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How patriarchy and toxic masculinity hurt men

Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger

A woman with a sign that says "No More Patriarchy."

What Is Patriarchy?

Patriarchy is a social system in which men maintain the majority of power in terms of politics, authority, property, and social privilege. Patriarchy also refers to an ideology that attempts to justify the inequality between men and women by blaming it on gender differences that supposedly predispose men to leadership and women to submission. 

Within patriarchy, traits that are considered “feminine” are seen as less valuable, while “masculine” traits are seen as more valuable, affording men even more privilege. This belief contributes to toxic masculinity and includes expectations that men and women should act a certain way, reinforcing gender roles and norms in society. 

Patriarchy and its harmful effects can be found in the workplace, within the family, amongst friends, and in relationships.

Patriarchy Examples

Examples of patriarchy can be seen throughout history. Some examples include:

  • The emergence of private property, with the majority of the property being owned by men
  • Early restrictions on women’s reproduction
  • Institutions with male hierarchies (governments, religious institutions, etc.)
  • Women being portrayed as morally, physically, or intellectually inferior in ancient history

Examples of patriarchy in modern society include:

  • Family names being passed down through men only
  • The father being considered the head of the household
  • Male dominance in government positions
  • Women being expected to stay home to care for children

How Does Patriarchy Affect Men?

Patriarchy directly affects women, but it can also negatively impact men. The harmful masculinity and gender inequality that patriarchy creates can negatively influence:

  • Social behaviors: Patriarchy can make it difficult for men, especially when they are boys or adolescents, to fit in socially if they don’t display traditionally masculine traits. Patriarchy tends to place men into boxes that may inhibit them socially. 
  • Rape culture: Patriarchy can contribute to rape culture, which is the tendency to blame the victim rather than the assailant in crimes of sexual assault. Rape culture can prevent some men from developing a healthy understanding of sexual and physical boundaries. 
  • Violence: Patriarchy includes ideas that men should be aggressive, leading them to use violence to solve problems and avoid looking weak. This can prevent men from learning effective communication, problem-solving, and coping skills. 
  • Homophobia: Patriarchy can promote homophobia because it sees same-sex attraction as a threat to masculinity. This puts gay, bisexual, and trans people at risk for violence from straight, cisgendered men. It can also limit straight, cisgendered men in being able to express affection or concern for their male friends.

Mental Health Effects of Patriarchy

Patriarchy involves a set of expectations that men must have certain “masculine” traits, such as physical strength, aggression, and dominance. Within patriarchy, they are expected to be mentally, financially, and socially independent. This places a lot of pressure on men and may contribute to the higher rate of male mental health concerns, including:

  • Substance abuse: Men are more likely to use illicit drugs than women, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse1.
  • Anger/aggression issues: One study2 found that men and women express anger differently, with men reporting feeling less valuable and less effective when holding in anger. 
  • Suicide: Research3 shows that in the U.S. men die by suicide more than three times as often as women.
  • Violence toward women: Studies find4 that most violence against women is committed by a current or former husband. 

Patriarchy & Intersectionality

Intersectionality describes the combination of ways in which someone may face discrimination or benefit from privilege. Men in marginalized groups, especially more than one, may face more discrimination due to patriarchy. These groups include:

  • LGBTQIA+: Members of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially transgender people, are more likely to face harmful effects of the patriarchy, including violence. 
  • BIPOC: Men of color, especially Black and Indigenous men, are more likely to face discrimination than White men.
  • Disabled: Men who have disabilities are often seen as less “masculine,” resulting in increased discrimination and oppression in patriarchal societies.
  • Poor: Patriarchal ideals dictate that men should be “breadwinners” or providers. This can cause men in poverty to face more discrimination and internalized shame. 

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity, also referred to as harmful masculinity, is a concept that involves behaviors and beliefs that reinforce male superiority. Toxic masculinity often involves aggression, mental and physical toughness, heterosexism, and emotional insensitivity displayed by men and other masculine individuals. 

While masculinity is not inherently bad by itself, toxic masculinity can have harmful consequences, including:

  • Violence
  • Aggression
  • Intimacy issues
  • Anger issues
  • Homophobia

Examples of Toxic Masculinity

Some examples of toxic masculinity include:

  • Using violence to solve problems or glorifying violence
  • Hiding emotions and feelings 
  • Being sexually aggressive
  • Fear of showing affection or care to individuals of the same gender

Gender Equality and Mental Health

Gender equality refers to equality between men and women. Gender equality and feminism have a positive impact on both women and men, leading to improved mental and physical health. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO)5 points out that men may not live as long as women because they:

  • Work in more physically demanding jobs 
  • Are more willing to take risks
  • Are less likely to visit the doctor when ill
  • Are more likely to turn to violence

Where there is gender equality, women are taken more seriously in the workplace, leading to less financial pressure on men and improved mental health. One study6 found that societies with less gender equality had higher rates of male suicide. 

What Is Healthy Masculinity?

Healthy masculinity allows men to freely express their emotions without fear or shame. Healthy masculinity in men looks like:

  • Accepting one’s body even if they do not fit the traditional masculine form
  • Showing affection in friendships and relationships
  • Treating women, trans people, and nonbinary individuals with respect and kindness
  • Avoiding resorting to violence or aggression when angry 
  • Being an emotionally available parent to girls and boys
  • Using male privilege to stick up for women and minority groups

Every man is susceptible to toxic masculinity, and learning healthy masculinity may take work. With daily practice and improved self-awareness, men can begin to engage in healthier expressions and experiences of masculinity. 

Get Help Now

If you are struggling with toxic masculinity or need help unpacking unhealthy patriarchal beliefs, a therapist can help. A professional therapist can work with you to become more self-aware, express your emotions more effectively, and practice healthier communication and other forms of healthy masculinity. Find a therapist near you today. 

About the author

The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.

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