Masculinity & Men's Mental Health
I’ve joined forces with Madhur from A Vivid Life with the aim to raise some awareness. Not just to health issues affecting men, but also how masculinity as a concept and the stereotype of a “man” are often actually leaving a negative impact upon individuals.
“As I’ve spent my energy building a deeper sense of who I am, I’ve made it a routine habit to question such norms just to be sure whether that is how “I feel about them” or whether “it is something I’ve been conditioned into thinking.”
Allow me add this disclaimer: before any individuals who label themselves as feminist start an uproar, I want you to understand that the ‘enemy’ of feminism is patriarchy not men. It is the system not the individuals nor their gender. What we are striving for is a society where men support women as equals. And, whether you choose to admit it or acknowledge it, men are equally as important as are their lives and their health because beneath these “gender” labels and the genitalia between our legs, we are all human.
Feminism: (n.) the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
Masculine: (adj.) pertaining to or characteristic of a man/men.
Male: (n.) a person bearing an X and Y chromosome pair in the cell nuclei and normally having a penis, scrotum, and testicles, and developing hair on the face at adolescence; a boy or man.
In fact, if my taking the time to write about men’s health bothers you, then I believe it’s extra important that you continue to read - because you could be part of the issue. There is a reason why men don’t receive the support they require in certain aspects of their life and that’s largely due to the distorted idea of masculinity.
Here we are. So, let’s talk.
Many of us see posts as such floating around social media, and while we might see or read it, that doesn’t necessarily mean we acknowledge its full meaning and actually consider how it applies to our current world. We think, “Oh, just another person being vocal about something or other, cool story bro, needs more dragons and shit.”
Social media has become such an open platform for sharing a lot of uncensored information. Maybe it’s some chick bitching about her boyfriend not being good enough, or how he needs to be “more of a man”. Maybe it’s a mate telling his bro to “man up”. Maybe it’s a parent not wanting her son to “be gay”. A lot of these examples are turned into memes but, honestly, it’s not exactly humorous when you’re the target of said comedy act.
THE REALITY IS…
There are many men out there who are currently under fire for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Who are finding it difficult to be accepted into society because what is supposed to be their close support network of family and friends have instead called out their personal choices as wrong or disgusting.
There are many men out there who find themselves unable to speak up for fear of being told to man up - even if that speaking is a visit to a doctor or psychologist regarding physical or mental health. They’re told to toughen up. And emotions? Don’t even get me started. Apparently, it’s socially unacceptable to cry and I witnessed the reality of this the first time my fiance got emotional about something and hastily apologised.
There are many men in abusive relationships - perhaps not the violent and physical sort which we often assume is the only kind - but emotionally abusive. When’s the last time you saw a Facebook post of a girl showing a list of rules her boyfriend needs to follow to keep her happy, including don’t speak to other girls. Don’t befriend any other girls. Don’t spend more time with the boys and don’t hang out with ______. Remember how people used to joke about being whipped by the girlfriend or the missus? Yeah, often it’s not a joke.
You might ask, “Well, why do they stay in those relationships? Why don’t they get a divorce or break up?” Let me tell you - if your level of confidence is beaten down into the ground, you aren’t exactly feeling like a hot commodity. To feel worthless and therefore accepting of your fate; many believe they don’t deserve or can’t get better. Or - and this is one we definitely don’t think on - they chose to honour their commitment. That’s right; it’s not always men with the commitment issues. There’s another stereotypical assumption for you.
It’s not all as “out there” as that, though.
The simple use of stereotype and this supposed gender norm is also used to compress and remove harmless forms of expression - whether it be in childhood or as an adult - and it can be highly influential and damaging. Something as simple as enjoying wearing nail-polish or makeup, something as simple as watching a rom-com and having a good cry, taking a long bath with candles or even speaking about feelings is seen as not manly or masculine enough.
In fact, I asked Madhur what he believed the stereotype of being a man was, and with his statement I agree with wholeheartedly - which is why I’ve left the entire piece in his raw words.
“I think what the word has come to mean and imply in the modern context has in itself become nothing but a culmination of gender based stereotypes. We have confused human personality traits/preferences/activities as being gender-specific personality traits/preferences/activities.
For instance, what does gender have to do with being soft, with being gentle, with being emotionally expressive? What does does gender have to do with long hair, with piercings, with body hair (or the lack of it)? What does gender have to do with wanting to knit or wanting to prioritize parenthood over a career? Yet, all of these are systematically forced upon us on a daily basis (at least in my experience.)
I now see these stereotypes as extremely toxic because they are yielding us a homogeneous definition of what being a man means, thereby limiting human potential at a macro level. At a micro level, they are limiting us and present themselves as barriers to tuning-in to our authentic self. They make us conform to imaginary or society imbibed norms that do not resonate with the essence of who we are.”
While some individuals will find humour in these slurs and taunts, there are others who are really, truly affected. If you’d like some help learning how to tone your insensitivity down, here’s a piece of advice I prepared earlier; practice compassion.
Let’s touch on Movember and the Movember Foundation and what it actually is. We know it’s where men grow moustaches, but what for? I’m actually going to copy this excerpt straight from their website because I can’t phrase it any better than that.
“The state of men’s health is in crisis. Men experience worse longer-term health than women and die on average six years earlier. Prostate cancer rates will double in the next 15 years. Testicular cancer rates have already doubled in the last 50. Three quarters of suicides are men. Poor mental health leads to half a million men taking their own life every year. That’s one every minute.
Our fathers, partners, brothers and friends are facing this health crisis and it’s not being talked about. We can’t afford to stay silent.”
There’s a lot more to it; it’s not just ‘grow a moustache for the kicks’ month. It’s honestly to the point where Madhur, having seen, felt and heard all he has, believes that therapy is an essential tool to navigate through life as a modern man.
International Men’s Day was on November 19th so let’s add some further statistics. Before you read them, remove every comment that revolves around, “it’s because they’re men and that’s what men are like/do” or “what about the females though” and accept this as it is. In Australia alone, according to The Smashed Avocado Movement;
· Constitute 76% of suicides.
· Constitute 85% of homeless people.
· Are the victims of 70% of homicides.
· Are the victims of 40% of domestic abuse.
· Are the victims of the most violent crime.
· Serve 64% longer prison sentences.
· Are 92% of deaths in the workplace.
· Are 3-4 times more likely than women to be imprisoned for the same crime.
Roll that into your feminist cigarette and smoke it. Where’s the “equality”? If you’re one of those people who were going to say, “That’s just what men do..” Let me ask you; does society support men to be more gentle? To be more kind? To show empathy, emotion or remorse?
No, it doesn’t. But at the same time, society expects nothing less and then questions and criticises when those expectations are not lived up to. This takes us in one big loop, right back to that image I added. Society wants men who do it all - cook and clean, be understanding of us and our bodies, treat us like equals, be smart, be successful, be attractive, be kind and sweet. But how are they able to reach that place if we’re not letting them play with “girl toys” as a kid, if we’re telling them they don’t have a six pack so they’re clearly not hot enough, if we’re telling them that they need to be the “tough guy” all the time and mocking them whenever they do cry?
“Speaking from personal experience, mental health definitely is an area that is neglected. Men are encouraged to suppress and hide their emotions. We are also grotesquely isolated for not conforming to certain norms, leading to low self worth.”
This is from the perspective of a man who had spent the majority of his 20s living an inharmonious life; through the requirement to conform the authentic self is butchered, battered then lost entirely until leaving a “detrimental impact” on the sense of identity and the consequent self-worth. Empowerment wasn’t an emotion within his repertoire until recently; a combination of therapy and introspection/reflection are allowing freedom of thought to make better choices and progress.
“I realized so much of who I am and the life I was living didn’t feel authentic. I decided to deal with this realization by questioning all aspects of life till I had an answer that felt authentic to who I am. My questioning of gender took place as a part of this process. So much of what and how I understood about gender felt inauthentic to the essence of who I am.”
When talking about and referring to the label of being a man, would you have ever thought men did not experience that empowerment? That they felt weak and undervalued, alone without support? Allow me to reinforce the statement of patriarchy being the opposition to feminism - not men.
There are two things in particular which Madhur is presently wanting to do that seem “out of place” for his label of male, especially in his Indian culture. Wait for the shock horror of how extreme they are: 1) get a nose piercing and, 2) grow his hair and either get a fringe or lob (long bob, if you’re wondering). Just those two little things. That’s it. Yet there’s still controversy surrounding those desires because they’re predominantly for women. Not just the overall societal judgment, but cultural too weighs in on this toxic perspective - something which again has not been fully considered by most who throw forth the suggestion of, “Why don’t people just do what they want?”
“I would say culture and upbringing definitely played a role in my understanding and thoughtless conforming to gender based stereotypes. For instance, I distinctly remember an experience from school, where a teacher painted my nails in class, saying “if you like to keep long nails, then paint them like a girl.” I remember having gender based seating in class through most years. I remember being told “boys don’t cry” pretty much through each stage of my life. Such experiences were extremely pervasive and spread in almost all areas of life.”
I bet right now you’re sitting there thinking, “Wow, that’s fucked.” It is, isn’t it? Sadly, it’s also reality. It’s not just about our personal control.
Through a combination of gender stereotypes, the generalisation of a collective of individuals and a misconstrued understanding of feminism, men are fighting in an attempt to achieve both an authentic self and societal acceptance alongside in this modern day society.
While we women can vocalise how awful our period pains are and the disappointment that we’re still needing to fight for equal pay, men are expected to suffer in silence because “men are tough” and “men don’t cry - it’s girly.” But, somehow we’ll still wish so hard for a partner, a father, a brother, a friend who’s in touch with his emotions, and unafraid to express feelings and to cry, and then become frustrated when it proves so rare a find.
“One piece of advice,” I said to Madhur. “One piece of advice you’d like to give to men/women/non-binary individuals on how to deal with pressures/be themselves/accept others.” This was his reply:
“This is a tough one, because I’m still learning to navigate through such pressure myself and it’s all too raw. That said, one clear lesson that has already emerged for me is - we must embrace our authenticity even (especially) when it demands fragility and vulnerability. This acceptance of fragility and vulnerability for the pursuit of authenticity has created a fearlessness that has enabled me to keep questioning and keep tuning-in the the essence of who I am, rather than letting societal narratives deviate me further. Conversely, we must be mindful to encourage and celebrate individuals we know who are doing the same in their life, especially in contexts that don’t make sense to us owing to our conditioning.”
It’s time to throw those stereotypes out the window, burn that distorted perception of masculinity and allow the walls which keep them mentally and emotionally confined to crumble. If the stereotype of masculinity was removed;
“It would enable and empower men to live a life authentic to who they are. One that celebrates their ingenuity instead of suppressing it. Men would be able to live in complete harmony with the essence of who they are.”
We have the power to rise up together, but also the ability to cause each other to fall. So what can we do? Offer help, offer support, encourage behaviour that had previously been considered girly or feminine because honestly, we put those labels there in the first place. Let’s remove them. Men have the right to feel safe speaking about their physical and mental health both, whether it be in regards to prostate or testicular cancer, depression and anxiety, or just their overall well-being which includes everything from general health and fitness to acceptance in society and a work/life balance.
Through all stages of their life, men deserve this support. Through all stages of their life, men should be able to live as their authentic selves - whether it’s footy and beers with the mates, or facials and nails done with the wife. Or both! How about we allow both. Wear pink or wear blue, wear makeup or a rugged beard, laugh, cry, live as a human. Not trapped beneath this image of toxic masculinity which suppresses all emotion and individuality and consequently causes these humans to become a statistic.
Yes, I am not a man. So why am I writing about men’s health and masculinity? It doesn’t take a penis and balls to see that something here isn’t right and as a soon-to-be wife and friend, I am calling for change - perhaps not for myself personally but for those I love and for the bigger picture too; a more accepting world with a brighter future.
Love from your moustache-less but wholesome in November (and all year round) nonetheless Wildflower,
*This was a guest post, written by Emma Lee.