An immigrant from Afghanistan connected his wartime experiences with stereotypes of toxic masculinity at a lecture on gender roles at the University of Minnesota on Friday.
The lecture, called Men, Masks and Toxic Masculinities, was given by Ahmad Qais Munhazim and described the damaging effects of the pressure men feel to adhere to gender stereotypes.
About a dozen people attended the lecture held in Appleby Hall, which is part of a lecture series called QueerX.
Munhazim, the interim director for the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life and a political science Ph.D. candidate, discussed the idea that there are several forms of masculinity.
“Masculinities [have] been ... looked into as something stiff, that every man has it and it’s only one form,” said Munhazim. Instead, he said “[masculinity] shifts with space, with time, with context.”
He said the common stereotype of masculinity is that men should choose not to appear vulnerable or express emotions.
In his lecture, Munhazim argued there are forms of masculinity that are much healthier than the stereotype, and masculinity should be realized as combating systems of power, oppression and misogyny.
Males often see discussions of masculinity “as an attack on the entire identity of men or men as a whole,” he said. “My argument is that not all masculinities are toxic. There are healthy masculinities.”
In addition to dissecting healthy and toxic masculinities, Munhazim connected masculinity and his experience with war.
Growing up in war-torn Afghanistan, Munhazim witnessed how war pushed young boys to prefer more masculine roles, even when playing games with friends.
Currently, Munhazim said he is researching how war can affect expectations for male behavior and amplify toxic masculinity.
One reason he wants to combat toxic masculinity is because it limits the extent to which men feel comfortable expressing emotions — something that could have harmful mental health effects.
“One of the real challenges with traditional models of masculinity is that it doesn’t allow for a lot of kind of expression of feelings,” said Glenn Hirsch, the director of Student Counseling Services at the University. “If you have feelings of sadness or grief ... and the message is you’re not supposed to have those feelings, then that’s going to make it hard for you to cope in a healthy way.”
This lack of expression is reinforced by the fact that men who don’t conform to masculine stereotypes are often socially excluded, said Tankut Atuk, a University Ph.D. candidate in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies.
“Many men, even though they do not necessarily identify with the requirements of this toxic masculinity, they end up acting so because of the fear of exclusion,” Atuk said.
According to Hirsch, opening up to their true emotions and vulnerabilities is one of the most powerful ways males can pursue healthier forms of masculinity.
“When men, particularly men in roles of power, are able to open up and talk more personally and share a broader range of emotions, that really provides good role modeling for other men to see,” he said.