Long Islanders recount experiences with toxic masculinity

By Donovan Alexis

Struggling to fit into the stereotypical description of how a man should be, Eric Ventura found himself in a position where he felt that if he didn’t act like one, people would take advantage of him.

This is just scratching the surface of toxic masculinity, the idea that puts a constraint on men to act tough, suppress emotion, to be the breadwinner, and to always be welcome to sexual advances from women.

“While I was growing up, I’ve always been around people who didn’t show a lot of emotions,” Eric Ventura, a sales associate from Selden, said. “I learned to keep my emotions inside just as they did, but as I grew up, I’ve learned that’s not good at all.”

Qualities such as financial success, ambition or leadership, and strength or toughness were traits that society valued in men according to a 2017 Pew Research study. These traits were found to be less popular when looked at females. The study also found that there is less emphasis on encouraging boys to talk about their feelings.

“This mentality really affected me,” Ventura said. “I would get angrier easier, my emotions were up and down–it wasn’t me. I’ve learned it’s good to express your emotions.”

Leading the charge to encourage men to help combat the “cult of toxic masculinity” was actor Terry Crews, who came out about his sexual assault by a Hollywood agent in October 2017. Having testified in front of the Senate judiciary committee for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ bill back in June, Crews said that men are deafeningly silent when it comes to talking about these issues.

“It was more of an unwritten rule that you don’t [talk about your feelings],” said Mark Passik, a former Brookhaven Middle Country baseball player.

Having played from the age of five until 16, Passik said that he and his teammates, who were either frustrated with how the season was going or upset with a teammate or even the coach, wanted to talk about how they felt.

However, they feared that if such feelings were vocalized, there was a chance they would be marked as a complainer, lose their role on the team by being benched, dropped down in the lineup or not see as much playing time as those who just kept quiet.

“Personally, I just kept my mouth shut so it never happened to me,” Passik said.

The same study reported that, along with the constant pressure on men to be emotionless, a large majority say men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially and to be successful in their job or career.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of time for anything besides just getting up for work,” Zack Rodgers, a carpenter’s assistant in Centereach said. “I talk to my dad about it and he says to me, ‘you won’t be able to support a family, you’re supposed to be the head of the house–you have to suck it up and deal with it.’”  

Rodgers faced constant pressure from his parents regarding his career.

“Both of my parents would tell me, ‘Aren’t you afraid your girlfriend will leave you? Because you have no real job, she’d want a successful guy she can see a future with,’” Rodgers said.

These gender stereotypes are not going to end anytime soon, Susan Fiske, professor of Gender Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, said in an email.

“Gender stereotypes reflect pervasive human contexts, so ambivalent sexism’s patterns remain common across countries, although with cultural variations,” Fiske wrote.

Social role theory states that traditional gender roles such as male dominance follow from biological factors such as male upper body strength and female parental investment. She believes it plays a factor in toxic masculinity.

The use of phrases such as ‘be a man’ and ‘suck it up’  add to the suppression of emotional expression from males.

“One of my earliest memories I have is of me crying and the coach straight up telling me to stop being a girl and suck it up,” Bobby Heitz, Selden resident and former lacrosse and football player, said. “I never played football again because of that coach.”

Toxic masculinity affects women as well. It is especially noticeable when men go from a setting that is strictly female to a male-dominated setting.

“My boyfriend was an athlete at his college, so I even went to parties with him and met his friends,” Sage Albanese, a hospitality worker, said. “When we were in front of his friends, he wouldn’t be as affectionate or give me the time of day for that matter. He’d kind of leave me to fend for myself when his friends were around.”

Men are the main victims of toxic masculinity, facing constant societal pressure to adhere to the stereotypes of what is deemed as masculine.

Societal standards pressure men to suppress their emotions through life, Joe Ponzio, a direct support professional, said.

He mentioned that while growing up, his father has also told to him act like a man and suck it up “‘cause things could be worse.”

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