Image by Schäferle from Pixabay 

What is the biggest challenge that men face today? Some people might think, “Men have challenges?” others might think, “Men are actually a challenge”. But on a serious note the answer to this question for some, is it’s being able to develop a deep sense of emotional intelligence while for others, it’s being able to really understand racial and gender inequality. Now while both of these are true, the biggest challenge that they face in order to address those is being able to overcome and move through some of the negative stereotypes that surround masculinity. What can we do to overcome these stereotypes? First, we need to understand what they are and why they matter.

Talking about masculinity, we see how our society has a fixed belief about how men should be and what features they should possess. At a very young age, men are taught that their highest value as a man is their ability to dominate, to control and to succeed at all costs. Your status as a young man is very much dependent on how you could make other men afraid of you. They are being taught that emotional and creative expression is not what a real man does. It’s like there are certain rules assigned to them for example, “real men don’t cry”, “real men don’t express emotions openly unless it’s anger and aggression”, “real men don’t complain”, “men act tough”, “men don’t do household chores”, “a gay guy is not a real man”, “ you need to avoid things that resembles being a woman”. Young boys and men who are trying to live in this macho stereotype put masculine qualities and masculine traits on a pedestal and diminish anything that’s associated with the feminine things like community. They end up idolizing and worshipping and putting on a pedestal this idea that we need to be a lone wolf in order to figure everything out, in order to be a “real man”.

Today, more than half of the men would agree that the messages they receive about ‘how to be a man’ supports the above negative stereotypes. It has a negative impact on most men today and this is what has created the mask of masculinity. They are taught that if you get hit or get hurt, you better hit back and you better hurt back twice as hard. You need to be tough, strong, you need to avoid anything that resembles being a woman. Accepting emotions even positive ones is still felt like a weakness for men themselves and society as a whole. That male identity potentially becomes a barrier for them to understand and accept their emotions. There are means by which we are trying to turn the tide of stereotypical masculinity but the bigger question is how much is working? Although we increase awareness and run campaigns to encourage men to talk about their mental health but we as a society still view them through the lens of masculine norms. We expect men to be the protector, the fixer, the autonomous one and men expect of themselves as well. This has its roots and stark contradictions across society for on the one hand we proclaim that we’re in a new age of accepting vulnerability against men but with the other hand we still expect men to adhere to those masculine norms.

Now these masks have an impact, they have consequences and the consequences are very real. Suicides, anti-social behavior, violent crime and spousal abuse are the most common results of these stereotypes. Men more often perpetrate acts of physical violence. They are viewed as an irrational potentially violent man. It has also increased the perception of women that men are dangerous to be feared. But it’s also true that most boys and men are not physically violent and are just trying to get through life as good decent human beings. In the coming years, the most likely cause of death for men is going to be “I’ll do it myself”. WHO in the year 2016 released a study that men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Researchers in the UK in their study found that half, 50% of men over the age of 25 commit suicide. Globally, death by suicide occurred about 1.8 times more often among males than among females in 2008, and 1.7 times in 2015. This data clearly shows that the very belief that men should figure out their personal problems without asking for help makes them so isolated and depressed that they find no one to talk to. Even if they think of talking about it, they are reminded not to run away and deal with it like a “man”. They struggle to know what being a man is meant, what their identity is, what is expected of them. This is the single best factor to men’s mental health issues and male suicide. The fear is that we’ve given man as a whole an identity that says they’re predators and that this predatory identity makes it really hard for men to come forward for those mental health difficulties and actually ask for the help that they need.

Society needs to overcome all these stereotypes that have so much negative impact on the mental health of men. We should teach boys and young men that asking for help is a sign of strength, tough men show their vulnerabilities, authentic men are attractive, domestic chores are not defined by gender, gender identity is independent of biological sex, lasting relationships are the most fulfilling, benevolence and collaboration trump aggression and control. We should teach boys that doing ballet and playing with dolls is as okay as playing sports. Men need to reconnect with those who want to have real conversations, the ones that go beyond the booze and the blood sports. They need to talk about the times they struggled most. They need to feel free to tell other men that they’re glad to have them in their lives. Men have to learn that if they argue with a woman, they don’t have to raise their voice or raise their hand. Changing these things also doesn’t have to be complicated. We don’t need men to change radically, it’s just another skill that they can learn and can apply in the right situations. It’s time for men to no longer be constrained and restricted by societal expectations and demands that don’t look favorable.

We need to bring local changes, only then we can spread the influence out properly into the broader community. We need to manifest courageous faith in the men that are close to us in our life. Positive relationship needs to be established in every kind of relationship that involves men. Fathers should be the type of man that they would be proud to see their daughters marry and the type that their sons deserve to be raised by. So, he can stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. Social changes are required for this massive organized movement but most importantly, it requires each one of us to make one small change in our lives to get people to respond in a different way, to put down this mask. If we turn off the nightly news and sometimes our news feeds and our social media sites and just look around us, we’re going to see a lot more of that happening than we know and by recognizing it and seeing it we can start to make small cultural shifts where people learn that it’s not going to be judged negatively. Let’s eliminate phrases like ‘boys will be boys’, ‘stop acting like a girl’, these are common human emotions that are experienced and they don’t have to be gendered in any way. Let’s redefine what it means to be courageous, it doesn’t require courage to hide behind a mask. What requires courage is to be open and vulnerable no matter what the outcome, that’s what we need to ask men to do.

Today, the rise of an empowered woman is not a threat to masculinity, feminism is not the death of men. Machoism and the very idea that to become a successful man we need to dominate others, we need to be a lone wolf, we need to figure it out by ourselves, that’s what is really crushing men today. It’s no longer enough to increase the options for men to seek therapy, to encourage men to talk, to simply state that toxic masculine principle should no longer be a barrier. We have to change the conversation. The issue of men’s mental health and male suicide is critical and we need to look deeper to the socially constructed identity of men. How men are viewed in the society today, how they view themselves and actually change the rhetoric. We all need to walk away from these stereotypes and commit to removing the mask of masculinity at least in some small way. As we gain more awareness and knowledge, we can elicit changes in others through our examples and the quality of our conversations and create an embraced society.

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