinity is like a domino effect; it affects all of us. So if we don't call out toxic traits, we are enabling them to continue. It begins and ends with accountability – you can't do better until you know better.

Everyday examples of toxic masculinity


Toxic masculinity is often poured into men from their childhood days. Their parents telling him he shouldn't cry because he's a boy and 'real men' don't do that. Men are often taught that masculinity is supposed to be hypermasculinity, being aggressive, suppressing their emotions, and always feeling the need to be a dominant figure. They are often excused for being promiscuous compared to women – who would be easily labeled a hoe. Either party shouldn't be applauded for this; it's not a fruitful sport, but if people feel that's the life they want to live, keep your comments to yourself or make sure you judge them the same way, instead of it being one-sided.

I asked some men about their most toxic trait and how they are actively unlearning those perspectives – their answers were quite insightful.

"I would say my most toxic trait is that sometimes I think so highly of myself that I'm mostly unwilling to take advice from others because I'm under the impression there is no way they could understand what I feel I have more knowledge on," said Johnny Welch, program coordinator in Philadelphia, PA. "I simply think I know best, even in cases when I know nothing. This trait has left me numerous times feeling the burn when I could have simply not touched the stove. I'm well aware of the issue and try to make steps to correct it."

A good start at overcoming toxic masculinity is acknowledging your issues and then building stepping stones to combat them. The goal isn't perfection; it's about progression. Talk about this with your male friends and ask them to hold you accountable or ask them if they can suggest ways for you to change your old habits. Get used to not always leaning on women for vulnerable conversations; she can't be your therapist and partner; that's too much stress for anyone.

Normalize talking about your emotions with other men.

Another man echoed a similar sentiment regarding communication, "I would say my most toxic trait is being inconsistent when it comes to communicating," said Carrell Calhoun, operations manager in Bethlehem, PA. "Sometimes I have this, I-don't-feel-like-talking type of attitude when I feel like something isn't a major issue, and how I work on that is to just allow my partner to express themselves."

Frequent communication is essential in every relationship, whether it's platonic or romantic. Just because you're with someone, it doesn't mean you are able to read that person's mind all of a sudden. Let's normalize leaning on each other in times of need instead of perceiving it as a way to emasculate men.

How do women and society play a role in toxic masculinity?


Believe it or not, ladies, some of y'all play a part in enabling toxic masculinity. Telling a man he's soft or shouldn't be emotional is problematic. I asked some men what they would tell women that said 'you're not a man' if you show vulnerability in any way, crying or expressing how they felt. They had some interesting tea to spill.

"Emotional intelligence matters, empathy matters. Men that are viewed as crazy, non-communicative, toxic, or nonchalant have probably become that way due to a woman or man telling them that same sentiment as they grew up," said Cedric Calder, CEO of Artisan Echelon in New Jersey. The same men that are told they "ain't shit" have become like that for a reason, and while everyone should be accountable for their own actions and grow/learn from their experiences – not everyone has the mindset to get through it [and] receive assistance in doing so. Human beings are social creatures, and being social creates some sort of stress, whether good or bad, and these feelings need to be released one way or the other."

Amen, on the necessity for emotional intelligence! Toxic masculinity robs men to tap into their emotional intelligence. This is a collective Black issue we have because I was also taught to repress my emotions because it made me look weak, but as I got older, I learned how important it was to thoroughly understand my emotions so I can show up better for myself and others.

How to combat toxic masculinity


Combatting toxic masculinity is NOT a woman's job. I've heard the saying that 'it's a woman's job to make a man a better/evolved man' countless times – and that's too much of a burden. As Marlon Dundas, digital investment professional in Queens, NY, stated, "I believe a relationship is a mutual agreement to learn from each other. If you trust and value the person you're with, then you will be made a better person. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman."

So yes, back to the daily televised show, it's a partnership. Both partners can help each other, not completely burden each other in specific areas, and expect things to mend themselves over time because they won't – they'll just get worse if you don't address them. As licensed professional counselor Eric Patterson mentions:

"Women can support this shift in men by pointing out undesirable aspects of toxic masculinity and times when it presents. By addressing the situation with love and support rather than anger and judgment, there is a better chance for success. Women must remember that the man must want to change, and even if he does, he could be working against decades or generations of problematic behaviors. It will not change overnight."

Ladies, I know bending backwards comes easily to us sometimes, and that's something we have to work on collectively. But you can't change a man that is not ready to change himself for himself first, and then you can benefit from it. Change only sticks when we do it for ourselves versus for others. You can only guide him and cheer him on along the journey, but you can't make the changes he needs to make within himself.

Men don't have to be hypermasculine to be considered man enough; show how you feel, reveal the real you from under the mask. Toxic masculinity can't thrive if you choose to work through your issues, so you can be an evolved man for yourself and your loved ones.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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