Sourcing Masculine Values: Authenticity vs Artificiality
Masculine values are more meaningful to men when learnt through experience and challenge, rather than the download of information from the internet alone.
What is Masculinity?
Masculinity is a complex topic of discussion amongst the current generation of young men. Masculinity can be defined in an indefinite number of ways, although contemporary experts agree that masculinity includes values such as “activeness, strength, dominance and self-containment”1. These values differ from typical values (e.g discipline, kindness, compassion) as they arise from the historical expectations of men to be providers and embody strength, just as women are historically argued to be caregivers, embodying values of compassion and kindness2. Research has also demonstrated that embracing masculine values is linked to mental health improvements in young men3. However, the norms of masculinity may also play a negative role in a man’s coping of depressive symptoms and willingness to seek professional mental health support4, which may be potentially attributed to the social stigma of “weakness” and breaking of tradition to reveal emotions. Therefore, there is a trending need to promote healthy masculine values through avenues such as the Man Up Campaign5, and of course through the most digestible form, social media to support men’s mental health.
Social Media and Healthy Masculinity Promotion
With approximately 1.6 billion people currently using TikTok6, 2 billion people using Instagram7 and 2.9 billion people using Facebook8 in 2023, our modern society is heavily interconnected by social media. In fact, a 2018 study found that 40% of the participants were addicted to social media9. Correspondingly, social media influencers have positively inspired and motivated thousands if not millions of people over a range of different topics such as finance, health, fitness, relationships etc. Masculinity also rests among these topics, and several different influencers aspire to educate young men over the values of masculinity. However, social media in general plays both a positive and negative role in influencing people, and its multifaceted nature enables several voices of pure opinion to cause internal moral conflict. Thus, although the intentions of these influencers may be of positive origin, it is critical to consider the underlying impact of these influencers, and the potential distortion that may be unknowingly misguiding young men.
The Influence of Social Media on Masculinity
Because social media is a rushing storm, there is an existing pressure on influencers to continually produce content, which may lead to content being posted without prior evaluation of the message being put forward. In fact, a prior article by The Conversation10 stated that “creators must keep curating and recreating a public image of masculinity online, that is often associated with violence and aggression”. Coupled with the fact that social media remains an easily digestible platform for information, young men are more likely to internalise these messages without completely understanding their significance. Consequently, there is the risk of values associated with the coined term of “toxic masculinity” being promoted, which are known to negatively impact men, women and society. A mental health researcher11 suggested that these distorted versions of traditional masculine structures amplify beliefs that favour the dominance of man, leading to aggressive behaviours towards women and other men, violent tendencies and the suppression of emotions. The further negative aspects include the inability to express emotions, which may lead to worsening of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms and increase in psychological distress. Therefore, it must be cautioned for young men that whilst social media is an incredible staple for education on several topics, there may be potential for messages to come across skewed from their original value. Many messages that originate online are often voiced from perspective, without further viable evidence to support the validity of what masculine values truly embody.
Personal Opinion of Masculinity
From a personal perspective, masculinity is the journey of emotional maturity that a man endures through several challenges and life lessons, which are gained through lived experiences. Such experiences hold significant value and allows the young man to fully comprehend and understand its implications for what defines him as a man. When I was younger, I would spend countless evenings sparring adult men in kickboxing. They were much more powerful, stronger, and fitter than I were, yet there was little remorse, and I often walked away from these sessions bruised, battered and sometimes in tears. But without this experience, I would never have learnt to stand against towering odds, to fight despite the disadvantageous factors opposing me and continue to train despite the knowledge of the ensuing pain. It is impartial to say social media cannot provide the necessary means for developing these values, although they may only allow the learning to occur to a finite extent that only the physical experience can facilitate. As Martin Luther King once stated, “The measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”, emphasising that under trials and tribulations, do the core meanings of masculine values become most significant.
The takeaway for young men is that masculinity is a cultivation of physical experience and by learning from both positive and negative events in our lives that guide us towards a spiritual maturation into manhood. It is a complex set of values that are blossomed and flourished over time, by self-discovery, and not easily achieved by the artificial dialogue of the internet alone. Thus, next time you are faced with an online influencer promoting masculinity through any means, ask yourself whether the message is something that fits into your current experiences, or how you can apply these messages to future adversities that you will face. Take a minute to reflect over this content within the framework of your current views and values and conduct your own research over the different topics whether that takes the popular forms of gym culture, work mindset and attitudes towards other people, which will naturally allow you to build an informed set of values most important to you and not simply provided by someone online. With these basic considerations in mind with social media use, you will mature within a set of healthy masculine values with personal significance.
Special Thanks to
Rania (Youth Reference Group)
Brian (Family Reference Group)
Written by James Brown (YRG member)
- https://www.innovationunit.org/thoughts/be-a-man-toxic-masculinity-social-media-and violence/#:~:text=Now%2C%20because%20of%20the%2024,associated%20with%20violence%20and%20aggression.