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The Dark Side Of Masculinity, Or How Rigid Behaviour Codes Hinder Men’s Potential

The Dark Side Of Masculinity, Or How Rigid Behaviour Codes Hinder Men’s Potential

Words by
Photos by
Johanna Persson
Art Bicnick

Published April 5, 2018

Toxic masculinity is not the easiest of concepts to just delve into, as it comes with an abundance of negative connotations, which understandably create a lot of tension and resistance among men. Let’s be honestwhy would anyone want to hear that there is something toxic in the way they were raised or how they are functioning in the society? It’s obvious that it takes a lot of effort and courage to first face and then to admit to such an uncomfortable truth.

To get some more insight into the subject, I spoke with the duo behind the #karlmennskan (literally, “masculinity”) campaign which blew up on social media in the middle of March. While it was Þorsteinn V. Einarsson who created the Facebook post encouraging men to share their personal experiences of how masculinity made their life more difficult, it was Sóley Tómasdóttir who started the conversation and gave him the idea in the first place. They are both feminists who see this campaign as a crucial and necessary step towards true gender equality which should concentrate on women and men respectively.

A restraining force, a limiting space

“I think about toxic masculinity only as the negative side of masculinitythe aspects of it that limit men and their choices, hinder their dreams and possibilities, create rigid codes of behaviour,” Sóley tells me.

“It’s about how toxic masculinity controls men and holds them back from showing their true emotions and feelings.”

For her, the testimonies which constitute the campaign are a living, continuous attempt at defining what toxic masculinity is, what it is not, and how it interferes with men’s lives, just as the #metoo campaign describes and determines what sexually-motivated violence and harassment is, and how women’s lives are affected by it on many different levels.

“It’s about how toxic masculinity controls men and holds them back from showing their true emotions and feelings, prohibits them from following their chosen paths,” says Þorsteinn. “I feel that we have such a small space to behave in as men in the patriarchal society. There are all these rules which dictate how we are supposed to express ourselves, how to look, what to feel and what to be interested in. There is a lack of breathing space in all those restraints,” he explains.

Shameful femininity

Þorsteinn recounts a story which was an eye-opener for him. There was a drag show at the youth centre where he worked and he agreed to have his nails painted with nail polish for the occasion. Not washing it off straight away, he was shocked to experience how the small detail changed other peoples’ perception of him in the following days.

“Boys are taught that they are stronger and better than girls, and that being girly is something bad.”

“I became like a worse category of a man, suddenly everyone felt entitled to make jokes and comments about this small thing. I don’t think people meant to be ruthless, but it certainly felt this way, because of these constant comments” he recalls.

“It all starts in early childhood,” says Sóley. “Boys are taught that they are stronger and better than girls, and that being girly is something bad. It’s not their fault that it happens, those are the clues they pick up from their surroundings, this is the message that is present in our society. They start to feel the need to differentiate from girls—they become ashamed or fight back against the more conventionally feminine parts of themselves and compensate by overdoing the masculine ones,” she states.

Early introduction to sexism

She continues to explain that this serves as an early introduction to sexism and homophobia. If the traditionally masculine characteristics are valued higher in the society, the feminine automatically becomes “less worthy”, which is also one of the reasons why gender wage gap (women being paid less than their male counterparts) exists, and why traditionally female occupations are valued lower and paid less than those traditionally associated with men.

Boyish girls and girly boys

It’s also interesting to notice the part that humour plays in all of this and how intertwined with violence it is. Sóley cites an example of a tomboy (a girl acting in a boyish manner) who is generally accepted in the society, contrary to the more girly boys who tend to be bullied and made fun of in very demeaning ways. Similarly to Þorsteinn’s nail polish situation, humour is used here to strengthen the masculinity of the one who makes the joke, and to punish the feminine behaviour, as though it was a transgression.

A common ground

When I ask Þorsteinn about how other men who don’t consider themselves feminists are reacting to the campaign, he says that he is always looking for common ground and understanding.

“Feminism is like a natural force—the pressure builds up until something bursts.”

“Many men are focused on different things than I want to be focused on but when we talk together, we do agree that there is something wrong with this system. The only thing is that we don’t quite agree on how to change it.”

Sóley sums up the conversation by stating that feminism is like a natural force—the pressure builds up until something bursts. “This was the case with #metoo when after centuries of sexual harassment, something finally exploded just because of the fact that a few women in Hollywood combined their forces and rose against it,” she says and adds that #karlmennskan is like a continuum of this explosion, a volcanic eruption with unforeseeable consequences.


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