“The three most destructive words every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to be a man” – themaskyoulivein

Men are assigned gender roles before they even come into the world. During childhood, boys are dressed in blue so as not to look “unmanly” in any way. They get scolded for displaying emotions and exhibiting traits society deems as feminine (“don’t cry like a girl”). Boys are encouraged to play outside, get dirty, be sporty. Destructiveness and aggression are almost expected and encouraged as positive traits.  Even the toys the young boys play with scream hyper-masculinity (GI Joe, Superman Figure). A quick search on the Toys R Us website with the heading, “toys for boys” reveals it is full of trucks, tool sets, and action figures. A quick Google search, if one is interested in the top algorithmic definition of “Real Men,” reveals pictures of men in the army and over-sexualized pictures of women and men as well, overall a lot of ‘jacked’ shirtless men on display. All these images reveal that men are stereotypically categorized by society, and being seen as soft, weak, feminine, gay or emotionally vulnerable is not part of narrow classification.

Throughout their childhood, young men are taught that expressing one’s emotions is healthy, yet figures from the Mental Health Foundation show that around four in five suicides are by men, even though there are fewer men diagnosed with mental health problems than women. What this could suggest is that men are suffering in silence and can’t or won’t talk about it. However, more and more men are opening-up about everything from domestic and sexual abuse to their mental health struggles, challenging the idea that mental health crisis only happens to women.

The damaging effects of macho gender roles are backed up by the statistics that show men are far less likely to seek help for their mental health and problems because, as a culture, we have not taught them how. Dwayne Johnson the WWF wrestler is now a spokesperson for Mental Health, which helps people see that one can identify with a ‘tough guy’ identity, but be vulnerable and open about mental health at the same time. “You’re not alone, you’re not the first to go through it you’re not going to be the last to go through it,” said Johnson.

Acknowledging the irony of worrying about going on the record in discussing their thoughts on mental health and being a male in this culture, two sources who requested to remain anonymous provided some insight into the issue. One is a man in his sixties and the other is in his teens.  They provided a lot of insight into our culture’s toxic masculinity and its effects on mental health. Some of these insights were contrasting and others had similarities. The question posed was, ‘What makes a man? The sixteen-year-old responded with, “I believe that the idea of having certain traits that make a gender isn’t a thing anymore – I believe it is what’s in your heart and if in your heart you feel and identify yourself as a man that’s all that matters not if you display traditional male societal perceived qualities of strength, courage, or independence.” In contrast, the sixty-year-old man responded with, “I believe that the features of a man are physical strength, drive, confidence, competency, providing safety and security.”

There has been an evolution in the views for what constitutes the definition of manhood from the generation of a man born in the 1960’s compared to a man born in later generations. Both sources have had a similar experience with their fathers. Both didn’t experience heart-to-heart conversations with their fathers, weren’t too vulnerable in front of each other, kept their feelings and thoughts bottled up in their head and never shared too much with their fathers. At the end of the day, it is clear to see that men need society’s help to destroy these stigmas, so one day there won’t be a second thought to tell any man to “be a man. ”