By Sara Paciaroni
In the past few months we have heard a lot about policy-making supporting women and (of course) the women’s march, and we have inevitably heard someone saying “What about men?”
Feminism is, by definition, the “advocacy of equality of the sexes” (OED), yet we don’t hear about men’s struggles as often. In fact, men suffer from societal pressure and gender stereotypes as much as women do.
Toxic masculinity and sexism are not only to blame for the wage gap and violence towards women, they are bad for men too. Research conducted by Indiana University reports that men who are exposed to traditionally masculine behaviours suffer from poorer mental health and are less likely to seek help.
Traits of toxic masculinity include “disdain for homosexuality, primacy of work, self-reliance, sexual promiscuity, power over women, and risk-taking,” reports the study. According to the Telegraph, these behaviours arise from our society’s rooted notion that men must be “infallible, unbreakable and handy in a fight,” encouraging “emotional distance.”
We have all witnessed, since childhood, young boys being told to “man up” or “grow a pair” as opposed to freely talking about their feelings. As a result, adult men feel additional pressure in times of crisis, as a survey conducted by the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) shows. 42% of men, in fact, believe that they should be “mostly responsible for being emotionally strong and taking charge in a crisis” compared to 17% of women. 42% of men also feel more responsibility when it comes to work, since men are traditionally assumed to be the “provider” in the family, resulting in more pressure and feelings of shame and being “less of a man” in the event of losing of their job.
These factors not only cause relationship difficulties in men presenting this kind of pressures, but also a higher rate of mental illnesses and suicide compared to women, who in collective thought, are seen as more open to discussing these issues, and more willing to seek professional help. As YouGov reports, suicide has become the biggest killer of men under 50 in Britain. Yet, only 2% of young men actually feel completely masculine, sign that toxic masculinity is the product of centuries of imposed constraints and gender stereotypes, rather than inherent traits due to gender.
The situation is particularly critical in college years, reports Brown University. The reason lies in the fact that men have been socialized to express anger as the only emotion, to be dominant over others, at times leading to episodes of sexual assaults and other forms of violence in university and college campuses.
“Men need new rules for survival. Outmoded, incorrect and misplaced male self-beliefs are proving lethal and the traditional strong, silent response to adversity is increasingly failing to protect men from themselves,” CALM’s chief executive, Jane Powell, told the Telegraph, “So far, Government and society has failed to act on this self-inflicted yet preventable slaughter of our husbands, partners, brothers and sons.”
One way to reverse this process would be allowing young men to express the different things they are dealing with in their lives, like how to convey their emotions and deal with conflict, in order to “unlearn” some of the notions imposed by society as to “what a real man is”. This includes seeing men as finally valued for their role as parents, being able to establish an emotional connection with their kids, to have a saying in assigning child custody and other aspects who are “traditionally” reserved to women, without feeling ashamed.
Enabling men to freely express their feelings, would significantly improve their response to crisis and better their mental health, triggering a new perception of their role in society, as not inherently “masculine”, but rather “human” and therefore fallible, freeing them from absurd expectations.