Men aren't dying because they're born male. They’re dying because of what it means to be a man
The blueprint for masculinity is as uncomplicated as it gets. Down pints, pull birds, lift weights, Be physically strong, mentally resilient, and entirely self-sufficient.
The problem is, it’s completely unsustainable.
Nevertheless, the string and silent typecast– the one that sees thousands of men in the UK take their own lives every year– has ricocheted down through generations. Your dad was taught it, and so was your granddad, and your great grandad too.
In a survey of 18-24 year old men, three per cent associated masculinity with kindness
That manliness could do with a rebrand is an understatement. In a YouGov survey of 18 to 24 year old men, just three per cent of participants said they associate masculinity with kindness, and just one per cent said the word represents respectfulness, honesty or supportiveness.
Two in three admitted they feel pressured to engage in ‘hyper-masculine’ behaviour like physical strength aggression and sexuality, and more than half said crying in front of others makes a man less manly. The question is: why?
Very early on, you’re presented with a choice: follow the primal rituals of manhood to earn your place as ‘one of the lads’, or face rejection from the group. So, you play computer games, drive fast cars, and talk about sports. You learn to bury strong emotions, or express them through anger – at the ref, at the bouncer, at your mate. It starts in the playground and follows you into adult life. You might not realise, but it’s probably shaping your career
One Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study found that agreeable men – those who are friendly, supportive, sympathetic, and so on – earn around 18 per cent less than their stereotypically masculine colleagues. Men who express anger at work rank higher professionally than men who express sadness, according to research from Yale University.
The Cost of Being a Man's Man
Being a “man’s man” might be profitable in the short term, but it comes with a different kind of price tag. Of the thousands of people in the UK who choose to end their lives each year, 75 per cent or so are men. The suicide rate might be falling, but it’s still the single biggest killer of men under 45.
There’s no room for emotional vulnerability in the “real man” rulebook. In a study of male suicide survivors by the Medical University of Vienna, “almost all men reported that their masculine beliefs led to them isolating themselves when they were feeling down to avoid imposing on others,” the authors wrote.
Furthermore, “some reported that the adherence to masculine norms meant that sometimes the feelings associated with being vulnerable were more anxiety-provoking than the thought of being dead.” Let that sink in for a moment. The thought of feeling emasculated was worse than death.
For some, the thought of feeling emasculated was worse than death
And guess what? Even if you don’t personally struggle with mental illness, you’re still at risk. A 17-year study of more than 700 men concluded that those who exhibited traditionally ‘feminine’ characteristics like being gentle, warm, and sympathetic were less likely to die from coronary heart disease.
If you’re not entirely convinced, consider a study referenced by The Guardian last year. Even though men are more likely to die younger than women in the US (just like in the UK), researchers found no significant difference in the proportion of elderly trans men and non-trans men.
Men are not dying because they’re born male. They’re dying because of what it means to be a man.
What can you do about this, when it’s all you know? Take those traditional male qualities and turn them on their head. Use them to your advantage. If you’re brave, be brave enough to reach out when you’re struggling. If you’re strong, use your strength to explore the parts of your character that need work. If you’re proud, respect yourself enough to be vulnerable.
Stop pretending that being a man is simple. Your mental and physical health depends on it.
By Annie Hayes