At a Texas university, masculinity and traditional ideas about manliness are being put under the microscope. The Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin launched a program called MasculinUT that is treating so-called “restrictive masculinity” as a mental health issue because they believe masculinity can become “unhealthy.” The goal of the new Texas university program is to help male students “take control over their gender identity and develop a healthy sense of masculinity.”
MasculinUT claims that “restrictive masculinity” causes men to “suffer” when they enact “traditional ideas of masculinity” because these ideas allegedly “place men into rigid (or restrictive) boxes that pressure men” and “prevent them from developing their emotional maturity.” It’s claimed that the traditional definition of masculinity includes stereotypes where men are “angry” and “violent” “bullies” who “never cry” or show any emotion and exert “control” “over women.”
“Defining masculinity as ‘not feminine’ does not create a stable identity with its own values,” claims MasculinUT. “In fact, it is so unsustainable that often college students who want to appear very masculine resort to high-risk or aggressive activities, such as binge drinking and predatory behavior towards women or ‘girl hunt,’ to cope with the struggle of restrictive masculinity.”
While MasculinUT claims that many negative ideas are associated with traditional masculinity, the “rigid box” also portrays traditionally positive ideas like men being “strong” and “successful” “breadwinners” who “take charge” and “stand up for themselves” as a potential negative. It’s said that “unhealthy masculinity” is “expressed through competition or comparison between peers.”
MasculinUT never directly uses the term “toxic masculinity” that’s become increasingly politically popular in recent years, but the program does seem to be targeting the core idea since “toxic masculinity” could probably be used interchangeably with the way the MasculinUT program defines their concept of “unhealthy masculinity.” The Wikipedia definition of “toxic masculinity” is claimed to be “adherence to traditional male gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the ‘alpha male’) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger.” Others like The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as “a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.” According to the Advocate, toxic masculinity was coined in 1993 by Shepherd Bliss as a contrast to “real” or “deep” masculinity, which he believed was lost due to modern lifestyles because men have often lost their connections to each other.
How is the Texas university intending to help men with this program? MasculinUT argues that so-called “restrictive masculinity is taken for granted and is often expected of male and male-identified students.” “Students who feel targeted” by those who enact traditional ideas of masculinity “are also at risk of engaging in violent behavior” if they fail to conform to being a “real man.” If these students are “not allowed to express all of their emotions and thoughts” this will supposedly turn them into “pressure cookers” who “explode” with “violent behavior or coping mechanisms such as drinking.” Certain definitions of masculinity are also claimed to be a problem for LGBTQ students since it would make them “feel pressured to restrict their gender identity.”
“If you are a male student at UT reading this right now, we hope that learning about this helps you not to feel guilty about having participated in these definitions of masculinity, and instead feel empowered to break the cycle!” the MasculinUT website claims. The Texas university’s masculinity program is currently trying to hire someone with a Masters Degree in Gender Studies (or many other related degrees) and they’re willing to pay $4,000 a month for the job.
A similar program was implemented by Duke University in recent years. When Frank Miniter of Forbes discussed the issue, he asserted that “academics are trying to cure a problem with more of what is causing a societal problem. They are trying to further emasculate young men instead of, you know, teaching them to be [a] gentleman…. A group of academics telling boys not to be men will only make the problems associated with young men who haven’t learned to be gentleman worse.”