in 1984 Herbert Grönemeyer asked: “When is a man a man?” And immediately offered several contradictory answers. Accordingly, a man was a man if he “can provide security” and “wars,” if he is “vulnerable” and “always ready.” And Mr. Grönemeyer was right.
An unhealthy tough guy mission statement
Because the classic ideal of masculinity à la John Wayne was already competing with alternatives and, above all, with male sensibility and reality in the 1980s. There is not only one image of a man, but only an incomplete model. But there’s one thing that, despite its toxic power, still lingers, even if it’s falling behind: the unhealthy model of the tough guy.
Men on the covers and one
The new masculinities are here. It’s not just one, there are many that compete with the old ideal of the tough. They beam from magazine and record covers, are celebrated and attacked online. Many media present alternative proposals for masculinity, different plans for life. TV shows document the lives of passionate parents and housewives. Experience reports about sensitive participants in men’s groups circulate in media libraries.
The exit is not even headline worthy. So have we overcome the old ideal of the heterosexual male who is inherently handsome, strong, dominant, cognitively superior, psychologically stable, fertile, robust, matter-of-fact, and emotionally unshakable? No, because the classic ideal of masculinity is not as outdated as it seems.
“Toxic masculinity”: what does it have to do with us?
Admittedly, “toxic masculinity” sounds very drastic. So is the term an overstatement, a feminist battle term, a loud accusation that has nothing to do with the masses – regardless of gender?
The term was coined by women’s rights activists in the 1980s and describes ideals of masculinity characterized by dominance. “Toxic” is masculinity when emotional coldness becomes the ideal. It means glorifying or legitimizing aggression, oppression and violence on the basis of gender. Blockbuses of recent decades carry this spirit.
Madeleine Swann: “You shouldn’t stare like that.”
James Bond: “And you shouldn’t look like that.”
Dialogue from the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.
But harming others is only one side of the coin of toxic masculinity. Men who focus on a destructive ideal harm themselves. The toxic potential of this example is also directed against their own health.
Young men welcome new role models
The good news is that there is a shift in public consciousness that is also reflected in cultural representations of the “new masculinity”. There is a desire for a new image of men. This is supported by current research from the Men’s Health Foundation, which shows that young men identify more with empathic partnership expectations than with the classic model:
“Traditional-hegemonic constructions of masculinity no longer seem like an attractive, legitimate ideal, but are stigmatized as ‘toxic.’
Excerpt from the 2022 Young Men and Their Health survey
Boys are the “weaker” sex: life expectancy is five years shorter
The cultural proposition of new role models is well received. But some unhealthy ideas about what a man should be remain. Being defined as a man has biological and normative aspects. Every society has ideas about how a man should behave in relation to his health, what he should feel.
Anyone born as a boy in Germany these days can expect to live five years shorter than a girl of the same age. Despite the raised new…