Growth Stunted: Another good explanation of toxic masculinity

Earlier today a friend linked to a Harper’s article on toxic masculinity from May 2019. It rings true in so many ways. The stunted emotional growth of men leaves them incapable of bonding as adults, dependent on the workplace and girlfriends or wives for their total social interaction.
Women are the ones paying the price for it. And oft times, women are blamed for that infantilism, instead of the toxic masculinity of society that caused it (i.e. garbage like “if they had girlfriends, they wouldn’t act like that!”).
Men lashing out are like babies smashing a TV to get their parents’ attention. But a baby can’t cause the damage an adult can do, a baby doesn’t shoot or kill people out of frustration. Society has create men exactly like the monkeys in Harry Harlow’s experiments of the 1950s

These are the two parts of the article that spoke to me the most:
Shame, Brené Brown found in her years of research, is the single biggest cause of toxic masculinity. Whereas women experience shame when they fail to meet unrealistic, conflicting expectations, men become consumed with shame for showing signs of weakness.
I felt it from both sides. When I was “male”, I was shamed into hiding my emotions, leaving my unable to express them. And part of what kept me from transitioning for so long was the fear of “not passing”, truscum nonsense that says “you’re only trans if you’ve done, A, B, C, D, and E”.
It took me far too long stop worrying about what others think and stop feeling shame for not meeting their expectations. Once I stopped caring about ridiculous standards of “society” and stopped being afraid about expressing myself, my relationships dramatically changed for the better, as did my mental health.
“We use sports as an excuse to bump up against each other, so desperate we are for human touch and intimacy.”
I never thought of it like that, but it’s spot on. Men use any excuse for high fives, pats on the back or butt, etc., because they can’t get human touch anywhere else. How many would quit sports if they had healthy interpersonal relationships, if they weren’t conditioned to hide and be ashamed of their feelings?
They’re taught and conditioned to be petrified of any public displays of affection. Hugging, holding hands, touching them on the shoulder – if I did that to a man, there would be a homophobic reponse, fear of how they’re perceived by others. Even some gay cishetero males are terrified of PDAs, and not because they fear being called a homophobic slur or the threat of violence.
Which makes Ryan Russell’s instagram photos all the more surprising – and pleasantly so.  Of all four male team sports, the NFL is the last where I would expect a player to come out mid-career, not at the end like Jason Collins.


  1. says

    I read the linked article. I wasn’t impressed. Here we go, once again somebody claims that “men are such and such, women are such and such.” And once again, as a reader, I keep thinking that there exists such a thing called “individual personalities.” It depends on the person.

    By the way, all the people I am emotionally intimate with are men. I simply have more male friends than female ones. My interests are stereotypically masculine, so I just meet more guys. My gender dysphoria also contributes to why it’s harder for me to make female friends. I occasionally get forcefully sent to female-only spaces (hostel rooms, locker rooms, etc.). In such places I always feel very uncomfortable, I feel as an imposter who doesn’t belong there. Thus I’m in no mood to try making friends, instead I focus on enduring the brief experience and getting out of there quickly. When I’m in male-only company, I feel like one of the guys, so I am more relaxed and actually capable of making friends.

    And part of what kept me from transitioning for so long was the fear of “not passing”, truscum nonsense that says “you’re only trans if you’ve done, A, B, C, D, and E”.
    It took me far too long stop worrying about what others think and stop feeling shame for not meeting their expectations.

    For me it was different. I never feared not passing (I still don’t pass since I’m not taking testosterone). I was never ashamed either. I knew that there was nothing wrong with me, instead the problem was with the society that’s pretty transphobic. What I feared instead was public condemnation and criticism of my chosen lifestyle. Not because I care what others think about me (I don’t). Instead I feared that I might get denied jobs or opportunities, I feared all those practical consequences one experiences due to being perceived as twisted and mentally ill.

  2. says

    Speaking of shame in general, by now I pretty much no longer feel it at all. I rationalized myself out of feeling it. In the context of the “ideal” that a man should be emotionless, I’d go like this:
    1) Is it possible for a human being not to feel emotional pain? No.
    2) Is it desirable for me to feel no emotions or hide the ones I have? No, that would only mess up my mental health.
    3) The society says that, as a guy, I should hide my emotions. Is this social expectation a good one? No.
    4) Therefore the society is wrong.
    5) Conclusion: there is no rational reason for me to feel ashamed about displaying my emotions.

    Once I conclude that there is no good reason for me to feel ashamed in some specific situation, it actually helps me to stop feeling shame in said situation. I wrote about my experience with shame here –

    So shame is out of the picture for me. Unfortunately, practical considerations still remain. Just like straight cis men worry that showing emotion might get them labeled as gays, I occasionally worry that I don’t want to be perceived as an overly emotional, capricious, and hysterical woman (I don’t want to be perceived as a woman in the first place). Even when I know that my pain or anger or whatever other emotion is justified, I occasionally wonder about whether I would benefit from toning it down in public.

    Incidentally, the idea that women are always free to express emotions is wrong. Some years ago, back when I still lived as a woman, I wasn’t freer to express my emotions. In some contexts a man is free to express anger and the society will reward him for it by trying to appease his wishes. If a woman expresses anger in an identical situation, she will lose respect, she will get perceived as hysterical.

    This drawing perfectly depicts how many people perceived me whenever I displayed emotions back when I was a woman, this is also how some people tried to treat me. The very fact that I publicly displayed some emotions was used as an excuse for disregarding my complaints. I got dismissed as overly emotional and thus irrational and foolish.

  3. Allison says

    Although assigned “male,” I don’t think I ever felt shame for my failure (and inability) to perform masculinity up to other people’s standards. I think it’s because I never internalized the standards, only the knowledge that certain behaviors were likely to get me treated even worse than usual. And I think that’s because I never had the experience of being an accepted member of any social group, so I never had any reason to identify with a group’s values. (It’s kind of amazing I developed any moral compass at all.)

    The result was that during the years of my transition process, from trying to pass as male to living as a woman and trying to not be too obviously non-female, I never felt any shame about what I was doing, only the fear that I might be attacked or harrassed.

    I was never allowed to be “fragile,” because it was impressed upon me from an early age that any hurts I suffered (emotional or physical) were entirely my fault and thus I had no right to complain.