Toxic Masculinity and the Harmful Standards We’re All Expected to Meet


Recently I woke up uncharacteristically early for a Saturday to meet a friend and her baby for coffee. I am embarrassed to say that by “uncharacteristically early” I mean 8:30am, which is not that early. I get it.

As I walked by two chipper twenty-something-year-old girls in skintight leggings either in route to or on their way back from a workout class, I found my mind reeling.

Why is it that I see so many more women in New York City whenever I wake up early on the weekends? Why do they seem so much more productive than men?

I first noticed this trend when I graduated from college. I would be out way too late at a local watering hole and overhear a couple girlfriends talking about their plans to wake up in six hours and meet for a workout class. My only plans for the next day were to sleep in till noon and order a bagel (with scallion cream cheese, obviously).

Reflecting today, I noticed that this tiny, little behavioral difference is so emblematic of society’s varying expectations of men and women.

Toxic masculinity has bred men to be the life of the party. Drink hard. Smoke cigarettes. Do drugs. Be indomitable. This behavior always necessitates sleeping in to recover afterward and lower productivity.

For women, on the other hand, there is more of an emphasis on looks, composure, and output. Essentially, on being perfect.

This may sound misogynistic, backward, and antiquated, but unfortunately, these expectations still affect our society, though they are slowly changing. And the result is not very positive for men or women.

Women often burn the candle at both ends, affecting their stress levels and happiness, while men try to be tough and unbridled, which often leads in behaviors that are severely damaging to physical and mental health. In fact, toxic masculinity is often linked to why men have a shorter life expectancy than women.

Looking at these two women this morning, I felt a twinge of envy. I wish I was more of a morning person. I wish I took my fitness so seriously. I wish I was more productive. But I suspected I was zeroing in on the perceived positive side effects of the expectations of women.

Perhaps these girls were extremely tired from the night before and trying to please everyone and do it all and look beautiful and never complain. Or, perhaps, they did not go out and genuinely are morning people. Perhaps this is simply their way of practicing self-care. Why must I try to define them?

Nevertheless, I did feel envious. I am still unlearning habits formed at an early age.

In high school, when I was closeted and trying to fit in, I found one of the easiest ways to do so was to drink. Even more, I would be rewarded for drinking heavily. It was a demonstration of my masculinity. Even worse, the escapism that this provided me from the haunting mental occupation with my sexuality made alcohol even more seductive and compounded the drinking. The habit was forming, the instructions clear. I should drink a lot. The benefits are endless.

What they don’t talk about is the anxiety and laziness that is birthed from a lifestyle of partying to prove something. Most of my twenties, I would waste my weekends and leisure time imbibing like it was the night before the apocalypse, then feeling sad the next few days. I was stuck in this cycle.

It took getting cancer to become more reflective on these feelings of depression, due in large part to drinking, to cut alcohol out of my life. And the difference is major. My productivity has skyrocketed. (Though, I still decidedly am not a morning person).

Seeing these thin, legging-clad women bright and early brought me back to my twenties. Reminded me of this toxicity that I am unlearning. Reminded me that I have made changes, and that it is okay not to live up to the standards someone else put on me. But this morning also reminded me that women have it no easier in terms of what society asks of them. The grass is always greener.

We all need to come to the middle and find some balance. These expectations on everyone are too much. We all need to define what is meaningful for ourselves—this should not be up to society.

Who knew Lululemon could trigger me so much?

About Charles Razook

Charlie lives in New York City with his dog Margot. He received a BA from Princeton and an MBA from SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy.

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