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The impact of toxic masculinity on men's mental health.

Updated: May 8

Toxic masculinity refers to an exaggerated expression of traits commonly associated with traditional masculinity. These traits often lead to harmful behaviors and attitudes. Here are some key aspects of toxic masculinity:

  1. Emotional Suppression: Toxic masculinity discourages men from expressing vulnerability, emotions, or seeking help. It perpetuates the idea that “real men” should be stoic and unyielding.

  2. Dominance and Aggression: Toxic masculinity promotes aggressive behavior, dominance, and the need to compete at all costs. It can manifest as physical violence, verbal abuse, or controlling behavior.

  3. Rigid Gender Roles: Toxic masculinity enforces rigid gender roles, limiting men’s choices and self-expression. It dictates that men must conform to specific norms related to strength, independence, and sexual conquest.

  4. Fear of Weakness: Toxic masculinity stigmatizes any sign of weakness or perceived inadequacy. Men may avoid seeking help for mental health issues due to this fear.

  5. Competitiveness: Toxic masculinity pushes men to become unnecessarily competitive, causing them to develop anxiety and depression when they "lose."

The Impact on Men’s Mental Health

  1. Depression and Anxiety: Toxic masculinity often prevents men from acknowledging their emotional struggles. As a result, depression and anxiety may go untreated, leading to long-term negative effects on mental health.

  2. Isolation: Toxic masculinity discourages emotional connection and vulnerability. Men may isolate themselves, lacking social support networks that are crucial for mental well-being.

  3. Suicide Rates: Men have higher suicide rates than women, partly due to toxic masculinity. The pressure to conform to masculine norms can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and despair.

  4. Relationship Challenges: Toxic masculinity can strain relationships. Men may struggle to communicate effectively, leading to misunderstandings and conflict.

Healthy Masculinity: A Different Approach

Healthy masculinity seeks to redefine what it means to be masculine in positive ways. Here are some characteristics of healthy masculinity:

  1. Emotional Intelligence: Healthy masculinity encourages emotional expression and self-awareness. Men are allowed to feel and seek support without judgment.

  2. Empathy and Compassion: Healthy masculinity values empathy, compassion, and kindness. Men can connect with others on a deeper level.

  3. Breaking Stereotypes: Healthy masculinity challenges rigid gender roles. It recognizes that men can be nurturing, sensitive, and supportive without compromising their masculinity.

  4. Psychosocial Activities: Healthy masculinity promotes healthy socializations that focus less on competing and more on group support such as those in team sports or group therapy.

  5. Seeking Help: Healthy masculinity promotes seeking professional help when needed. Men are encouraged to prioritize their mental health.

China's new "hero to zero" mindset: Embracing the ordinary

Surprisingly, a new anti-toxic masculinity trend is emerging from the most unlikely country, China, called wo nang fei. Wo nang Fei stands for useless, spineless, good-for-nothing losers. As a backlash to the toxic masculinity portraits of men in movies, a growing number of people in China are now admiring losers. The phenomenon was fuelled by the character Ma Jie, played by actor Bai Ke, in the hit box-office comedy Johnny Keep Walking! Bai plays a miserable human resources manager who always submissively works overtime, complies with pointless bureaucracy and obeys his nasty boss no matter what just to keep his job amid layoffs. Female fans embraced his incompetence and spinelessness. They also commended Ma Jie's gentleness, kind heart, lack of aggressive masculinity and dedication to his family. "Being a wo nang fei is the new sexy," said one online observer who received more than 7,000 likes. This new attitude was marked by the 2012 TV series My Economical Man, in which the heroine chose an ordinary man instead of a CEO as her lover. Ma and other wo nang fei characters cater to female fans who admire a good family man, who works hard, is loyal to his family, is skilled in cooking and sometimes even appears to need protection from women.

From a psychological perspective, the trend mirrors the earlier rise of the lying flat phenomenon in which people use their humour to make peace with the anxiety of being useless and find comfort in the anti-hero characters who reflect their personal struggles. "Dare to mess with me?" one of the wo nang fei literature posters joked, adding: "Then you've found the right person. I'm the most submissive person for miles around."

"Fallen? Then I'll lie flat where I am." another poster wrote.

This 180-degree reverse approach might not be the best perspective for men, but it is interesting to note that many people are now becoming more accepting and cheering for the anti-heroes. It will be interesting to see what happens as the wo nang fei trend starts to spread globally.


Toxic masculinity perpetuates harmful stereotypes and negatively impacts men’s mental health. Recognizing and challenging these norms is essential for promoting healthier expressions of masculinity. Let's encourage open conversations, emotional support and acceptance of diverse ways to be masculine.


About the Author


Dr. Lennie Soo

Founder and Clinical Director of 360 Wellness Hub.

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