NY Mag: Men are Taking Classes to Unlearn ‘Toxic Masculinity’

An illustration of a hipster who might choose to attend a "Rethink Masculinity" class
Flickr/Cecilia Sánchez Sánchez

Troubled men across the country are turning to classes that help them “unlearn” their “toxic masculinity,” according to New York Magazine.

New York Magazine story published on Monday details the story of troubled Stephen Hicks, who turned to a “Rethink Masculinity” class to rid himself of his less than desirable behavior patterns.

“My relationship ended, then a lot of things started collapsing in front of me.I wasn’t doing really terrible things, but I also wasn’t being the most ideal Stephen I could be,” he says. “The bar is really lowered for cisgender guys.”

Hicks enrolled in a “Rethink Masculinity” class offered by the Washington, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, and ReThink, an organization that works to prevent sexual assault.

In the program, enrollees “learn how social constructs of masculinity harm them and the people around them, and work to construct healthier masculinities.” Hicks described the class as “eight weeks of guys discussing how they can address their actions with better self-awareness and less toxicity.”

The concept of “toxic masculinity” has been become popular in postmodern academic circles over the past several years. Advocates for programs like “Rethink Masculinity” argue that men have been taught to restrict their emotions, a psychological decision, some argue, that results in violent outbursts and alcohol abuse in men.

“If we are honest with ourselves, we have long known that masculinity kills men, in ways both myriad and measurable,” Halloway wrote. “While social constructions of femininity demand that women be thin, beautiful, accommodating, and some unattainable balance of virginal and fuckable, social constructions of masculinity demand that men constantly prove and re-prove the very fact that they are, well, men.”

The “Rethink Masculinity” class taught its enrollees that their personal issues are the consequence of their false notion of what it means to be a man from that society instilled in them from an early age. “[I was] trained and conditioned to be tough growing up,” Hicks said.

According to organizers, the goal of such programs is to correct the missteps in their own understanding of masculine expression so that they may avoid toxic behavior in the future.

Eric Mankowski, associate chair of the psychology department at Portland State University and head of the school’s Gender and Violence Intervention Research Team argues that men can benefit from programs like “Rethink Masculinity” because it helps them unlearn unhealthy attitudes.

“It’s a promising approach,” says Mankowski, “but we don’t know whether they prevent sexual violence. Some studies show promising effects on attitudes and behavior intentions, but a single class is unlikely to undo years of socialization in toxic masculinity.”

“From those four distal expectations come the proximal attitudes and behaviors, like ‘I deserve to have access to women’s bodies,’” Mankowski argued. “What we don’t know is if it’s more effective to address the distal or proximal ideas and behaviors.” Mankowski says this applies to alcohol abuse. “It numbs feelings and allows men to act aggressive. We can effectively address it, but we’re not addressing the underlying issue. It’s functioning to help them display their manhood, so why would they stop?


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