“Toxic masculinity.” I often hear this phrase, and it was in frequent use last year, when the American Psychological Association (APA) released its guidelines for working with boys and men. One of the key messages from the guidelines was that men infrequently seek help for emotional distress, and instead turn to unhelpful coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse and violence.
It is true that there is a problem with men and how they cope with emotional distress. But we are not going to find a solution by pathologising men with over-simplistic labels. In an interview carried out by WNYC, Dr Matt Englar-Carlson (Professor at California State University) makes this point –
“Toxic means poison. Men are not poisonous… But men do things, or they have beliefs, that hold us back in our lives, that prevent us from being more intimate, more connected, or more involved as fathers, or more involved in friendships. We are too involved with judging ourselves as not being adequate. There is a sign in our office that says ‘We never beat ourselves up gently’… Let’s pay attention to what is good about men, and what gets in our way, that hinders a fuller expression of our humanity.”
To really tackle this issue, we need to understand not pathologies. We need to examine how society is set up, and how we condition our boys and men. We all play a part in preventing men’s fuller expressions of humanity, so we can all play a part in enabling it.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
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