In a world largely dominated by fixed gender binaries and even within those binaries, holding up men as the stronger sex has given rise to plenty of problems – patriarchy, sexual violence, emotional/verbal abuse, gaps in wages – you name it, we have it. But shedding all of our genders or lack of, we are exhaustingly human. We all have periods of sadness, joy and annoyance. Yet, we still separate feeling emotions by gender.
Talking is a basic evolutionary action for a living being on Earth; communication is important for evolution’s sake. Strangely, that’s something we don’t do enough, or rather, don’t know how to.
In a group of masculine identifying people, when someone begins to talk about their feelings, some other guy is going to quip a vaguely sexist comment along the lines of “oh, go join the girl’s group” or “ugh why are we talking about sentimental stuff, let us *do a masculine task*”, which is first off, not funny and secondly, invalidates the emotions of the person trying to open up.
We don’t talk enough about men’s mental health and why would we? Our society has ingrained the belief in us that men are born strong, with little room for emotions as they have to be the sole breadwinner in the family. But roles are changing. Women work the same jobs as them and the latter does not have to be the only one with a job in the family.
Even parents are apprehensive when the boys in their family play with dolls or do something as simple as taking care of their skin, finding these acts as an assumed ‘feminine’ thing to do. Often, enforcers of assumed ‘masculine’ roles and behaviours see everything feminine as easily breakable, gentle and weak – but that is a conversation for another day.
Although statistically, women are more susceptible to mental illness and suicides (death per rate 14.7%), in India, the rate of suicide per population is more (death per rate 21.2%) for men. Most of the mental health advocates have largely been women but there is a change in the scene with more male celebrities and influencers coming out with stories of their mental disorders and opening a pathway to make talking about mental health a norm for all.
We are all guilty of toxic and common reinforcement statements when we see/saw a friend/brother/partner cry – “stop crying like a girl/man up!/stop crying because it is embarrassing”. These seem like comforting and easy remarks to make in that situation, but the person who hears it will almost inevitably be afraid to cry again the next time, lest someone perceive him as “weak” or worse “a sissy”!
We are enablers to an extent. We do not teach men to be comfortable with their emotions and the feelings keep bottling up. Someday, the lid breaks and almost always, if not themselves, someone else gets badly hurt. It is a known fact that resisting the urge to feel emotions only has two results – either they turn bitter or they lash out.
Take any light romantic comedy movie and find the jockiest of all jocks (there will be one) and you can break apart their character – most of them are portrayed as having an economic crisis in their family life or victim to abuse by others which is why they bully the main character.
Societal gender norms prevent boys from evolving into men with proper emotional quotients. Our insistence on children being perfect in all that they do is detrimental to their mental health. Nobody is perfect. Men will cry and want to talk about how they feel, the way they deserve to. Being strong for someone else’s sake will not help fix problems. As a society, we have to work together to tell men it is OK to talk, be vulnerable and break stereotypes.
According to findings in a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal in September, “India accounts for over a third of the world’s annual female suicides and nearly a fourth of male suicides, a significant increase in its global share from 1990” (1).
If we still brush off men’s PTSD, depression and anxieties, the advocacy of this decade for men’s mental health will have gone to waste. Our priority for the next decade’s should be to support everyone, regardless of the many things that could define us, and find that talking about our issues should not come through an awareness programme or article, but from a compassionate and understanding place within.