Mental health has emerged as a crucial aspect of overall well-being, but the effects of toxic masculinity and patriarchal norms on men's mental health remain a topic of concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the suicide rate among males is twice that of females. In the United States, nearly 80% of suicides are committed by males, a staggering statistic reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Toxic masculinity, academically speaking, encompasses the cultural and social conditioning that shapes male behaviour. Its core tenets—toughness, anti-femininity, and the pursuit of power—establish a rigid framework for how men should navigate the complexities of life. From a young age, boys are often told to "toughen up" and "be a man" when they show any type of emotion. Unfortunately, this emotional suppression becomes a breeding ground for shame, positioning anger and rage as the only socially acceptable masculine emotions.
To gain a deeper understanding of these issues, I reached out to friends and asked about their experiences. Their stories highlighted the profound impact of societal expectations on mental well-being, emphasizing the urgent need for a shift in cultural attitudes towards masculinity.
Do Expectations Of Being The Sole “Financial Provider” Affect Mental Well-Being?
The concept of being the sole breadwinner and the traditional burden associated with it were discussed by all respondents. Interestingly, Vivek (name changed due to anonymity) brought a nuanced perspective, acknowledging the evolving landscape of double-income households. However, he believes that the ingrained notion of men as primary financial providers persists, creating expectations and personal pressures.
“Although I do firmly believe that in today’s world, we do need double-income households, but I do take it upon myself to be able to take care of my future family. The ingrained notion of the man taking care of the entire household financially does have an impact and this notion leads to expectations from myself,” says Vivek.
Vulnerability And Emotional Expression Beyond Drunk Calls
Respondents delved into the challenges of expressing vulnerability, emphasizing the societal expectation that men should not display emotions openly. The acceptance of vulnerability, even among male friends, is often limited and conditional. The need for a safe space for emotional expression within families and friend groups emerged as a critical aspect of mental well-being.
“As a man, I am not expected to be vulnerable and emotional. So I cannot really display any sort of emotion or slight vulnerability in front of my dad. And even amongst other male friends, I cannot show vulnerability and talk about how I feel. All this is accepted only when we are drunk.” says Vivek highlighting an important point of how vulnerability is perceived in male friend groups.
Another respondent gives a similar response saying, “Male friend groups try to help each other 'move on' from upsetting situations rather than having open conversations about what one is feeling presently. The cliche of male friends going for a drink rather than providing support to a friend after a break-up seems to be true most of the time. Men stimulate themselves to not feel and forget negative emotions as soon as possible rather than spending time with them and actively dealing with them. This is what people probably call 'suppressing'.”
When emotions are consistently suppressed, individuals may experience anxiety and struggle to manage their feelings appropriately. The pressure to conform to traditional masculine norms often leads to a lack of emotional expression, inhibiting healthy coping mechanisms. This emotional turmoil can escalate into more severe mental health issues, such as depression, trauma, and anxiety. This creates a severely damaging and very toxic cycle.
How Does Patriarchy Play A Role?
All respondents touched upon the role of patriarchy in shaping societal expectations for men, knowingly or unknowingly. They stressed upon the need for early encouragement of open discussions about emotions within families, challenging the notion that men must suppress their feelings.
Vivek highlighted how men themselves contribute to creating norms and expectations, becoming judges of those who deviate from traditional masculine ideals. He says “It’s usually men who make such expectations and criteria of what being a man is. And they would also be the first ones to judge you if you don’t fit into these norms.”
Glorified Body-Shaming Culture
“People try to sugar coat it by telling me that they're passing comments about my body simply because they're 'concerned about my health' and that they're providing 'constructive criticism and advice' (which is always unsolicited). Comments passed about my body by peers and family members play on my mind for a long time.” says Rahul (name changed due to anonymity).
Rahul highlighted the persistent pressure on men to conform to physical ideals. Despite a shift in urban societies, traditional expectations linger, leading to overt and covert body shaming. This is not talked about enough. The persistent body-shaming, often glorified, can lead to severe consequences like eating disorders and body dysmorphia. This is further reinforced by patriarchy and toxic masculinity culture.
How Do Women Help?
All the respondents acknowledged the supportive role women can play in expressing gratitude and appreciation for men's efforts. However, Vivek pointed out a potential downside, where women might use vulnerability against men during arguments or as a source of humour.
This highlighted a very common issue, “At times women counterparts would make fun of men they being vulnerable. Being vulnerable and expressing emotions could be used against us during arguments and at times just to make a joke.”
Raj (name changed due to anonymity) says, “I have been called how I am behaving like a ‘ladki’ just because I am more expressive and emotional than my other friends are. People go as far as pointing out my hobbies which include drawing and painting to make stupid assumptions. Even my female friends have done this, and I don’t think it's fair.”
This makes us all question how and when did emotions become gendered. Well, this is exactly how patriarchy works.
The personal perspectives shared by all the respondents highlight the deep-seated impact of toxic masculinity and patriarchy on men's mental health. Breaking free from ingrained stereotypes requires a collective effort to redefine masculinity, encourage emotional expression, and create safe spaces for vulnerability. The journey towards mental health liberation requires dismantling antiquated norms and embracing a more compassionate, empathetic, and holistic vision of masculinity.
Views expressed are the author's own.
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