I receive flack from some colleagues when I mention I have committed myself to the task of encouraging and equipping those good at being men to become good men. Sadly, this reflects how contemporary society has largely turned its back on men and manhood.
Are Men Toxic?
The most indicative evidence of this turn away from men are the guidelines promoted by the American Psychological Association (APA), which describes traditional masculinity as:
A particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.1
The APA believes this description “represents a set of characteristics that are unhealthy for men”. They now call this “toxic masculinity”. But masculinity need not be held ransom by these standards, nor this negative way of viewing them.
Expressed at their extreme, these characteristics can be damaging for everyone involved, no doubt. Rather than a toxic masculinity, this is hypermasculinity, the tendency of men to encourage in each other more extreme expressions of typically masculine behaviour. For example, men might start by describing their workout routines, then their personal best at the bench press. They might then start comparing the sizes of each other’s biceps. This progresses to arm wrestling.
Then one man loses to another over whom he expected to win. He cries, “Foul!”, and accuses the other of cheating. A verbal exchange turns into violence as they punch each other to the ground.
This perpetuating cycle of increasing violence is hypermasculinity. No step, in and of itself, is bad or “toxic”, yet the cycle ends with bruised egos, pain and likely fractured relationships. However, this is how men interact. Not all men but men typically because we encourage strength and mastery in each other, and we vie for honour.
While this is not behaviour we would expect of women, this fact does not make this behaviour “toxic” but it can get out of hand. Hence, hypermasculinity is a much better term.
Galen Watts, a PhD Candidate in the Cultural Studies Graduate Program, Queen’s University, Ontario, expressed the point this way:
Debates about toxic masculinity are really about the changing nature of what it means to be a man.Galen Watts2
How to Keep Men From Becoming Toxic?
As I noted on my “About Me” page, according to Glenn Stanton,
Manhood is not natural, but it is essential … manhood is in crisis today … Men are falling behind women in important measures of personal and social well-being”. He argues quite convincingly that boys are males by nature but only transition into manhood “with significant, intentional work by other men.Glenn Stanton3
In other words, it takes a community of men to raise a man.
But what happens if you don’t have a community of men around you when you need them? This is a recipe for disaster!
With such thoughts rolling around my brain, I happened to receive an e-newsletter published by the Australian Men’s Health Forum (AMHF) and noticed they were highlighting an article titled, “Man On A (Mentoring) Mission”.4 With this article the organisation was highlighting the story and work of Ian Westmoreland who found purpose for his life through mentoring others.
Through his experiences with helping others, Ian discovered he needed a mentor himself. Finding a gap in the health and social service sector therefore led Ian to establish a mentoring program for Australian men called Mentoring Men.
With a life mentor you can openly talk about any subject without fear of judgement, something I’ve benefited from personally.Ian Westmoreland, founder of Mentoring Men
Mentoring Men is a free service that carefully matches men (aged 18+) with another adult male who is trained to listen, support and help define goals in life. Mentoring Men also provides referrals to other professional service providers depending on the mentee’s (i.e the one seeking mentoring) needs.
I have since taken the required training and am an accredited Mentoring Men mentor. While Ian and his team are doing their level best to roll out the program across Australia, it takes time, money and resources. I am a part of the team who are promoting the program in Southwestern Sydney.
If you are seeking a mentor or want to offer yourself as a mentor, then please visit the Mentoring Men website for more information.
- “APA Guidelines For Psychological Practice With Boys And Men”, Aug-2018, https://tinyurl.com/yb3go87s (accessed 23-Jan-2020).
- “Stop scolding men for being ‘toxic’”, The Conversation, 29-Apr-2019, https://tinyurl.com/wxpvu5j (Accessed 23-Jan-2020).
- “Manhood Is Not Natural”, Public Discourse, 17-Dec-2017, https://tinyurl.com/y4ltxtex (accessed 23-Jan-2010).
- Kim Trengove, “Man On A (Mentoring) Mission”, AMHF, https://tinyurl.com/udz6hz8 (accessed 23-Jan-2020).