Rory Maddinson on ‘International Men’s Day’
What does it mean to be a man? How should we view masculinity? What are some of the main challenges facing men today? These are just some of the questions I hope to answer in my talk on International Men’s Day today.
Some of you may be wondering why I feel that I can stand up here in front of you and represent the views and struggles of men. After all, in many ways I don’t fit the traditional image of a man. My College rugby career was short-lived (I now do Group Two recreational swimming) and the last time I went in the gym was to ask a friend if they’d seen my Year 1 Mechanics textbook. Yet, I feel that, on a deeper level, beyond the basic stereotypes of what a man should be like, I understand and have experienced some of the central issues facing men today.
The main challenge that I want to focus on and talk to you about today is toxic masculinity. ‘Toxic masculinity’ is quite a complex phrase. It’s something you could probably drop in an English essay alongside ‘juxtapose’ and ‘oxymoron’ to sound intelligent. However, toxic masculinity is also critical to understanding some of the issues many of you in this Chapel have faced and will continue to face in your lives. So, let’s unpack toxic masculinity. When we talk about toxic water or toxic food, we are not suggesting that all water or all food is toxic. It’s the same with toxic masculinity.
It is a term that recognises that there are good parts to masculinity, what we define as manly attributes, but also parts that are damaging and corrupting. Toxic masculinity involves cultural and societal pressures for men to behave in a certain way, the results of which harm both the man and the people around him.
So, what are these ‘toxic’ elements of masculinity? For me, it primarily comes under three categories: domination, homophobia, and emotional repression. Let’s go through those one by one. Domination: the need for a man to assert their physical strength over another, often through violence. Homophobia: the view that not liking women means that you are somehow less of a man. Emotional repression: the belief that men don’t cry; that men should be ‘lone wolves’. Each one of these characteristics that make up traditional masculinity is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. If left unchecked, it can lead to domestic abuse, hate speech and even to suicide.
The impacts of toxic masculinity are very real and very present in our society. According to the World Health Organisation, there were 800,000 known suicides last year. 75% of these suicides were men. That means approximately 600,000 men took their lives. Moreover, a survey in 2020 found that 50% of men over the age of 25 cannot name either a close friend or best friend. Imagine the loneliness, the isolation, inherent in that statement.
If these statistics are not enough to convince you of the importance of tackling toxic masculinity, I’d encourage you all to think about your personal lives. When was the last time you hugged a male friend of yours? When was the last time you sat down with another man and had a genuine, truthful, honest conversation about your mental health or about your personal achievements?
As I look around this Chapel today I see a man who has problems at home and challenges at school, who feels suffocated and unable to speak out. I see a man who hasn’t seen his family in a month, who hasn’t had a proper hug since his mum said goodbye at the airport. I see a man who knows no other way of expressing his emotions than punching a wall. I see all these people; these people are real. They are my family. They are my friends. They are me. I have heard all these stories from men I know in Christowe, in College, and in my wider life. They are all fundamentally linked to this issue of toxic masculinity. When writing this talk I thought back to my own time in Third Form. What would I want to hear as I sat there in Chapel where you are now? I wish someone had told the 14-year-old me: traditional masculinity is overrated; a man can express emotion through ways other than anger; a man can hug his friends; a man can cry.
To finish, what do I want you to take away from this today? If you only remember one thing, remember this: the only way to combat toxic masculinity is to recognise it within yourself and within others. Embrace the positives of masculinity: the desire to provide for others, to be devoted to your work, to excel in sports, and reject the negatives: domination, homophobia, emotional repression. On International Men’s Day, I urge you to take up the challenge to be a truly good man. Thank you.