Whether you broke your favorite toy or got beaten up badly by other kids in your neighborhood, as a boy, you probably heard someone telling you not to cry. Not because the situation wasn’t worth crying for but simply because boys aren’t allowed to cry. They shouldn’t seem weak otherwise no one would take them seriously. Boys and men are constantly reminded to bury their feelings and handle their physical and emotional pain alone.
Things don’t get any better as you get older, actually, you are more likely to experience extra pressure from the ones around you. “If you want to cry, go hide somewhere first, never cry in front of your partner, family, or friends, they won’t take you seriously if you do that.” This is probably what someone have advised you to do at some point in your life.
Toxic masculinity puts pressure on men which some try to express by being violent or rude to their kids or partners. A study was done by Greater Good Science Center’s faculty director “Dacher Keltner” shows that humans are capable of experiencing not just six different emotions but rather twenty-seven different emotions. And how many of these emotions do you think our men are able to express?
Emotions like fear, romance, and sadness are harder to be expressed by men than by women which creates a gap between what a man should be like versus what a woman should be like. As a homosexual man, you are likely to experience the same amount of pressure from the ones around you and that could gradually lower your self-confidence and makes it harder for you to deal with your emotions. You feel like you have to adjust yourself based on the people around you. That’s why some men choose loneliness. Being alone could be the safest and most comfortable place to be in.
Toxic masculinity constantly attaches feelings like shame and guilt to the men who can’t manage their emotions. Other than depression and anxiety, suicide could be one of the things that men start thinking about when they understand that in most cases, they will be left alone to deal with their insecurities and difficulties.
Yousif, who’s an Iraqi gay man, says, “Our Iraqi society defines masculinity as the way that a man should behave and appear. Masculinity is defined through mustache, muscles, body hair, anger, and sense of protection. Our society says that a real man should be tough and solid and clearly show that by the way he moves and thinks.”
“If I personally get to define masculinity, I wouldn’t agree with the society’s definition. In my perspective, masculinity is to think and behave rationally whether it’s tough or delicate. It’s the actions of a man towards the greater good in his society no matter what shape he was in. As long as his actions benefit his society.”
Yousif adds that our society forces several restrictions on men by saying that it’s a shame to shed tears and a man isn’t allowed to show his weakness to anyone because that’s not a sign of masculinity. “A man can’t express his feelings to his wife in public because that’s not a thing a man would do! He can’t let her wear anything that might be a little exposed because in his head, his wife is his doll, and controlling what she wears is one way to express his masculinity.”
“If we want to talk about what harm the toxic masculinity brings to homosexual men specifically, then one word can describe it which is “death”. Homosexuality is forbidden by both religion and society. Even transgender and transsexual men aren’t seen from the Iraqi perspective as complete men but rather individuals who lack masculinity.”
“As a gay man, I have built a strong personality that allows me to avoid or stop the men who would think about harassing me or hurting me in any way. And that’s how I can keep myself safe whenever I am in a public space.”
“When it comes to home, I feel welcomed by my family and to me, the place is my comfort zone because I know how tough the outside world is to me and others like me.”
“Masculinity to me means being dependable, caring, trustworthy, and being someone who gives strength to others through hardships, and someone who has feelings. I don’t agree with how our Iraqi society defines masculinity, it just doesn’t make sense to me. To them, masculinity is translated to aggression, dominance, messy and dirty looks.” Jake says.
Jake is a gay man who tells his story of how toxic masculinity affects his life. He says that the continuous pressure from his family to spend most of his time outside the house became a habit at some point. And although he is now living alone, he can’t break this habit as he spends most of his time working outside or hang out with his friends.
“Spreading this wrong idea of masculinity brought us many negativity that gets expressed through aggression against women and domestic violence. Men from the LGBT+ community have to deal with the standards of our society that force them to live and behave in ways that are against their own nature and against what they want to be. These standards generate internalized homophobia and discrimination against “fem” or “soft” boys who sometimes turn to be straight but still get harassed or bullied.”
“I haven’t ever been able to freely express my emotions whether that was around my family, friends, or even strangers. As a kid, I was beaten up in the most terrifying ways you can think of. Whenever I cried or was seen by my dad crying, even when I was asleep, I would get beaten up. This ugly experience created a negative feeling within myself, and now I can only cry or express my feelings alone.”
“As an adult, these restrictions have been holding me back from many things, for example, I can’t use my real voice tone, eat, walk, talk or use my hand gestures the way I want. I can’t comment about most subjects freely and whenever I do, I have to watch out how I express myself.”
Jake believes that both social media and TV have a great impact on society so they should be used to change the definition of masculinity in people’s heads. He says, “If the definition of masculinity gets slowly changed from rough dirty heavily bearded aggressive men to soft caring dependable neutral looking freely dressed ones, then a lot of good things could happen.”
“Also, using examples of non-toxically masculine men from religious references like Joseph the son of Jacob or Jesus Christ could change the defining of masculinity in people’s heads.”
As a reader, how do you think the definition of masculinity could be changed in our society? What do you want our NGOs and the government to focus on doing to bring us a few steps towards a considerate and a caring society?
Lastly, what can you, as an Iraqi citizen, offer to the ones who deal with the pressure of toxic masculinity to make them feel better?