Men and the mind
By Alex Cole
'Wake up to the moon, haven't seen the sun in a while
But I heard that the sky is still blue'
For centuries, stereotypes have taught society to obey the rules associated to their gender. From appearance to careers, social constructions have created the assumption that almost everything has a correlation to physical identity. But not everyone accepted this decision. Recently, both men and women have broken away from the laws of gender labelling and declared that it’s okay to be yourself. One of the most dominant and negative affects stereotyping has had on culture, is the understanding of mental health. The topic and damaging effect of toxic masculinity has finally become addressed. Sure there are other factors that can enhance problems of addiction, violence and mental illness in males, but the impact masculine ideology has had on numerous generations is clear.
As a female I can only offer an outside perspective, but it seems that, through people, media and characters, society has been given an ideal of what it is to be a perfect man. Some might wonder why, as a female, do I find this an important topic? Toxic masculinity affects everyone. It prevents acceptance and freezes development. It reduces fragility and joy. If a man doesn’t reflect the mould, their emotions, appearance or sexuality can be criticised and individuality shattered. It saddens me to personally see so many men avoid speaking about their mental health. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to further problems, such as depression. All these issues can be prevented by tackling the subject and its portrayal. If we can stop so many struggling with their mental health by addressing the issue, then why wouldn't we?
By not discussing the reality of male mental health, limiting perceptions will simply continue. In the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 years of age. This is an extremely upsetting statistic as it’s preventable. The stigma around mental health must be tackled, in order for people to understand and receive the support they need. We need to deconstruct the standards and expectations in the way we approach male mentality. The more it is discussed, the more it can be understood and hopefully, treatment and representation will be offered.
Aside from an extremely damaging effect on mentality, it is also a contributing cause of domestic violence. Writer and activist Scarlett Curtis compellingly sums up how dismantling gender roles will positively benefit both men and women: ‘the patriarchy means that women are under-represented in key institutions and industries; it leads to male violence against women and re-enforces standards of behaviour, meaning that women feel they need to be beautiful and weak, and men feel that they can’t show emotion. This can result in toxic masculinity, which teaches young men to hide all emotions except anger. The patriarchy enforces gender stereotypes’. This harmful expectation of dominance is cloaked upon boys from a young age; allowing cultural normalities to be introduced. They should be strong, not sensitive. Aggressive but not afraid. It suggests that they can’t be a victim of violence or suffer with body dysmorphia. Many assume that showing emotions is a sign of weakness, sadly resulting in the phrases ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be such a girl’. So if society shapes a man to reflect what is means to be masculine, any comparisons (in particular femininity) outside this are seen as harmful. But by diminishing these ridiculous roles, together we can create a kinder place, where everyone can accept their identities and encourage the uniqueness of humans!
In particular, fashion is one of the most prominent aspects of gender normality. From the colour pink, to the use of makeup, men have been told there is only one correct way of dressing; otherwise ‘they’re breaking the codes of masculinity’. Fashion shouldn’t be dictated. Instead, it should be recognised as a method of expression. It can display cultures and creativity. However, within the fashion industry, people are still being criticised for the breaking of gender expectations. If someone wears something deemed unsuitable for their sex, this can lead to abuse of their personality and immensely damage their confidence. Despite that a man wearing a pink shirt shouldn’t be a topic of negativity in 2020, many continue to argue that it’s seen as ‘unmanly’ to wear anything outside the typical, male design.
Someone who positively embraces the rejection of this stereotype is Harry Styles. He represents experimentation, change and has become a figure of rebellion. He has proven that gender roles no longer have the power to create conformity. Sure a bright yellow suit might not be for everyone, but his passion demonstrates how clothing cannot be defined by certain ideals!
However, awareness around the topic has blossomed in recent years. It seems society has started to recognise that mental health conditions do not discriminate according to gender. Recently, the sudden deaths of known figures sparked change for better recognition and support. Musicians Mac Miller, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington all suffered with issues of mental health. From depression to addiction, through their music, they spoke about their struggles and reached out to those who related to them. These musicians offered compassion and comfort during a time when the stigma was and still is high. Despite the honesty and optimism within their lyrics, there were clear signs of problems. Yet a common reaction is surprise. Once society speaks more about the false values of toxic masculinity, the more we can encourage education and progression of the way male mentality is perceived.
Do not allow your identity to be altered as a result of the misunderstanding of others. If you want to achieve a certain career, aim for it. If you want to wear something out of the ordinary, wear it. Celebrate each others differences. Remember boys can be sensitive and still be brave. Girls can be strong and they can be emotional. Both can suffer with mental and physical health conditions. What society needs to offer is support and stability. Young people need to be educated on the various issues surrounding the topic, in order to understand and find the best treatment for themselves and others. By breaking constructed boundaries, both men and women will benefit, as neither will find themselves restrained by the imaginary rules that have commanded their individuality. In combating the stigma, society can create a safer community for everyone, no matter gender, sexuality, age or race. If you or you know anyone who needs assistance, please find the suitable help. Lastly, be kind and provide compassion to those who might need some guidance, no matter how small.
If you're interested in learning more about the realities of toxic masculinity, here are some thought provoking articles:
'Netflix's Queer Eye Reboot Is an Antidote to Our Culture of Toxic Masculinity'
'Mac Miller, the Stigma on Mental Illness, and Addiction'
The Everyman project
Kelvin Davis on Body Image and the Power of Fashion