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Study Warns of 'Toxic Masculinity' in Boys as Young as 14

A new study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling warns that boys as young as 14-years-old suffer psychological problems from “hegemonic masculinity” and its derivative, “toxic masculinity.”

Vincent Marasco, a former professor who now works as a mental health counselor, argued in a recently published article that mental health professionals should be cognizant of hegemonic masculinity since it can “influence the counseling relationship.”

“Counselors working with adolescent boys need to take into consideration these social influences, their impact on the counseling relationship, and the unique ways adolescent boys perform masculinity,” writes Marasco.

Hegemonic masculinity, as Marasco explains in his article, is a term that refers to the “oppressive characteristics of masculinity boys and men must assume and perform to be considered a ‘real man.’” These characteristics include “dominance over women,” “being heterosexual,” “exerting control and toughness,” among others.

Though not all boys may evidence these characteristics, all boys are subject to socialization under these norms, Marasco tells PJ Media in an interview, which is why they are important to address from an early age.

“These traits are important to address in all children, and is especially so as we are beginning to recognize a broader range of acceptable gendered behaviors and identities,” Marasco told PJ Media.

The article uses Marasco’s experiences counseling a 14-year-old boy named Carson to illustrate hegemonic masculinity. Marasco cites Carson’s lack of respect for one of his female teachers in high-school to explain hegemonic masculinity, for example.

“Carson’s views of his teacher are rooted in misogyny. Carson does not respect his teacher because his teacher is not a male peer. She is, therefore, unworthy of respect,” claims Marasco, commentating on what Carson told him during a counseling session.

Speaking to PJ Media, Marasco said that socialization into gender roles, and thus, hegemonic and toxic masculine traits, begins at “pre-birth,” such as with gender-reveal parties and certain colors (blue versus pink) indicating the gender of a child.

“You can see it in onesies 'for boys' with messages like 'chicks dig me' or 'lady killer' or 'stud muffin,’  already communicating that this child is heterosexual,” he said.

“Conversely, clothing for girls with messages like 'daddy's princess' [suggest that women] will always be under the protection of a man. These messages are strengthened and perpetuated as boys and girls get older,” said Marasco.

The article concludes by stressing the importance of addressing hegemonic masculinity.

“When hegemonic masculinity becomes toxic and leads to negative mental health outcomes, counselors cannot overlook the importance of addressing the toxicity of various attributes associated with masculinity,” he writes.

His article was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, a peer-reviewed journal run out of Texas Woman’s University. As PJ Media has reported, masculinity is increasingly viewed as a concern by mental health professionals, and many universities have started programs to help men combat these “oppressive” social norms.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.