Toxic Masculinity: Black, Indigenous and Racialized Men's Mental Health

November is Men's Health Month

When a man enters the room, what makes him a man? Is it his compassionate aura? Perhaps his kindness, and empathy towards others?

What secures men in their masculinity has become polluted by patriarchal standards of manhood. Surely, strength, courage, and independence can be positively attributed to the traditional take on masculinity. However, the toxicity emerges when these traits compel men to display unhealthy behaviours that negatively impact them and the people around them. Toxic masculinity refers to the socially constructed need for men to display violence as a form of power, dominance over women, avoid emotional expression, and express contempt for the LGBTQ community. In addition, the social expectation for men to be breadwinners of the family further reinforces a need for power and control. Unsurprisingly, research has consistently pointed towards toxic masculinity as an underlying cause for many of men’s mental health issues seen today. But for Black, Indigenous, and racialized men, the effects are aggravated through the dynamic interactions between race and masculinity.

a man
Illustration: Nathalie Lees

Four out of five suicides are committed by men. Although women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are 3.5 times more likely to die from it. The most prevalent mental health disorders amongst men are depression, anxiety, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Mood disorder. One of the most prominent trends seen across all ethnicities is that men are much less likely to seek mental health support than women. In fact, 49% of men feel more depressed than they are willing to admit to the people around them, and 45% believe mental health issues can be solved on their own.

In a society where emotional expression is associated with weakness and femininity, a hypermasculine persona tends to associate strength with emotional numbness. The pressure to rely on yourself and not seek help from others isolates men from their potential social support systems - an essential component to healthy living. In this way, it comes as no surprise that men experience increased difficulty in accepting, understanding, and managing their emotions. Toxic masculinity acts as a barrier for men to access mental health support - it’s not that boys don’t cry, it’s that boys aren’t allowed to cry.

Black men in particular, face the distinct challenge of being stereotyped as hypermasculine. Black masculinity can be traced back to slavery, when Black men who were forced to perform in highly physical activities were traded as goods. The racist stereotype of Black men being more violent and aggressive mingles with the “strong and emotionless” persona promoted by toxic masculinity. This causes Black men to bury their emotions and chase machismo. The phrase, “I was forced to fight, and now I’m learning to cry” accurately depicts the systemic forces that have prevented Black men from acknowledging their mental health issues and seeking treatment for it.

Even when Black, Indigenous, and racialized men are able to recognize the need for mental health support, ongoing racism, violence, and social exclusion stops them from accessing those necessary resources. Indigenous men tend to minimally engage in mental health treatment due to the bias found in the healthcare system. When the reluctance to address mental health is paired with experiences of racism, the consequence is men exhibiting hatred and distrust towards the mental health system. Considering that Canadian Indigenous men have a suicide rate that is double that of the Canadian national average, the need for culturally responsive mental health support becomes all-the-more necessary.

Asian men also fall victim to the harmful overlap between toxic masculinity and racism. The model minority myth is one that defines Asians as intellectual, over-achieving, and model citizens. This, in combination with the social expectation for men to be the breadwinners of the family, places an enormously large expectation for Asian men to be academically and financially superior. Asian youth who choose non-traditional career paths or simply do not meet the academic expectations are treated as less manly, which can be destructive to one’s mental state.

A recent study has shown that those who still adhere to a toxic masculine mindset are actually correlated with experiencing increased mental health problems like stress and depression. This is largely due to the negative effects toxic masculinity has on social functioning. Perhaps 40 years ago you could behave in a sexist way and people would not speak out against you,” said Joel Wong, associate professor of psychology. "Today, however, people around you would speak out and you’d get pushback,” he said.

Today, a growing number of men are rejecting the norms of masculinity. Removing the rigid boundaries that dictate how manly a man is, has the capacity to significantly improve men’s mental health – cleansing toxicity off of masculinity once and for all.

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Buvneet is a 3rd year Indo-Canadian student at McMaster University majoring in Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization, and minoring in Community Engagement.

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