Posted: 29 August 2019

Is toxic masculinity the cause of unhappiness in boys?

Our Good Childhood Report has found that there's been a significant decline in boys' happiness with their appearance. Research suggests that more and more boys are affected by the societal pressures about how they should look.

Last year, we found that non-stop comments about appearance was especially harmful to girls' well-being, this year we found that the gender gap is narrowing and boys' are also feeling the pressure to look and behave in a certain way.

In 2019, what role does toxic masculinity play in shaping young boys' well-being?

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is a term commonly used to describe harmful attitudes and behaviours that stem from archaic stereotypes of what it is to ‘be a man’.

For example, the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ is commonly used in response to two boys fighting. It normalises and promotes violence as a masculine trait, so boys grow up in a world defined by manly winners and unmanly losers.

Obviously, toxic masculinity is not just harmful to boys. Conformity to toxic masculine behaviour such as dominance and aggression is harmful to our society and to the conformists themselves. The over-aspiration of dominance challenges women's basic human rights and can be linked to the prevalence of harassment and sexual assaults in society.

The best a boy can be

Despite toxic masculinity being prevalent in advertising, movies, and music videos for decades, toxic imagery is now far more accessible to young people through social media. Not only is it more accessible, it is more scrutinised. Anyone can post anything and anyone can comment. Perhaps this growing online forum of toxic imagery is the link between boys' increasing unhappiness in their appearance.

In 1994, your child might catch a clip of the 'Diet Coke hunk' during an ad break but now a quick scroll on social media will reveal an unrealistic image of a man or woman (with thousands of likes) within seconds.

This year's Love Island broke viewing records and has been heavily criticised for promoting toxic masculinity. The men on the show are athletic, good-looking and competitive. The women are slim, beautiful and referred to as 'difficult' if they show signs of anger or annoyance. It's the most watched programme on TV this year among 16-24 year olds, who are seeing the contestants and potentially developing unrealistic expectations over what it is to be a man or a woman.



The best a person can be

The notion that men must be dominant and look a certain way to command respect is dangerous, dated and untrue. However, young people live in a society where good looks get likes.

There may be a growing consciousness over the promotion of toxic masculinity but our evidence shows young people are becoming more and more concerned with how they look, and this is affecting their well-being.

As a society, we need to be more positive, inclusive and attainable in setting out what it means to be a young person moving into adulthood. Only by listening to young people can we help them overcome the challenges of modern childhood and face their future with hope, confidence and optimism.


By Kaja Zuvac-Graves

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