I had never seen anyone else like her. The Earth was not vast enough to accommodate her beauty, and the way she walked…it was like she knew it. She trotted up to me and rubbed against my legs, circling them almost ritualistically. And like every single day, I bent down to my knees and gave my favorite little cat a stroke on her forehead. In between her ethereal purrs, I heard a voice nearby spew words that I was too used to, though never unsurprised to hear.
“Guys who play with cats are so not manly,” the random girl said as she passed by. Her father shouldn’t have played with cats either.
I’m lucky enough that this is the extent to which my masculinity is mocked. But the issue at heart here is one of toxic masculinity – any man who doesn’t fit the set standards isn’t considered a “real” man. Yet if you take a closer look at those standards – “no weakness”, “no asking for support”, “no crying”, “no showing emotions”, “no liking for cats” – you notice that not one of them is telling us what we should be. “Masculinity” isn’t actually a set of standards for what makes a man, but for what doesn’t. You don’t see any of us trying to be better men; rather you see us terrified of being “lesser men”. I may only be reprimanded for petting cats, but other men who are not big, strong, dominant, athletic, loud, unemotional, heterosexual, and cisgender, they are reprimanded for their very existence. And most of the time, it’s by fellow men.
The need to address toxic masculinity is urgent because of one simple reason: it legit sucks for everybody. Men who conform to its standards hurt not only others but themselves too. We don’t seek help when we’re struggling because we can’t show weakness. We don’t live long because we glorify risky behavior. There are also serious health issues attached to toxic masculinity – depression, stress, body-image issues, substance abuse are just a few examples (Wong, Y. Joel, 2017).
Yes, we fought in wars, we hunted, we needed to be strong and dominant. We did. But our warrior ethic is outdated, and we need to let go of it. The boys of tomorrow need to live in a system that doesn’t turn them into emotionless rocks with a ride-or-die mentality. It’s a right we, the men of today, owe to them. And for that, we need to own up to our own emotions, our own weaknesses, our own liking for cats. We need to be able to cry and ask for help without the fear that we’ll be considered unmanly. And most of all, we need to own up to all the crap we’ve put people through as we strove to be “manly enough,” whether it’s the fellow men we mocked, transgender or homosexual men we’ve hurt, and the women we’ve oppressed. We need to learn to give a fuck about others, we need to care and we need to be compassionate.
So my fellow men – all of you, whether you fit society’s standards of masculinity or not – Happy International Men’s Day. Down with toxic masculinity!