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Toxic masculinity’s role in violence against women

Andrea Schilling headshotBy Guest Author Andrea Schilling, Program Support Specialist

This summer, a tragic story made headlines in which Kristy Manzanares was found dead on a cruise ship. It was soon discovered her husband had murdered her, in an attack believed to be a result of a domestic dispute. Anyone who follows domestic violence research is not shocked by this outcome, as 1 and 3 female murder victims are killed by intimate partners (NCADV.org). However, there is an even more chilling piece to this story: the husband told witnesses at the murder scene, “She would not stop laughing at me.”

No matter the circumstances, Manzanares’ death was unwarranted. However, Manzanares’ death also reminds us of a quote by author Margaret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” While Atwood’s words may seem a bit pessimistic, they get to the root of toxic masculinity’s destructive impact on our communities.

Toxic masculinity is the denial of unmasculine traits as perceived by society, and rewarding anger, violence, and domination.  It is the result of traditional gender roles and expectations used to describe what masculinity is, examples including: real men excel at sports, real men command respect and attention from women, real men don’t cry. If a man does not meet these expectations, among many others – does that make them less of a man? Is something about their entire being now compromised?  The fear of being “less than,” engrained on boys from an early age, is fed by toxic masculinity.

The harmful impacts of toxic masculinity are felt far and wide. In fact, according to World Health Organization (WHO), there may be a correlation between men’s tendency to die at younger ages and the damaging ways in which society has defined masculinity and the ways men are accustomed to practice it. And, taking Manzanares as an example, it can be deadly.

In 2014 at University of California Santa Barbara, Elliott Rodger killed six specific students on his campus, and then himself. Prior to the attack, he released a YouTube video and 136-page manifesto, explaining his anger about how certain women didn’t want to date him, and how he deserved those women more than the men who were dating them.  Some of these individuals would end up being his victims. To Elliott, women weren’t people – they were the pawns that determined his manhood.

In an ideal world, a woman laughing at a man shouldn’t be emasculating, let alone to be the cause of death. In a community truly rooted in safety and respect, the ability to decline romantic interest should come without fear of retribution. While it’s important to note that possessing what society believes are masculine traits is not inherently bad, it is dangerous to perpetuate masculine traits as the only model in which men must adhere to.

Ending toxic masculinity is not a quick fix, especially living in a culture fully submerged in covert, and overt, gender expectations. We first must acknowledge the existence of toxic masculinity and its impacts, and be willing to start conversations. Next, we must reject traditional gender role expectations, dispel stereotypes, and welcome vulnerability. We must inspire others that who they are, how they express themselves, and the hobbies they find joy in, should be celebrated.  It is also vital that we encourage the respect of personal autonomy of the people around us – men and women alike; understanding we all have the power and freedom to make choices for ourselves, and that our existence is not in debt to another person. If we as citizens want to advocate for a healthier community, it is our job to cultivate these efforts.

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