Growing up, there was this brass ring I was reaching for to prove that I was a man.
Most (if not all) men have probably heard other guys saying that we’d need to conduct ourselves in a certain way to be “man enough”.
I used to face these challenges and followed them to prove myself to others, but as I grew older I realised that these attributes don’t actually make me a man.
Here are some of the traits of toxic masculinity.
My “Manliness” was Always Challenged
During my early teen years both in school and at work, I hung out around with the tough guys – the guys who drank beer like water, bullied others, and judged women’s appearances all the time.
It was like you weren’t a man if you didn’t go out drinking every week, or till you had slept with 10 women.
There was also a time when I cared about being in school. But when one guy told me school was useless and that he has a better life without it, I took his word as gospel.
Turns out he’s the kind who job-hops when things get tough.
Why did they do those things? Because it was “manly”. But I didn’t question them at the time and followed them blindly.
My manhood was always falsely challenged, but it got to a point where I realised that these qualities didn’t actually make me a man.
By the time I was 16, I grew out of that prejudicial mindset, took life into my own hands and tried to reinvent myself. That brings us to the next problem toxic masculinity brews…
I Faced Judgement for Being “Different” and was Taught to Judge Others
As soon as I tried to grow out of that toxic masculinity mindset, I was on the receiving end of constant verbal abuse from my former mentors.
I was criticised for my different opinions and falsely believed that I needed to be just like them to gain their acceptance. But really, I was just scared of being judged.
So I took their advice and jumped back in – started listening to heavy metal music, watching macho-action films, drinking regularly, tried smoking and dressing in a certain style – not because I wanted to, but because it’s what would have made me a man in their eyes.
And when I saw others not liking what I liked or doing something that wasn’t what I was doing, I started talking shit about them and judging them for not following my path.
Doing all of those things became my skewed reality of manliness, and I spread it onto others just to validate my choices. I was scared of being kicked out and judged for not being like them, so I played along.
At some point though, I realised that I became a bully and had lost my way again, so I stopped doing things just to make myself seem manly for good.
I stopped talking about women as if they were nothing more than a trophy, started being honest about my choice in music, and “danced like a pondan”. I even stopped dressing up like I was edgy and most importantly, I learned to accept people as they were.
I’m not fully there yet because the temptation is still there. But a long time ago, whenever I was at a kopitiam and someone pointed out a hot girl I would look across immediately.
Now, I simply go, “Whatever.”
I Had to Prove that I was Always Right, Even When I Wasn’t
Having a massive ego is part of the toxic game – if you’re ever wrong or didn’t know something a real man would know, you’re weak.
Whenever someone would correct me, I would tell them to shut up to reinforce that my opinions were correct. I even got into a lot of arguments with my mom about my lifestyle choices, but even though she was right AND she was my mother, I decided to stick to my wits and act tough.
And I didn’t care if others told me to change; I kept within the same group that fed me with excuses to stick to who I was. In that time, the only person’s opinions and feelings that mattered were my own – and whomever shared my views.
But when I was truly alone had no one to justify or rationalise my actions, I realised how wrong I was and how much of a man I wasn’t.
So, I started taking in criticism and changing my ways when people told me I needed to. I stopped taking everything as a zero-sum situation.
Being put down to size shed a new perspective on everything that was wrong with me. It made me see what I actually was a part of, and forced me to be accountable for all my mistakes.
Being wrong isn’t bad – you learn more about yourself. And if you take other people’s opinions constructively, you realise that there is something wrong with you.
It doesn’t make you less of a man to take life advice from others and being vulnerable sometimes can be what really makes you a man.
I Was Shown Cruel Personality Traits
Before late-2017, I couldn’t really work out the differences between what was and what wasn’t OK when it came to being a man. I used to not take sexual harassment or verbal insults that seriously because of my toxic upbringing, and I never felt sympathetic for others.
Going back to the toxic gang at my workplace, I was always a victim of sexual harassment – having various parts of my body groped and my balls painfully tapped were pretty common. But even when I got pissed off by these cases I laughed them off to avoid confrontation.
And when I saw guys treating women poorly, like glaring and chuckling at them or giving them unwanted advances, I did nothing because I was too afraid to create conflict.
I had a female colleague in the kitchen who was constantly a victim of unwanted advances by all the guys in the kitchen and treated like a sex object to the point that she got depressed and left the company.
I never personally did those things to her, but I always looked the other way and pretended that nothing happened.
I was part of the gang that stared at women walking by and judged them. I used to think that it was OK to treat women like replaceable objects, and I would always pull off the same groping methods on other guys, few of which I consider close friends.
Had I not stopped going down the path I was on, I don’t know what excuse of a man I would’ve become. Succumbing to the voices in my head telling me I was wrong this whole time and taking the advice of others for once made me realise that what I was doing was horrible, and I am trying to write off those sins.
There will be people that read this and say ‘Wow, you’re such a snowflake” or “Why couldn’t you just let them be?”
The thing is, if no one talks about the “little” problems then it’s not long before we’re allowing men with enough willpower to rape women to roam around freely and thinking that nothing will happen to them.
Guys, don’t let toxic masculinity succumb you or help to spread it – no matter how many guys you come across judge you, don’t let anyone give you guidelines on how to be a man, because their idea of manliness is probably screwed up. And if you see something wrong, speak up.
Every man will experience toxic masculinity in their life, Terry Crews is someone I follow avidly as an open victim of sexual assault and toxic masculinity. From our teenage years until whatever workplace we’re in – it exists everywhere.
For more articles on toxic masculinity, read I Was Betrayed and Assaulted by a Male Friend One Night. Here’s What I Wish People Didn’t Say to Me After, and The Night My Ex-Boyfriend Almost Killed Me.