I've struggled with toxic masculinity since I was a senior in high school. For a brief period I had group of friends, male and female, with which I was actually able to open up to and not be ashamed of or ridiculed for portraying a less-than-macho personality. I loved it, because I've never liked the hypermasculine archetype society subtly pushes on all males and it's never jived well with my personality. I don't want to be anything like the traditionally stoic (except for anger, the one emotion men are allowed to experience), brute of a man and I never have.
But by the time I encountered this group I had already evolved a defense mechanism. Aside from simply masking any and every emotion possible (except anger, of course) I act like a jerk in small, subtle ways to show others that I am, in fact, a man. I do it playfully and good naturedly, but it can be hard to discern that from an outside perspective. I do it far less with females than males, which is good-ish, I guess, but I'd rather it not happen at all.
With this group of friends I was able to drop that act a little bit. Not fully, because it was too ingrained into my subconscious and I wasn't fully aware of what I was doing or why at that point in my life, but I recognised that I could show these people a better glimpse of who I actually am and it was huge for me. For the year or so that I got to spend with them I was becoming a person I really liked being and wasn't ashamed to be seen as. I was incredibly self-conscious before I met these people and I was finally starting to stop caring about the opinions of others and it was the best feeling of my life.
But I had to go to college and while I kept in touch with them the new social dynamics I found myself thrust into undid a lot of that evolution and brought that defense mechanism back to the forefront. I ended up going through a rough patch for a couple years soon after that. I was bitter, lonely and depressed and at times truly enjoyed causing small, petty emotional harms to others (something made very easy since most of my socializing by then was done as a pseudo-anonymous personality on the internet) which further cemented this behavior in my personality.
Things got better, but I couldn't lean on that group of friends again. I never treated them poorly, thankfully, but we had just grown apart as many young friendships do. I've made new friends, a handful of whom I can open up to a little bit, but the only person that I can be truly, entirely open with now is my wife. With absolutely everyone else there's always that "everything's okay and even if it's not I can't show much emotion because man" mask in the way. I can drop it slightly with a few people, but it still interferes despite my deepest yearnings.
My problem with being self-conscious is worse than ever now. On an intellectual level I recognise that I shouldn't and don't care about the opinions of some random fuck I'll never see again, but when it the time comes to prove to myself that I'm right, I fail time and time again.
And despite being cognizant of my defense mechanism, despite hating it and feeling like shit for letting it rear it's head it does so often. In the past year I've really begun to make an effort to stop it, but it's harder than I thought it would be. I actively try to stop myself from acting out this way but it's so much a part of me that I'm still having trouble learning to recognise the impulse, since it's not even something I think about doing.
Worst of all, however, is my near-complete inability to cry. For my entire life I've been told that crying is the worst thing a man can do and I've found that, 99% of the time I simply can't cry even if I want to. Pet dies? Sad, but no crying. Uncle dies? A few minutes of tears but nothing more. Beloved grandfather dies? Slightly leaky eyes on and off for a couple days but never the breakdown that I desperately need to help me get through it. It's horrible. I feel absolutely broken.
But I am making progress. I may never become that person I found myself becoming all those years ago, but I'm going to try my absolute hardest to get as close to that person as possible.
Toxic masculinity is a huge problem. It's a disgusting, harmful burden forced upon us from the day we're born and most men don't even realize it's there, even if they're directly suffering from it's effects. Female equality is a hugely important issue and I wouldn't have it downplayed in any way whatsoever, but we need to start addressing this problem as well. Honestly, addressing toxic masculinity would, I think, help to alleviate a few of the problems women face. I think the hypermasculine archetype society expects men to be is a huge factor in creating the type of men who suppress, abuse, belittle, etc women so casually and unthinkingly and thus don't think twice about the injustice of institutional misogyny.