5 Ways Every Man Can Challenge the Toxic Culture of Masculinity
Can we finally do away with the phrase “toxic masculinity”? In 2020, it should be evident: Masculinity is not toxic. What can be toxic is the mainstream culture of masculinity: the rigid set of expectations, perceptions, and definitions of “manly” behavior, aka the man box.
In his memorable essay, “Why Calling it ‘Toxic Masculinity’ Isn’t Helping,” Mark Greene, an author and editor at the Good Men Project, observed: “Masculinity is not toxic; our culture’s narrow, conformist, violent, bullying, man-box version of it is.” Making the distinction, he notes, is critical; one blames and shames, while the other invites men to understand how we are all victims of man-box culture.
So in the spirit of Greene’s essay, I suggest practical, positive steps men can take to challenge our norms and help create a better, healthier and more inclusive culture of masculinity.
- Examine your unconscious biases.
- Take a genuine interest in the experience of others.
- Take a stand.
- Be public about your flexible working.
- Be transparent about your health with other men.
How many hurtful biases are you bringing to work? Identifying those biases can be challenging.
A good starting point: Pay attention to triggering behaviors from people who don’t share your gender identity, race, or ethnicity. What comment or action made you irritated, defensive, or upset? Can you convert these interactions into opportunities to grow and improve relationships? Earlier in my marriage, for instance, I recall expecting my wife to praise me after I performed basic caregiving acts or household duties. I had perceived my contribution as exceptional while it was just the right thing to do as part of a dual-career couple.
Instead of becoming defensive, get introspective to find the root of the issue and seize this unique opportunity for growth.
For too long, (white) men have removed themselves from diversity and inclusion initiatives. That sent the message that women and members of traditionally marginalized groups need to conform to the dominant (white men’s) culture. Ask yourself: Do I actively seek to understand the experiences of people different from myself? Knowledge is the best ally in destroying hurtful stereotypes and uncovering unconscious biases.
The good news is that there are myriad ways to educate yourself: articles, books, and podcasts are a great place to start. Ask colleagues about their work-life and show genuine curiosity. Consider attending conferences that will expose you to others’ experiences. If you identify as a man, attend a women’s conference. If you are heterosexual, attend an LGBTQ+ event. Listen actively and take the opportunity to connect with communities. Ask questions and be brave enough to stretch your comfort zone: dare to try, make mistakes, seek forgiveness, show humility, learn, repeat.
A major part of building a healthier culture of masculinity is through role-modeling. In the workplace, that means being an advocate for equity and inclusion. If you hold a leadership position, publicly call out inappropriate behavior, whether it’s men interrupting women during a meeting, displaying bigotry, or engaging in sexual harassment. If you’re in a junior role or middle management, you can speak loudly through refusing to play along with sexist or exclusionary behavior—choosing not to be complicit. For example, when a colleague makes a degrading joke about a woman in a group gathering, abstain from laughing; your rejection of their so-called humor will send a clear message.
As men, having the courage to face our peers regardless of their position in the organization is one of the toughest challenges we all face to creating a healthier culture of masculinity.
The assumption that only mothers want a flexible workplace is a persistent and harmful myth. Men—single, married, with or without children—want flexibility as much as everyone else: many of us simply don’t feel comfortable voicing our needs out of fear of appearing weak or suffering career penalties.
If you’re a man in a leadership position, you have an important role to play here. Your company offers early closing days? Or maybe your organization gives you the opportunity to work from home? Or do you get paid paternity leave? Take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible and make it known to everyone, especially the men you work with. When doing so, you will give permission to many others to do the same.
I strongly believe it is crucial for men to be candid about their mental, physical, and emotional health, especially in the workplace. In 2020, too many men are still operating under an outdated and harmful paradigm that leads many of us to confuse strength and resilience with emotional and physical stoicism. Do you ignore your health? Forego doctors’ appointments or try to adopt a stiff upper lip, even when you’re experiencing emotional distress?
Being open about your physical and mental health is an essential part of changing the norms around masculinity. Today, as men, we have a choice to help build a healthier culture of masculinity. And we’ve seen from our work through MARC (Men Advocating Real Change), being open has many positive effects, improving the sense of psychological safety within your organization and transforming lives for the better.
Senior Director, MARC Branding
As Senior Director of MARC Branding, Ludo is responsible for developing and executing the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) brand amplification strategy. He acts as a voice for MARC to ensure the continued and growing recognition and strength of the MARC brand and the impact it represents. Ludo is also…