Lifting the curtain of strength
Societal norms “dictate” that emotion and masculinity cannot intertwine, but what happens if, in reality, they do?
November 8, 2021
On the verge of tears, after living on the edge for weeks, barely grasping at straws for help, he was shoved away with the words: “be a man.”
Depression and suicide are ranked as leading causes of death for men and, according to a study done in 2019, men died 3.63 times more often than women as a result of suicide. These numbers aren’t a coincidence as many may think.
“I think the issue with men and mental health is societal expectations. They all expect a certain attitude and mindset, and if you don’t live it out, they will say you’ve changed or that you’re not what they remember. They expect you to be strong and not to falter in any situation,” said Vigil Josiah, a recent graduate from Montgomery High School.
With the development of humanity, there has been some notion that men are the providers. Their strong and dominant qualities, such as their biological tendency to be physically stronger and taller than women, make them more “fit” to lead and take care of the people under their wing, just as traditional gender roles have widely promoted.
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Gender stereotypes also support the belief that men are the dominant sex. The idea that men are more aggressive, mentally and physically tough, competitive, and don’t show emotion are all examples of the stereotypes that have been widely spread across generations and cultures.
Unfortunately, these traditional sayings have been a part of society’s common vernacular for so long that it has become an ingrained assumption that men are strong and emotionless. This makes it challenging to think free of bias in regards to men’s mental health.
Such practice is known as toxic masculinity. The notion that men must always be a figure of pure strength and no weakness, though not realistic, is commonly expected of men. Although frequently overlooked, such a conjecture can often take a detrimental toll on the quality of men’s mental health and their ability to receive help for their issues.
“Girls are allowed to cry and are accepted when they’re seen as stressed, but as a male, I feel pressured to be confident. Crying isn’t allowed in public. Girls can talk about their feelings, and many don’t judge them harshly, but when I do it, I get a weird look, or someone laughs and hits me in the back and tells me to man up,” Josiah said.
The assumption that men are this way makes many feel confined to those standards, or they may face criticism for being too “feminine.” As a result of confinement to society’s “rules,” it is common to see many boys and men wearing seemingly rigid and emotionless faces, when in reality, under the mask, they experience such issues as depression and anxiety.
This notion is primarily rooted in gender norms. The majority of society previously emphasized that men and women had to remain within their masculine and feminine bubbles and had to conform with such standards to receive acceptance from others.
“I see a lot of boys at school putting up fronts, like these macho personas, just to be relevant on the social hierarchy… it’s just depressing,” said Donovan Rickson, a senior at Carlmont.
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The pressure that comes along with the standards that these traditional gender roles and stereotypes set is in part what contributes to the higher depression and suicide levels among men compared to women. When an individual constantly feels the need to put on a happy face, it becomes tiring, as well as demeaning. Creating an optimistic and strong-willed character out of oneself simply so that bystanders don’t bat an eye makes one lose hope for better days.
“I used to hide my emotions a lot, but I’ve been very open with how I felt since last April when I had to go to an inpatient facility. Before then, I would try to put up positive facades to show I was doing well. But that took such a huge toll on me because I’ve always been a very emotional and sensitive person, and my emotions have always controlled me more than I could control them,” Rickson said.
Even if men are already feeling vulnerable and struggling to handle their emotions, they are still met with scorn and scrutiny for not being “manly” enough when they don’t live up to the depictions that much of society holds. These sorts of reactions feel rather natural to say for much of civilization due to the everyday use of phrases such as “man up” or “grow a pair,” which, over time, have subconsciously embedded stereotypical ideas into people’s reactions.
“I wish society would stop acting like we’re supposed to be both emotionally in touch with everyone but also basically emotionless when it comes to ourselves. We’re supposed to be strong to lead, but if we’re too strong, we can get called out for toxic masculinity and making other people feel bad just because we’re ‘stronger’ than them. I wish they would just realize we’re human too, and we have our limits just like the next person,” Josiah said.
Josiah’s point that in multiple aspects, men’s mental health is not treated as it should be brings to mind the realization that society does not recognize enough the magnitude of the effect of mental health on individuals, regardless of gender. As a result of such reactions, it is common to see that when men are in need of support in regards to their mental health, their request for assistance is questioned or shot down.
Joseph Schwartz, a Carlmont senior, said, “I’ve seen my female friends ask for help and get it immediately. It took me two years just to be considered for the mental health program that I’m finally now in at school. But even then, when I was still being evaluated, they said, ‘we don’t think you need to be in the program,’ even though I was hospitalized and was on medication. I told them that if I didn’t have this, I would not pass school and needed their help. How can someone look you in the eyes and say, ‘I don’t think you need help,’ when you’re pleading for it.”
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Although men’s mental health is not being given the proper spotlight it needs, and although society needs to work towards its acknowledgment, women still have their own extensive list of issues concerning mental health.
What needs to be realized is that gender does not influence how much a person is affected by their feelings. People are still people, no matter their identity, and their mental health needs deserve to be recognized and treated both equally and with great respect.
“Whatever you do, don’t expect somebody, or yourself, to be this thing just because you’re born a male or a female. Let’s coexist in our masculinity or femininity, or neither, and be happy and love each other,” Rickson said.