What Can A Mom Do About Toxic Masculinity?

Today is my middle son’s 11th birthday. He is my “boys’ boy.” He’s tall, strong, and sporty. Give him any kind of ball and he will intuitively know what to do with it. He has sports stats memorized from games I didn’t even know he watched. He insists on NO GIRLS at his birthday party and tolerates his little sister more than likes her, at this stage at least. He likes hockey, bacon and burgers. He’s been wearing deodorant since he was seven years old and will probably start shaving in middle school. He’s the one to step up courageously to new situations and would probably love beer if I let him taste it.

Contrast him with my teen son who spent his early years surrounded by little girls. He didn’t go out and play basketball because his friends were inside playing dress-up. Recess was always hard for him, not because he didn’t want to join the other boys for lunch hour soccer but because he didn’t like the level of competition – having to fight for the ball and do all. that. running. He is witty and smart and not afraid to show affection towards his family including his little sister. He is level-headed and reasonable, proving to be a delight even in the teenage years.

My boys are different from each other, but one thing they have in common is exposure to toxic masculinity which is always in the back of my mind as I raise them and my spirited daughter, and it was brought to the forefront by that Gillette commercial that’s been trending…

I have heard the slogan “The Best a Man Can Get” for as long as I can remember and it never even occurred to me to question it. I’m glad Gillette is challenging the notion of what’s “best” for a man, and more importantly, for modeling what we all need to do – examine our own values, beliefs and practices and intentionally change that which does not align, even when it means coming under scrutiny of both supporters and detractors.

So what is “toxic masculinity” anyway? Speaking as the average mom and not a sociology major, toxic masculinity is when typical masculine traits are used to create a narrow, repressive paradigm of what it means to be manly and, concurrently, when typical female traits are treated like a damaging virus that threaten man’s existence if expressed in the “wrong” gender. It’s a black and white view of gender roles that we have bought into over the years in the media, in our traditions, in our homes, and in our and families.

Toxic masculinity is an extended family member implying my son was gay because he played dress-ups with the girls. 

Toxic masculinity is coaches expecting my son to maintain a stoic facade even after a devastating loss.

Toxic masculinity is my 11-year-old being bullied because someone wants to knock him down to their level.

Toxic masculinity is my teen being shamed in gym in front of the entire class because he didn’t do push-ups properly.

Toxic masculinity is adults making sexual innuendos about my sons’ friendships with girls.

The sad thing is I could go on and on with examples from my children’s lives and from my own life. Toxic masculinity is pervasive in our culture, ready to attack our children at every stage and Gillette is absolutely right that it is time to address it. 

What tips the scale from typical to toxic? And what can I do about it as a mom? Can I really fight the beast of toxic masculinity amidst everything else I have to juggle? I realized I already have two general strategies that help me be like the men at the end of the Gillette commercial.

Be Proactive

Just like Gilette, take time to intentionally examine your beliefs and values. I grew up with three sisters and my husband grew up with two brothers. It’s safe to say we had VERY different exposure to what it means to be masculine. When my oldest son was born, I had no idea what to do with a boy so I just treated him like a person. Same with my middle son and my daughter. I let their personalities unfold which included their expression of “masculine” and “feminine” traits. I have the same expectations for each member of our family – to participate in keeping our household running, to value what each person contributes to the whole. We have a safe word that means STOP and we take it seriously when horsing around. When we see aggression – passive or active – we discipline rather than pass it off as “boys will be boys” or “normal” sibling behavior. When we see toxic masculinity on TV, we hit pause and talk about what we are seeing, and we continue the open dialog in the course of everyday life. We talk about what #metoo means. We talk about respecting all people regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, religious background or any other difference. We talk about how being sporty does not make my son better than his older brother but that each of us has our own unique gifts and talents and the world is a better place when each of us is actively expressing them.

What Can A Mom Do About Toxic Masculinity? | Houston Moms Blog

Be Reactive

It’s going to happen; we are going to see toxic masculinity affect our families and when it does, do not let it slide. Call it out. Be respectful, be kind but don’t be silent. Tell your uncle who sends you sexist “jokes” over Messenger that they are not funny and he needs to stop. If your kid is being a bully, acknowledge it and help them through it. Recently, when my son cried because a new video game broke, my husband expected him to stop crying and stuff those feelings away. I on the other hand suggested my husband see things from my son’s perspective and encouraged my son to express his feelings. I’m so glad my husband gets it and quickly apologized to us both. He is demonstrating progress over perfection. He has a bigger mountain to climb when it comes to toxic masculinity but every time he calls it out, he shows our whole family what masculinity really is.  

What Can A Mom Do About Toxic Masculinity? | Houston Moms Blog

I’m not a perfect mom and I don’t deal with every toxic masculinity situation in a perfect way but I see it and I am doing something about it. Are you?


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4 COMMENTS

  1. We live in the most free and pro-woman society to ever exist, and now women are creating stupid made up phrases like “toxic masculinty” to beat down our men. What little boys need is fathers who teach them to be protectors and leaders. We now have a generation of confused kids because the standards and expectations don’t make sense. If you want your boys to grow up to be strong husbands, fathers, and community leaders they need more positive male role models, and interaction with men, not more women telling boys how to be boys.

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