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“Man up”: a conversation about toxic masculinity

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When Kay Walker was young, their household was fraught with toxic masculinity. They were told not to cry, and punished if they did.

Now the Stop the Hate chair for Diversity and Unity, Walker gave a talk on Jan. 22 about their experience with toxic masculinity.

“It’s a form of masculinity that causes men to suppress emotions, mask distress or use violence as an indicator of power,” Walker said. “They’re learned behaviors and they’re picked up from incredibly young ages.”

This cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility and dominance can be harmful to men due to its veneration of violence and misogyny.

“When I was a kid, I used to think littlest pet shop toys were pretty interesting, but I never talked about it because other boys would say they were girly,” Walker said.

Walker was able to break away from such strict gender roles once their parents divorced.

“Once I went to live with my mom, my dad had less of an influence on me, and I realized my dad expressed his toxic masculinity through forms of abuse,” Walker said.

When Walker turned fifteen, they realized they were queer and non-binary. They began challenging gender roles and using more social media, which gave them other perspectives besides just those from their family.

“Men are always told that they can’t express emotions except for anger and happiness, or they can’t be gay or queer because it’s not manly enough,” Walker said.

Walker believes that we’ll never be able to improve cultural norms without confrontation.

“Men often feel like villains, so we should always try to work to make them feel less like villains,” Walker said. “If we continue confronting what toxic masculinity is, we can start having a more positive representation of what masculinity could and should be.”

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