As a Caucasian male from an upper middle-class family, I'm a member of likely the most privileged group on this continent, let alone the planet itself. That privilege is not without its own share of negativity, however. There are significant difficulties men face in their lives—from childhood to adulthood—which are largely unaddressed, and leave men victim to the toxicity that runs rampant through stereotypical societal masculinity.
Before anyone gets exceedingly frustrated about where I may be going with this, allow me to offer a bit of a disclaimer. In no way, shape, or form am I comparing the difficulties men face to those faced by women; nothing positive is gained by making that comparison. I'm also not offering any kind of excuse for, or shirking responsibility of, the actions men may have committed in their lives—towards women or other men—in writing this; everyone is responsible for their own actions and choices, regardless of the stories, limitations, and patterns they were raised with. What I wish to highlight are the significant pressures men face, as well as the lack of space held for discussion of them in today's society. Toxic masculinity affects us all, and the only way we can excise it from our lives is a willingness to be open, listen, and assist where we can.
As men, societal stereotypes have us believe if we open up, show vulnerability, ask for help, or embrace our emotions, that we are weak, ineffectual, and simply lesser than. The expectation to fulfill some kind of typified role in our lives—and society at large—places tremendous pressure on us, especially if it's in our nature to embrace a different path. We are bombarded with the concept of being "tough", having to be a "protector", and expected to keep all our emotions stuffed down and repressed, because it's "weak" to express them. These elements, and so many others, lead to a great deal of confusion, stress, anxiety, frustration, and fear within us. Without healthy guidance and permission to step outside of these toxic ideas, the internalized pressure can very easily lead to acting out in deeply negative ways which affect those around us, as well as ourselves.
Movements like #MeToo are phenomenal because they bring awareness to injustice and all manner of negativity which has been kept in the dark. The toxicity behind that behaviour and negativity is hardly new, of course, and needs to be explored just as readily as their ultimate outcome. In the same way #MeToo has highlighted the improprieties by men against women, I want society to explore and acknowledge the damage screwed-up stereotypes, stigmas, and expectations it holds over men (and women) has created. We're at a point right now when hot-button topics and open, raw, discussion are being embraced. We need to continue pulling at these threads and holding space for people and topics that are necessary for us to heal, grow, and change.
I want to tell men that it's perfectly alright to exist outside the norm; that it's ok to admit you're overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, fearful, or any of the other countless emotions you're not "supposed" to feel. You don't have to let the stigma and toxicity pin you down in a place that keeps you from becoming a whole and complete person. There are those out there—myself included—who want to listen to the difficulties you face, and help you to embrace the kind of positive and empowering life you want to live. Despite what stereotype would have you believe, opening up about hardship and emotion takes tremendous courage and fortitude; you're worth every ounce of strength it takes to do so.