The masculinity of a young man is highly regarded in society. From childhood, boys are shaped by their male peers, mentors, and media on how to have and show their masculinity. Most young men have trouble deciding for themselves what “being a man” might mean as they get older. Through various sources, boys are often sent mixed messages on masculinity and the role they should eventually play within society, their families, and circle of friends. While some messages promote healthy ideas of hard work, honesty, and respect for oneself and others, many others only go as far as teaching a child to repress their emotions, just in case those emotions take away from their stoic male figure.
Why is it a Problem?
With pressure to act a certain way from all directions, it’s not difficult to see what might happen if there’s no way to get away from the pressure of a toxic version of masculinity. All that mental and sometimes physical stress can warrant a need to escape. When we look for help in substances and behaviors, they ultimately betray us.
The “Tough Guy” Archetype and Why It Hurts Us
From a very young age, boys are exposed to the examples and ideas of “toughness”. They learn how to play tough in their relationships, how to survive, and how not to be taken advantage of. Lacking that tough guy exterior can oftentimes make a young man seem, “lesser than” to his peers. It’s an idea that we should continuously challenge, but it can be difficult when a young man is already leaned into that negative persona. We’re bombarded with thoughts and opinions that we should feel ashamed and embarrassed for feeling or even expressing non-aggressive emotions. Oftentimes getting emotional is even seen as a weakness, over the strength of character. It leads to toxic thoughts and perpetrates an idea of an unhealthy masculine stereotype.
Encouraging young men to exist in a certain way isn’t, in itself, a negative thing. For instance, assuming a young man should possess strength and independence isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, strength in oneself and genuine independence is healthy for any person. The mistake is when we encourage positive personal attributes in all the wrong ways. More so, these attributes are often seen as “this, but never that”. Being strong means showing strength, but never weakness. Being independent means being visibly detached, but never asking for help, never seeking harmony with others, and never seeking out healthy relationships. It’s a worrisome way to exist and can lead to more than just behavioral issues.
Higher Risk of Addiction
Young men, especially those that didn’t have the chance to grow up alongside well-rounded male mentors, are less likely to express and experience their emotions in a healthy manner. Unresolved emotional matters and stress can lead to young men looking for an outlet—any outlet—for the pressure they feel.
The Correlation Isn’t a Coincidence
Statistics are the way they are for a reason. And statistically speaking, higher rates of both drug and alcohol dependence are seen in men of all age groups. Although not all reasons for substance abuse are gender-related, it’s not a coincidence that the patterns of substance abuse and mental illness are often fought against by widening the idea of what masculinity can and should mean. By choosing a different path, one that acknowledges the importance of being…
- Emotionally open
- Willingness to improve oneself
…young men have the chance to fight back against their addictions, afflictions, and the idea of masculinity they’ve been suppressed by. This is why we believe in the Passport to Manhood program. Changing a lifelong perception of what it means to be a man, through positive mentorship and physical and mental work, helps each boy to overcome the negative relationship they have with a transformation into confident adulthood.