Toxic Masculinity is a buzzy phrase that has been thrown around a lot recently, but based on the way it's used, many people still don't fully understand what it actually means. It refers to a mental state that men can enter when they feel their masculinity has been threatened, which can be harmful to both themselves and others. The truth is, feeling emasculated is a very real experience for many men, which can cause them to feel truly insecure in a relationships. The sensation of emasculation is a social construct in which a man's strength and worthiness is judged against society's idea of what it means to be a man. Young men in particular, are exposed to clear cut social norms from a very early age, which can cause their self-esteem to decline.
"There is now a shift in our cultural norms as it relates to the role of men in relationships," psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Gary Brown tells Bustle. "There is a phenomenon of role reversals in education and working in the professions. While this is good for society in general, some men increasingly feel devalued because of this development. They feel that they are 'less than' say what their fathers were."
But while this shared experience is startling, it in no ways suggests that women should act differently in order to change their relationship. "How you feel about your identity as a man is influenced by your social conditioning growing up," Dr. Brown says. "As a society, we need to look at the growing problem of misandry, which not only hurts men, but is hurting women as well."
Here's what 18 men had to say about the times they have felt emasculated or insecure in a relationship, even over something silly.
1. Alfred, 23: When His Partner Compliments Another Guy
"Complimenting another dude. If someone's look is heightened for one reason or another, such as a fresh haircut, clean outfit, or they're just getting stronger or more fit, when my girlfriend compliments them, it can almost feel out of line."
2. Theo, 24: Being Too Emotionally Vulnerable
"Being 100 percent when it comes to emotional transparency. I felt this one a lot in my last relationship. It really feels like there's a fine line between being 100 percent transparent about how you're feeling, and being left too vulnerable. It's tough, because you want to act in accordance, versus being a 'man': firm, unbothered, too cool etc. And what's tough is that it seems that some girls are looking for the former, while others are looking for the latter. So no matter how we act, we can't win!"
3. Arjun, 22: A Partner Who Doesn't Appreciate His Cooking
"I really love to cook. When I tell women that I can cook, and start talking about the various dishes that I love, they always seem so surprised. I need a girlfriend who appreciates my cooking, instead of seeing it as 'cute' or 'quirky'. It's a passion, not a party trick!"
4. Robert, 23: Going Out To Eat By Himself
"I hate going out to eat by myself, which is why I always feel the need to bring a date. Usually there are couples out there dining, and it just feels awkward and sad eating by yourself. Sometimes I'm just feeling lazy, and don't walk to cook for myself. I want a nice meal, without the insecurity!"
5. Dadam, 21: Tickle Fights
"Tickle fights make me feel emasculated. My girl seems to love them, and I love making her laugh and messing with her, but it does feel kind of embarrassing. Imagine if someone walked in and saw that! I don't know how I'd explain myself. Not very manly."
6. Neil, 22: When His Partner Doesn't Listen
"I hate when I'm talking to my girlfriend and I can just tell that she's not actually listening. It's as if she doesn't value my opinion or really care at all about what I have to say. It's so frustrating, as If I'm there for no reason and my story or insight means nothing. It really bothers me."
7. James, 23: When He Can't Satisfy His Partner In Bed
"I feel like this is a little bit too much of an obvious one, but not being able to pleasure your woman during sex. All guys are insecure about this. It's just so hard to tell sometimes! ... And nothing makes us feel more useless than being a bad lover, or the idea of being lousy at sex. We want it to feel good for her too!"
8. Serge, 25: Being Around "Shredded" Guys
"I only feel this sometimes, but obviously when you're surrounded by guys who all have six packs, and are just clearly so much more shredded than you, it's hard not to get in your head, and think, 'Damn, it would be nice to have that.' It's always sort of in the back of your mind, that insecurity that maybe your lady will leave you for a more ripped man."
9. Max, 22: Being Disrespected By A Younger Man
"Honestly, when a younger guy disrespects me in front of my girlfriend, that's what emasculates me the most. It is such a slap in the face, the idea that this naive dude who knows nothing would interrupt or challenge me. It pisses me off to no end, because it threatens my authority — my position as an 'elder', as a man."
10. Sami, 23: Going For The Salad Option At Dinner
"Eating healthy is one thing. When I go out to eat for dinner with my girlfriend, and she starts chowing down on a burger and fries, or going for the burrito platter or something, I feel a little insecure ordering something green or generally eating healthy, even though what I really want is a salad. I don't want to seem less macho!"
11. Adrian, 24: A Partner Who Is A Better Bowler
"When they're better than me at something like bowling, which doesn't even require that much skill but seems like more of a luck thing. It such a blow to my ego, but I don't want to seem dramatic or like a sore loser. So I just smile and pretend like I don't want to leave."
12. Tom, 25: Not Taking Coffee Black
"Whenever I order coffee, and I'm with my girlfriend, I always, without fail, have the more 'girly' order. I just can't drink coffee black, I need to put a ton of sugar and flavor and milk and stuff in there. But it's embarrassing because she can down an espresso like you wouldn't believe. So I always tell them the wrong name."
13. John, 22: Not Being The Can Opener Of The Relationship
"Being unable to open something in front of her, like a soup can. And then when she tries, it magically just comes open, just like that. It makes me feel like I'm not strong, or capable enough. It's so annoying because I'm usually good at using tools, but I can never use a can opener properly, and then I feel like everyone thinks I'm weak and lame. It's so stupid, but it's true!"
14. Bill, 32: In-laws Who Pretend He Doesn't Exist
"I feel emasculated when I'm with my wife at my in laws, at the dinner table and they completely ignore me and just ask my wife whether or not I want something to eat, or why I am not eating. Ignoring how strange the request is, it's as if I'm not in the room! It makes me so mad, as if she's my keeper or speaks for me or something. And she never defends me or understands why it pisses me off."
15. Abdul, 37: Being Praised Just For His Good Cooking
"I hate when my wife wants to praise me and she can't find anything more to say than 'I am a good cook.' Like, OK — I am not a great artist or anything, but I have definitely done more in my life than learn how to cook. I know there's a bit of irony there because it is traditional gender role reversal, but it's as if she can't think of anything nice to say. I do more than work hard and cook dinner."
16. Charlie, 28: Being Reminded Of His Oedipal Complex
"She doesn't say this much anymore, but my girlfriend always used to say this ridiculous and Freudian blanket statements to me, like 'all men want to marry their mothers.' What am I supposed to even say to that? ... Is that supposed to make me feel good?"
17. Phil, 26: Backhanded Comments From His Partner
"This has been hard because, you have to admit to feeling insecure as a man to feel berated like this. But I hate when my girlfriend will use random personal criticism to gain leverage in an argument. And when you have a more equal relationship, its more unconscious too...It's so manipulative. Little backhanded comments that you don't realize the real meaning of until hours later."
18. Holden, 23: Being Made To Feel Like A Granny Behind The Wheel
"When my girl tells me I'm driving like a granny. It's not my fault — I'd rather be a safe driver than a sorry driver! But I hate when she says that I'm going way too slow, it makes me feel like I'm not adventurous or risky enough or something."
No matter what might make your partner feel emasculated or insecure in your relationship, remember: this is a reflection on the societal norms that were engrained in him from a young age, not your actions or the state of your relationship. Starting a conversation about is the first step in breaking social stereotypes and gender barriers, and an open, honest dialogue is the key to any healthy relationship. And if you ask me — any guy who says he doesn't sometimes enjoy being the little spoon is totally lying. It makes you feel safe, OK?!