Why Toxic Masculinity is the Enemy

Inclusion depends on removing toxic masculinity from society, workplaces and homes. International Men's Day shows what we can do to create a society where everyone will prosper.

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Many make the mistake of thinking diversity and inclusion is only about gender. And making gender all about women. Women are not the diversity dimension. We each have a unique voice. Inclusion starts with "I". What each of us can do to help each other be seen, heard, valued and respected. That's why we say "Everyone is Awesome".

Much focus has been on what companies can do to create greater opportunities for everyone to thrive. And often, what people hear is something different. That the intent is not to create a better place for everyone but to advance one group over another. That diversity is some kind of zero-sum game. The fear is that if someone else is included, I will be excluded.

A friend of mine, a successful CEO, told me he first understood how it felt to be excluded when joining a dinner as the only man. He lost his confidence and struggled to be part of the conversation. A few of his (female) friends talked over him and cut him off in mid-sentence. It made him retreat further. Any conversation that leaves participants silent is poorer for it. He argues you can't know what exclusion feels like if you haven't experienced it. For him, this was a turning point to start working on including everyone. Or so he says. In private moments he says the real turning point was when he lost his brother to suicide.

He blames himself for not seeing the signs earlier. For not being there to create a safe space for his brother to share what was going on. It highlights a much bigger problem around the societal expectations of men. Men should be strong. Not show emotion even when things are difficult. Not cry or be vulnerable. That this is a weakness. Being told not to cry or show emotion, when repeated enough times, sounds like having feelings is bad. And we all have feelings. How we deal with them is key. Our strength, ability to grow and adapt comes from our ability to first accept ourselves.

Such expectations and pressures, when unrecognised and hidden, spill over onto everyone else. It's hard to create a safe space or accept others if you don't first accept yourself. We project the same toxic expectations on others that we struggle with ourselves. The only way to stop it is to first recognise it. Women (in many parts of the world) have learned to speak up about expectations on women not fit for the 21st century.

We need men to do the same. To recognise toxic masculinity for what it is: toxic. It doesn't help men grow and thrive as individuals. If we let toxic masculinity be the norm, we are all worse off. And as women, we need to support men in breaking the hold toxic masculinity has on society. Celebrate those who show bravery and strength in being vulnerable. Not countering the exclusion we've felt by excluding in return. November 19th is International Men's Day (IMD). It has six objectives:

  • Celebrate Positive male role models; the everyday men who live decent, honest lives

  • Recognise men's positive contributions to society; community, family, marriage, childcare and the environment

  • Focus on men's health and wellbeing

  • Highlight discrimination against men - in social services, attitudes, expectations and law

  • Improve gender relations and promote gender equality

  • Create a safer, better world; where everyone can grow to reach their full potential

This day is about encouraging men to teach the boys in their lives the values, character and responsibilities of being a positive male role model. Mahatma Gandhi said, "We must become the change we seek". It is only when we all, men and women, lead by example that we can end toxic masculinity. And create a fair and safe society which allows everyone the opportunity to prosper.