Unravelling "toxic" masculinity

Unravelling "toxic" masculinity

Intimate Partner and other forms of Domestic Violence are significant societal problems globally. In 2021, more than one woman a week was killed in Australia in circumstances where the suspect was a male partner. The numbers were even higher in the UK, with the lives of at least 81 women allegedly cut short by an intimate male partner in just 28 weeks. In this article, John Williams, an experienced ontological leadership coach who specialises in supporting men, focuses on what he believes to be two root causes of ‘men behaving badly’. He also explains what men need to do now to ensure future generations of boys grow up to be better men.


Nov 20, 2022

7 mins read

In 2015, PwC published a report titled, A high price to pay: The economic case for preventing violence against women, estimated the cost of family violence in Australia at $21.7 billion per annum with victims bearing the primary burden of the cost. What’s even more alarming is the human cost. An article published in the Guardian in October 2021 titled End Femicide reported that at least 81 UK women had been killed in circumstances where the suspect was a man in the space of just 28 weeks. Closer to home, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that Domestic Violence accounted for 54% or over 70,000 violent assaults in 2021, of which 7,600 resulted in hospitalisation. Domestic Violence in Australia also accounted for 37% or 82 murders that year. While the majority of Domestic Violence victims are female (69%), with 59 deaths occurring within Australia in 2021 alone (more than one woman a week), this is not a female problem. It is a human problem, and it is happening on a global scale. Furthermore, it is a problem largely driven by who and how we are being as men, the deep, underlying qualities that guide our decisions, behaviours and actions. In this article, I discuss what I believe to be two root causes of ‘men behaving badly’, the high price we pay when we live in denial and where we need to focus our attention to turn the situation around.

As a proudly vulnerable and responsible male, I firmly believe that violence against women is not about ‘men being men’ as some might have us believe. Mature, functional men are better than this. Violence against women (or anyone deemed weaker than the perpetrator) is caused by mentally immature, dysfunctional men who use their physical power as a substitute for emotional strength, the latter being defined as a willingness and ability to be perceived as vulnerable and responsible.

According to research published on ScienceDirect.com, “Masculine Gender Role Stress (MGRS) has been linked to violence against women and gay men”. The problems we see in society, like those around masculine gender role models, as also discussed in one of my earlier articles, suggest a correlation between men subscribing to these male role models and the approval and incidences of coercive behaviour and Intimate Partner Violence. This is a problem for which we men need to take responsibility, individually and collectively. 

What Doesn’t Work!

Governments can line up as many shelters as they like, make as many laws as they want, and throw as many men into prison as they can, and the carnage will continue to echo through the ages until we address the real issues. The pressure on men to comply with masculine gender role models has been handed down from father to son and/or male role models to impressionable young boys for millennia. Therefore, we need to address the fathers and immediate male role models, such as the uncles, stepfathers, older brothers, cousins, teachers and coaches. Many courageous women have attempted to champion this change. But until the men we need to reach (immature and/or dysfunctional males) hear it from men they know and respect, nothing will change. I want to focus on two critical factors that I believe are at the heart of the matter: vulnerability and responsibility. More specifically, how an inability to accept and deal with vulnerability and a low level of responsibility can lead to dysfunctional behaviour. Let’s begin with vulnerability.

What is vulnerability?

Unlike what many people (particularly men) think, vulnerability is not about being weak, agreeable or submissive. Vulnerability is when we are open and willing to embrace our imperfections and be comfortable with who we are. When we are vulnerable, we can reveal our authentic selves to others without putting up our guard, worrying about how we might be perceived and/or controlling our environment and those around us. When you consider vulnerability this way, you can see that it is a strength, not a weakness. 

The impact of a man’s inability or unwillingness to be vulnerable goes far beyond the consequences for the individual. Firstly, the damage will echo through their family, even intergenerationally. Why? Because the children they raise and/or for whom they are role models are inadvertently taught a set of behaviours that will harm them, the same set of behaviours that damaged the men they are imitating. Furthermore, when men who pretend to be invulnerable, and display the macho behaviour that comes with it, get together with others who deny their vulnerability, a fertile environment for many of the problems we face as a modern society, including Intimate Partner Violence and other forms of violence, is created.

Responsibility – it’s on you

Many people associate responsibility with duty, obligation or even blame. However, responsibility is a human quality that means the willingness to be in charge of your life and choose how you respond to a matter, regardless of the source or who is at fault. Men need to take responsibility for the violence occurring in our society and take action on it. They need to find the courage to allow themselves to be vulnerable so they can receive the information they need to be responsible and lead the change.

A truly complete and mature man responds rather than reacts to his environment and the circumstances and matters he faces. However, suppose he has not had appropriate male role models in his life. In that case, his ‘response’ may be inspired by his sense of ego-preservation instead of understanding the bigger picture. When it comes to violence against women, “She drove me to it” is a commonly heard excuse. And therein lies the solution: self-control. Self-control comes as a result of knowing yourself. By finding the courage to take this journey a man will be venturing into the unknown, and that will make him vulnerable. It will also demonstrate a healthier relationship with responsibility because he is choosing to steer the course of his actions by responding rather than reacting. That way, “She drove me to it” could never be used as an excuse.

Feather, feather, hammer, truck

In coaching, we often talk of ‘feather, feather, hammer, truck’ as a metaphor to convey how the universe communicates the need for change to an individual who resists change and lives in denial. As the metaphor suggests, the universe delivers a couple of subtle hints followed by a solid reminder before finally sending in the truck for those still missing the point. In other words, it is best to be as aware as you can be of what’s going on, how people are reacting to you and how you are reacting to others. It’s easy to miss the subtle signs and devastating if you wait for the truck to come through!

So how do you pick up on the subtle messages or at least on the hammer? The answer is being aware of, and sensitive to your environment and the subtle changes in individual responses, and being responsible for everything that happens in your life. The moment a man blames, makes excuses or denies responsibility, he is making himself a victim of circumstance. In perceiving himself as the victim (“She drove me to it”), he feels justified in defending himself.  Moreover, there are often no repercussions, as most assaults go unreported, so the behaviour is rewarded and further entrenched.  

Why did I choose to write about Intimate Partner Violence and the cost of living in denial, and what do I hope you will take from it, especially if you are a man?  I wanted to acknowledge the existence of a significant problem in society and highlight what I believe are two root causes: an unwillingness to allow oneself to be vulnerable and/or take responsibility for one’s actions. I ask the men who know better to BE better, to keep working on themselves for the benefit of their families and communities AND to be aware that violence against women is not related to class or socio-economic status. Be mindful of the way your friends and colleagues are thinking and acting. Keep the lines of communication open. Let’s talk about this. Be aware of what you can do, be vulnerable and responsible and be an example of what a mature functional man should be for others. If you would like to talk more about this or you would like to find out how you can be a better man, please get in contact with me through the Engenesis Platform or email me at john@andreia.solutions.


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