Masculinity - Scottish Government’s position

Policy Piece

The below content sets out the Scottish Government’s position on the topic of Masculinity, and also includes a ‘state of the nation’ prepared by the government’s analytical department.

Scottish Government Policy Position

Violence Against Women and Girls Team

Equally Safe – Policy Approach and Impact


Equally Safe is Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls (alternatively known as gender based violence). Violence against women and girls includes (but is not limited to):

• physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family (including children and young people), within the general community or in institutions, including domestic abuse, rape, and incest;

• sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation in any public or private space, including work;

• commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, lap dancing, stripping, pornography and trafficking;

• child sexual abuse, including familial sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and online abuse;

• so called ‘honour based’ violence, including dowry related violence, female genital mutilation, forced and child marriages, and ‘honour’ crimes.

The gendered analysis that underpins Equally Safe recognises that women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence precisely because of their gender. It recognises that violence towards women and girls stems from the inequality that exists between genders – an inequality that is present in our lives, our systems and our institutions.

We recognise that these forms of violence can be committed against men and boys by women and girls as well as in same sex relationships. All survivors of gender based violence deserve support. All of the laws we are putting in place to tackle these forms of violence can be used for any combination of perpetrator or abuser, and all of the educational measures will help to teach everyone about consent and healthy relationships.

Equally Safe aims to do just that, to keep the people of Scotland equally safe from these forms of violence. We have developed a delivery plan with actions to start to make the Equally Safe vision a reality.

Toxic masculinity

A gendered analysis does not exclude men, but rather recognises that women and girls are disproportionately affected by these particular forms of violence because they are women and girls. It also recognises the damaging effects that traditional gender roles have on men and boys, that the expectations on how they should behave encourage dangerous behaviours and shames men and boys into hiding their emotions.

These damaging behaviours and expectations are known as “toxic masculinity”. This is not to say that being a man or masculine is bad, or that liking traditionally masculine things like sports, cars, the opposite sex, etc. is bad or shameful. It is not an accusation that all men behave this way. It does not mean that women cannot act violently or abusively, more that their behaviour is not supported by a culture that encourages them to be so.

Toxic masculinity refers to the expectations that men be aggressive, violent, unemotional and dominate their relationships with women and children. It ridicules “feminine” traits such as compassion, empathy and the ability to express your emotions. A man or boy displaying these traits may be laughed at, encouraging them to suppress their pain and emotions, leading to higher rates of violence, risk-taking behaviour and suicide.

Pain experienced by men and boys over depression, being bullied, feeling suicidal, experiencing eating disorders, being abused – toxic masculinity teaches men and boys that these are “feminine” issues and that “real men” do not have them. This can leave men suppressing their pain, lacking the ability and security to talk about their emotions, and to lash out in “acceptable” masculine ways such as substance abuse and violence.

For instance the biggest common denominator in mass shootings is that almost all of the perpetrators are men. Women suffer mental illness at roughly the same rate as men, but almost none commit large-scale violence. Similarly the levels of suicide for men are much greater than for women, because of social pressure on men not to seek help to deal with their emotional problems.

Toxic masculinity is the culture that shames men for emotional displays or displaying any form of feminized “weakness” and sets the stage for men to act violently towards others.

Examples of toxic masculinity:
• The expectation that “real men” are keenly interested in sex, want to have sex, and are ready to have sex most if not all times.
• Seeing sex as an act of dominance rather than of affection and mutual pleasure.
• The idea that men are unable to control their sexual urges, and thus are not to blame for sexual violence.
• The expectation that “real men are strong”, and that showing any emotion other than anger is incompatible with being strong.
• The idea that men cannot truly understand women, and vice versa – and that no true companionship can be had between different sexes.
• The myth that men are not interested in parenting, and are inherently unsuited to be single parents.
• The idea that taking an interest in fashion, your appearance, romance, “girly” drinks, etc. makes you less of a man.
• “Boys will be boys” – dismissing aggression as evidence of affection or as an uncontrollable urge.

There has been excellent work done over the past few decades to break down some of the gender expectations of women: that women must wear makeup and be perfectly presented at all times, that women can only gain power by coddling or manipulating men, etc. We want your help to break down the patriarchal gender roles that stifle men as well.

Further reading: Scottish Government Analytical Services – State of the Nation