AS advocates working in the human rights sector, something that often comes up in our work is the concept of toxic masculinity. While the term is often thrown around, not many understand what it means, and how it continues to impact vulnerable populations such as women and children.
With ChildLinK’s launch of Blue Umbrella Day (BUD) on April 15th, the organisation, over the next two years, will be facilitating an evidence-based public education campaign under the theme, “Promoting Healthy Masculinity and Communities”. This campaign is a component of the One Thousand Boys initiative, and will centre on the need for the care of boys, and ensuring their access to support services.
Boys are often not offered a lot of protection from their families, communities and the State. They are seen as being less vulnerable than girls, as the belief is that they are able to protect themselves from abuse. Even in cases where abuse against boys is evident, it is seen as a means of “toughening” them up, rather than one that is significantly harming them.
As the main survivors of sexual and physical violence, it is understandable that the resources that are available for support are largely targetted towards women and girls. This focus, however, results in a steadily unaddressed gap as it relates to relevant support for male survivors of violence. This lack of focused care is due, in part, to the belief that males cannot be victims of sexual and physical abuse. This, added with the expectation that men and boys must always be strong and aggressive, adds to the low numbers of survivors that come forward with their experiences, as they believe they will be shamed or targetted.
These expectations of male strength too often contribute towards unhealthy coping and communication practices. This is seen not only in the way boys address their emotional needs as adults, but also manifests in the way in which they relate to others, particularly those who are seen as being weaker than them, or not adhering to set principles of manhood.
Men and boys must actively work on giving up the idea that power over others is the foundation for their strength. Males must seek out opportunities to promote healthy environments for learning, growth and support for their peers and other survivors of violence.
It is important to note that toxic masculinity does not mean that masculinity itself is inherently harmful, but rather it refers to the attitudes, behaviors and systems that promotes and maintains harmful ideas about what it means to be a man. It is only through commitment towards changed ways of thinking and acting that they can begin to do the work necessary at challenging toxic masculinity in both internal and external ways. Through this, we will begin to see lower rates of violence that is both perpetrated and experienced by men and boys.