What does it mean to be a man in 2017?
I’ve noticed a real trend of late discussing the conventional meaning of masculinity.
Perhaps it’s linked to recent efforts to improve men’s mental health issues in response to the fearfully high suicide rates amongst young men?
Or, an increased membership to the feminism forum, with more men joining women at the table, realising that gender inequality = bad news for them too?
I recently attended a two-day training course on suicide intervention skills and the facts shared were stuff nightmares are made of…
Men still account for three quarters of all people who die from suicide in the UK each year, with 4,287 men taking their own lives in 2016 compared to 1,381 women.
Charities are massively playing their part to get more men talking about their mental health and have unleashed some really powerful targeted campaigns within the last year.
Here are three that really caught my attention:
- Movember’s ‘Unmute – ask him campaign’ is centred around a powerful set of videos designed to help reduce male suicide figures, highlighting that many men still feel the need to hide their feelings and are therefore don’t access the mental health support that they desperately need.It reminds friends and family to ask men how they are feeling, rather than assuming everything is okay.
- Starting this year, Time to Change kicked off a 5 year campaign called #inyourcorner. Research carried out by the charity revealed a number of barriers preventing men in from opening up. Compared to women, men are:- Less knowledgeable about mental health, with more negative attitudes
– More likely to say mental health problems are the result of a ‘lack of self-discipline and willpower’
– Three times more likely to take their own lives than women, with suicide being the leading cause of death in men under 45
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) also challenge this culture. Their campaign #mandictionary provided a platform in which men could define themselves on their own terms.
I can count the number of times I’ve seen my dad cry with one hand.
Correct that, one toe. I’ve seen him cry once (I really had to think there).
And this was following the death of my Gran – his mum.
And even then, they were tears I wasn’t meant to see…but I intentionally interrupted. I was a bold little youngster.
Why did I do it?
Because, to leave him alone would have went against everything I was, and wanted to be. A person who wants everyone to know, ‘it’s ok to not be ok.’ And it’s ok to cry.
When was the last time you witnessed a female cry? OK, now a male? Even without limiting this to friends, or family, we can all identify the imbalance here.
So, what if we reimagined a different idea of what makes a man?
Could a different kind of masculinity allow for better relationships with others and the relationship a man has with himself?
So who is helping to create a shift?
Robert Webb’s memoir, ‘How Not to Be a Boy’ tells us why he feels the need to ‘rewrite masculinity’ and why archaic rules around gender are harmful to all of us. Rules that many of us will relate to like, ‘don’t cry’, Don’t show emotion’ and ‘Enjoy sport’ imprisoned him until adulthood.
In a recent episode of Woman’s Hour, I listened to a candid interview with author Chris Hemmings. In his new book, ‘Be A Man’ Chris shares his 10 year journey to ‘de-lad’ himself and demonstrate that a masculine determination to be dominant not only impacts on the women and girls in our lives, but also the men and boys.
I gasped at the wheel when Chris shared a dare acted out by mates during university. The challenge – to urinate on the legs of women in bars for as long as possible without them noticing.
During the interview, Chris mentions that the biggest thing that brings him shame is not what he did, but what he didn’t do whilst actions were happening in close proximity.
As it stands, men still undoubtedly have an easier ride in life than women in many ways: higher pay, better job security, more overall representation in politics and media.
However to overlook the problems faced by men is detrimental to the cause of societal equality.
So how can we all create a culture in which men can thrive without struggling through an identity crisis which too often leads to mental illness?
Perhaps letting little boys know that it’s ok to cry isn’t a bad place to start?