Breaking Toxic Masculinity: Powerful Prose That Overcomes Emotional Repression

It’s time we start encouraging men to talk about their feelings instead of bottling them up. Read on for a list of male authored books upholding this notion.

Lifestyle Non-Fiction Recommendations Self Help Wellness
A man with his head covered by a large flower with drawn flowers in the background.

You have most likely heard of toxic masculinity, but in case you haven’t, it’s a harmful way men are expected to act. So harmful that it causes negative impacts on men and society as a whole.

In a world where men consistently rule, we tend to focus specifically on how toxic masculinity impacts society. While I am always in favor of criticizing the patriarchy, I can acknowledge that there is one group that suffers from toxic masculinity that we tend to overlook: the men. Society forces men to aspire to a harmful image of manhood. This alleged manhood is a heavy mental weight for men to bear. Yet the conversation surrounding men’s mental health is woefully lacking.

As long as the consequences men face from toxic masculinity go undiscussed, the problem will continue to persist. It’s important to teach men that their mental health matters, that their emotions are valid, and they are just as allowed as anyone else to be vulnerable. 

Luckily, there are already men doing the work of embracing their emotional complexity. As the general ideas of manhood and masculinity evolve and change, men are writing about what it’s like to break free of toxic masculinity and embrace their human complexity. To encourage this progress, here’s a list of fiction and nonfiction books from men reckoning with manhood in a world where toxic masculinity reigns.

I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terrence Real

Book cover for "I Don't Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression" by Terrence Real.

Psychotherapist Terrence Real combines analysis, patient anecdotes, and his own experiences to paint a frank portrait of the depression men face. We see some problems as “male” – alcoholism, rage, workaholism, to name a few. Real asserts these actions are misguided attempts to heal, causing men to inadvertently hurt those around them. Through the book, Real offers men ways of healing themselves and restoring relationships, encouraging them to face the emotions they’ve struggled with and move forward. Heralded as groundbreaking when it was released, Real’s book remains a quintessential text in men’s studies.

Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined by J.J. Bola

Cover for "Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined" by J.J. Bola.

In Mask Off, J.J. Bola treats masculinity as a performance men put on according to their surrounding contexts. He takes readers through history across the world, jumping from non-Western traditions to sports to music to expose how humanity has treated manhood. Bola takes the time to explore how masculinity affects different groups, from LGBTQ men to men refugees, and how different political contexts change masculinity’s shape. Intersectional, thorough, and sympathetic, Mask Off documents Bola’s attempt to answer a vital question: what is masculinity?

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Cover for "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Between The World and Me is a raw letter from father to son. Addressing his son, Coates reckons with his own and other Black peoples’ place in the world. America is a nation built on the backs of Black women and men, exploited and violated to maintain an empire. What does that kind of history mean for Black people living now? Coates searches for an answer to this question as he shares his experiences with his son. Weaving a heartful narrative with reimagined history and frank reporting, Coates warns his son of the role society will want him to play but also delivers a message of hope for a better future.

Patriarchy Blues: Reflections on Manhood by Frederick Joseph

Cover for "Patriarchy Blues: Reflections on Manhood" by Frederick Joseph.

What does it mean to be a man? What does the term “toxic masculinity” actually say about how men navigate the world? Joseph confronts these questions in a collection of essays, poems, and short reflection pieces that explore masculinity and patriarchy. Fatherhood, therapy, abuse – Joseph looks at critical components of men’s lives from personal and cultural perspectives. Aided by his experience as a Black man, Patriarchy Blues is a journey through manhood that reveals the highs and lows it entails.

Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity by Thomas Page McBee

Cover for "Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity" by Thomas Page McBee

McBee, a trans man and self-proclaimed “amateur” at masculinity, journeys to discover what makes a man as he trains for a charity boxing match. McBee leaves no stone unturned – he explores gender in society, sexism, toxic masculinity, and privilege in his quest. He uncovers debilitating issues like restrictive gender roles and the roots of masculine aggression, but he also finds hope, love, and intimacy in his boxing and his role as a man. Complemented by interviews from various disciplines, McBee looks at the role of men in contemporary society as someone who wants more than to play an outdated part.

The New Masculinity: A Roadmap for a 21st-Century Definition of Manhood by Alex Manley

Cover for "The New Masculinity: A Roadmap for a 21st-Century Definition of Manhood" by Alex Manley

In The New Masculinity, senior editor and writer Alex Manley presents a guide for pushing back against harmful masculinity. With his seven years of working for AskMen, a men’s lifestyle site, Manley has seen the spectrum of emotions men feel as they try to navigate the world. Manley’s book is a guide for men who want to unlearn toxic masculinity and rebel against the harmful attitudes society encourages them to adopt. The New Masculinity urges men to embrace all parts of themselves to become responsive, caring individuals who invest in themselves and others.

Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency by Andrew Reiner

Cover for "Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency" by Andrew Reiner.

Cultural critic and New York Times contributor Andrew Reiner argues that men today are forced to ascribe to an outdated model of masculinity. The world is changing, and the masculinity presented by fathers and grandfathers is causing grave effects on boys and men as they try to live up to it. Struggles in the classroom, rising unemployment rates, and increases in violence – according to Reiner, these are all the effects of outdated masculinity. Through a series of interviews with boys and men of all ages, as well as a variety of professionals, Reiner tries to find out what factors are keeping boys and men from being emotionally resilient.

The first step to making effective change is admitting something needs to change. These books are testimonials about the importance of bettering men’s mental health, an issue that impacts everyone more than we can imagine.

When it comes to mental health advocacy, fictional depictions can be just as important as real-life cases. Read our article on mental health stigma in literature here.

Looking for more books about mental health? Check out these books on our Bookshop shelf.