10 ways society’s outdated definition of a “real man” is harmful

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When you think of a “real man”, what traits spring to mind?

Action heroes, who punch instead of communicating? Or stern father figures who never express emotion?

Let’s look at 10 ways that outdated “real man” expectations are seriously damaging to men of all ages:

1. It suggests men should suppress their emotions.

Seeing a man cry will often cause people to lose respect for him.

We’re expected to suppress our emotions, remaining stoic and even-tempered no matter what we’re experiencing. Meanwhile, we’re also expected to be emotionally available with our partners, and affectionate towards our children.

This push-pull of expectations can drive almost anyone over the edge.

Crying is seen as weak, as is asking for help when it’s needed. This leads many men to suffer alone with mental and physical health crises.

Men of the past are lauded for shouldering their load in isolation, rather than “burdening” those around them. It’s implied that sharing woes is spineless, and that truly strong men will keep a stiff upper lip and carry on.

It’s no surprise then, that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women and tend to take more drastic action when doing so.

2. It encourages aggression.

Movies, TV series, games, and books featuring male lead characters often use violence as a primary solution.

This may fall under the, “Shoot first, ask questions later” header, but also includes guys punching each other over perceived insults.

Meanwhile, healthy conflict resolution isn’t prioritized.

Furthermore, when young men, who are raging with testosterone and emotion, lash out and hit each other, it’s explained away with “Boys will be boys”.

They aren’t taught healthier ways of dealing with their emotions such as meditating, talking, exercising, and so on.

As a result, they never learn how to manage their inner storms and can end up in serious trouble when suppressed emotions become too much to handle.

3. It limits self-expression.

When it comes to ideas of masculine creativity, acceptable options seem to include carpentry, blacksmithing, leatherwork, and making fly fishing lures.

In contrast, guys who compose music, do graphic design, paint, or dance are seen as effete and unmasculine.

Yet some of the most incredible performers and artists of all time have been male.

Devaluing men’s artistry is immensely damaging and seriously limits our creativity.

What sort of world would it be without men like Picasso and Baryshnikov?

4. It promotes toxic masculinity.

There’s a lot of derision towards anything that doesn’t fit the “real man” persona. How many times have guys gotten slurs from friends if they dared to appreciate something kind or sweet?

Outdated conceptions of what it means to be a man elevate both homophobia and misogyny to an art form.

They imply that anything considered feminine is cause for mockery. Consider phrases like “He hits like a girl”. Or asking a guy if it’s his “Time of the month” when he expresses distress.

This type of toxic masculinity doesn’t just promote homophobia and misogyny but perpetuates gender inequality by extension.

There’s an unspoken (but sometimes outspoken) belief that women aren’t as smart or capable as men, while simultaneously being more emotional than them. It’s used to justify denying them leadership roles, as well as over-burdening them with traditionally domestic—and often unpaid—labor.

This is damaging to everyone involved. Each individual has their strengths and vital knowledge they can impart to others, regardless of their chromosome pairings.

5. It encourages sexual aggression.

Men are expected to do the pursuing in intimate relationships, such as making the first move with a potential lover.

We’re essentially expected to be psychic so we can naturally tell when women are interested in us, as well as what precise approaches each one would prefer to feel the right balance of flattery and safety.

It’s a tenuous tightrope to walk and often leads to misunderstandings, frustration, and damage on both sides.

Guys are told that only losers give up easily, so they relentlessly pursue women who have expressed they aren’t interested.

Similarly, guys who grew up watching porn instead of learning about healthy sexuality might think that aggression in bed is something that all women are into.

This harms both their partners and themselves. They get a bad reputation in their social circle and end up single and lonely, without understanding what they did wrong.

6. It creates unrealistic physical expectations.

It isn’t just women who are inundated with images and expectations about unattainable, ideal body types.

For someone to be considered a “real man”, he’s expected to be over 5’9”, with clearly defined muscles, a full head of hair, and a noticeable lack of body hair.

As you can imagine, these expectations aren’t particularly healthy for any man’s self-image, and many damage themselves badly trying to attain them.

Some shorter men have excruciating surgical procedures to lengthen their shins so they can gain an inch or two of extra height. While others starve themselves or work out to an unhealthy extreme to develop the musculature they think others want them to have.

7. It undermines parenting roles.

How many guys do you know have talked about “babysitting” their own kids?

The traditional views of what constitutes a “real man” generally eschews parenting in favor of being a cold, distant, head of the family whose responsibilities involve breadwinning and discipline.

This unfairly places all the burden of childcare onto the mother, which damages the relationship and prevents the men from bonding properly with their offspring.

Some men even feel it’s more manly to have multiple children with different women and let them raise their kids rather than co-parent in a healthy, loving manner.

In reality, many men are far more nurturing than their female partners but feel held back from embodying those traits because of the scorn they may earn from others.

8. It impedes personal development.

There are a lot of sensitive, caring men who would love to have careers as teachers, nurses, or psychologists.

Unfortunately, since these have long been considered “feminine” pursuits, those men shy away from these career paths in favor of those they don’t want, like engineering or military roles.

Other people’s views of masculine and feminine roles may prevent them from these jobs as well.

For example, schools are more likely to hire female teachers over male, and male pediatric nurses may find themselves overlooked in favor of their female counterparts.

As such, many men are prevented from following their dreams because of other people’s biases.

9. It reinforces homophobia.

“Real men” come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds, and that includes those who are attracted to other men.

Sadly, outdated definitions of masculinity vilify homosexuality, and sometimes even encourage aggression or violence towards gay men.

Essentially, whatever falls outside the realms of perceived heteronormality is mocked and condemned as less masculine, which is ridiculous for anyone who’s ever come across a 6’5” bearded leather daddy.

In reality, a “real man” respects others’ leanings—be they religious, political, or sexual. They won’t necessarily celebrate aspects they don’t agree with, but they accept them, nonetheless.

10. It encourages unhealthy competition.

Many men were pushed into competitive sports as children and taught that winning is everything, rather than emphasizing fun and fair play.

This early conditioning fosters unhealthy competition and creates men who place winning as more important than healthy relationships.

They end up dominating every situation they’re in. For example, talking over others in work meetings, seeing every discussion as a fight to win, and discarding partners that don’t fall in line as desired.

By doing so, they lose people’s respect and miss out on sincere, loving partnerships.

People respect those who work with them as equals, as part of a community. They don’t love those who seek to subjugate them through force.


The Latin word “vir” means “man” and is the foundation of “virtue”.

What “virtue” embodies will differ for every individual.

You can cultivate your own version of what makes a “real man”—by your own standards, not someone else’s outdated definition.

About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.