Much of the literature surrounding gender emphasizes the ways in which women are often disadvantaged by varying forms of masculinity. In these contexts, we focus on how women should deal with pernicious displays of manhood—how they can fight against it—but we do not tackle toxic displays of masculinity at their core. Instead we expect women to cater to these fragile masculinities.

It is far less common for us to worry about men and the very narrow box of masculinity that confines them. We don’t pay much attention to masculinity exclusively, reasonably so, given its privilege and power. We do not police masculinity. Conversely, society fixates on regulating the construct of femininity. This blatant indifference for the status of manhood has lent itself to toxic masculinity, a variation that exaggerates the conventional notions of manhood. At the hands of toxic masculinity, we all lose. Some of us, however, lose more.

To clarify, “masculinity” in this context refers not to inherent male traits but to the social construction of manhood. When we talk about the harmful effects of toxic masculinity, we are not criticizing men, but rather calling attention to the unfair standards imposed upon them. Some of the characteristics of toxic masculinity, to name a few, include: the suppression of emotions, aggression and misogyny.

Toxic masculinity has colored my experience as a man with social anxiety: I have often been made to feel ashamed of my meekness (often equated to unmanliness) and I have often been told to be more aggressive (this word is often used interchangeably with masculine). In that vein, I have been reminded that boys don’t cry one too many times (the rare moments in which I do cry, I often find myself feeling guilty). I have regularly been excluded from conversations among other young men, particularly in high school when the substance of these conversations regarded sex. I usually had little interest in talking about my sex life (or lack thereof). Talking about sex, particularly heterosexual sex, can often be a communal experience among young males. The issue that arises within these conversations is the tendency to dehumanize the women involved. Of course, these men are often merely sharing details of their sexcapades as grounds to warrant their masculinity; however, these conversations plant seeds of misogyny (a symptom of toxic masculinity).

I was often ostracized by male peers who had no interest in tainting their burgeoning masculinity with anything considered “unmanly.” The endless pursuit of young men to be more masculine coupled with the blatant indifference to this phenomenon is troubling.

Our culture does a disservice to men when it expects them to adhere to these notions of toxic masculinity—while ignoring the harm it inflicts on all genders. The way in which our culture has normalized negative male behavior is disconcerting.

Although we commonly discuss definitions of femininity, we are still relatively ignorant about masculinity in its various forms. When we do recognize the potential harms of toxic masculinity, we don’t take the necessary steps to address it.

Like many, I am still trying to unlearn the corrosive notions of masculinity that I internalized while growing up. However, the lack of societal discourse regarding positive notions of masculinity is appalling. Without positive displays and much-needed conversation on the subject of toxic masculinity and the way in which it affects men, this cycle goes undisturbed.