November is Men’s Health Awareness month and naturally that is going to include mental health alongside raising money and awareness for serious health complications – as what Movember stands for – such as prostate cancer. As someone that does consider themselves to be an intersectional feminist and someone that frequently talks about the impact society has on mental health in general; talking about how feminism is needed to improve men’s mental health is important and vital. Feminism is not ‘just for women’. It is moving society forward towards equality for all genders and that means tearing down a patriarchal system that has not only inflicted damage on women but also people of colour, non-conforming gender identities and created unobtainable stereotypes for people to live up to.
I can’t stand the phrase ‘man up’
Telling someone to ‘man up’ implies whatever they’re doing at the time is weak and reinforces this idea of toxic masculinity which honestly is something no one benefits from. There is this expectation of men to be strong, silent, stoic and that can be traumatic and damaging. This societal attitude is what has lead to a real mental health crisis because I feel there are so many men that fall through the cracks when it comes to getting help and support for their emotional wellbeing. I don’t know if it’s a predisposition attitude which makes decision makers overlook men when they do go and seek support or if it’s simply a lack of resources – I would be inclined to say it’s a mix of both – but this creates a cycle where someone seeks support and is rejected or overlooked from that support and mentally that creates a barrier from seeking support again.
Being Masculine isn’t the problem
This isn’t an attack on gender conforming males, those that choose to present as masculine or even ‘manliness’ as a concept. It’s an attack on the pressure that men face because of what is expected of them. Toxic masculinity is the negative attributes associated with aggressive, dominating, power hungry individuals that don’t want to see change from a society that already works in their favour. It’s the belief that anything seen as ‘feminine’ is weak such as showing emotions, talking about feelings and admitting when they need help. It’s the way society belief men can only earn respect in positions of power. This then leads to a sense of entitlement over other genders and that is what feminism challenges because the entitled attitude is what is damaging for equality. There is nothing wrong with essentially being manly because there is nothing wrong with being or presenting as male. It’s when the attitude dictates oppressing other genders.
Feminism allows men’s mental health to be taken seriously
Equality isn’t just about fair wages and eliminating expected gender roles and stereotypes although that is the fundamental part of the feminism movement. All of the knock on effect of that benefits all genders. It would allow those that struggle talking about their emotions and mental health the safety of seeking support without negative attitudes and perceived repercussions. It allows people to live a life that is beneficial and happy for their wants and needs. It makes space for other genders in more male or female dominated workspaces which in turn can lead to healthy role models for young people seeing their own identity represented in a workplace or position that they aspire for themselves.
It could allow dads to have extended paternity leave after the birth or adoption of their child and the ability to take time away from work because they need the time to rest. Despite the society expectations that we must all exist only to work in the functionalist machine of capitalism gender equality can lead to people taking the time to figure out what they’re passionate about rather than just fitting a role.
Men experiencing trauma isn’t taken seriously enough
The statistics speak for themselves. Men are more likely to end up homeless, have depression – oftentimes probably undiagnosed – have substance abuse problems and are more likely to commit acts of violence and end up in prison. Men are more likely to commit suicide because their feelings, trauma and emotional wellbeing is not taken seriously enough. Men are less likely to report cases of domestic violence, in same sex as well as heterosexual relationships, and they are less likely to go to the doctor when they need support, or even just physical health checks. New fathers won’t speak up if they’re struggling with the challenges of parenthood and can suffer from a form of post natal depression too.
Trauma comes in all forms and not living in a safe secure space, or having a proper support network makes it very hard to heal and recover from. Just because an event is in the past does not mean a person that had that lived experience does not think, feel or experience the aftermath of the event on a regular basis. When you are condemned for wanting support or showing emotions is a sign of weakness because of gender bias it makes it even harder to try and recover from that and this is what has lead to the mental health crisis we face today.
Supporting someone that has experienced trauma is a privilege
For me, there is nothing more equally heart breaking and touching as hearing a man talk about their mental health, whether that’s as simple as something their struggling with or if it goes as deep as a traumatic incident. Being someone that is trusted to hold that space for them as they feel secure in the knowledge that talking about something difficult is going to be free of judgement is something I do consider a treasured moment in a way. One in which I am proud that someone is defying those gender bias to open up about how they’re feeling but also honoured in a way that I’m trusted enough. Women are expected to get emotional over things (yet still judged for it as being too sensitive) and men seem to be reprimanded for it by saying things like ‘Big boys don’t cry’ which is just such a dismissive reaction to boys showing their hurt or suffering. This notion that men shouldn’t cry again reinforces that idea of weakness when I actually think hearing, seeing, or knowing a man has cried over something that they have been hurt or felt deeply about is a sign of strength and trust. Again, it’s allowing themselves to freely express themselves in the moment and that is something that should never be refused, condemned or punished for.
Perhaps it’s my persistent question asking and curiosity that has lead to these interactions in the past although I would also hope it’s my character that creates a safe space for people to open up to. I’m not really sure but any time this has happened it has just lead to me having the utmost respect for them. I would never trivial someone else’s trauma when they have felt able to tell it to me, even if it’s not a personal lived experience or something I fully understand. Everyone should be able to express themselves in a way that is comfortable and healthy for them and when you become a confidant to someone’s struggles it really is a privilege to know they trust you. That is what it comes down to more than anything, finding someone they trust to show vulnerabilities. Being that person in a society that shuns men from talking about their feelings, emotional wellbeing and mental health is a privilege and something I will always take seriously in order to be a good friend and a source of support where I can.
Parental responsibilities in men’s mental health
As a mum of a boy I am incredibly aware that my own bias and perceived stereotypes of men can directly impact his self worth as he grows up. The way I raise him is what will affect his ability to manage, sit with and look after his emotional wellbeing, just the same as it does with my daughter. However, I feel more pressure raising a son because not only do I want him to continue being the kind, loving child he is becoming but I want him to feel safe to express himself when he feels any form of emotion and be able to learn from his reactions. Allowing men to be free of societal expectations that lead to a toxic masculinity attitude is at the responsibility of parents first and foremost. By raising our children to understand gender equality and to treat mental and emotional health as a serious matter will hopefully lead to generational shifts, eliminating toxic masculinity and preventing gender bias when allocating support and assistance for those that need it.