Dying Masculinity: What It Means to Be a Man Today

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On my commute the other day, I read a fascinating article about masculinity. It said that the majority of men feel like they must masquerade behind an alternative persona in order to be perceived as a “real man.”

Hiding emotions has become the norm of hyper masculinity, a term used to describe the exaggeration of the male stereotype to make strength and aggression seem to be standard traits for men. The rise of hyper masculinity helps explain why generation after generation has inherited the notion that, in order to succeed in a man’s world, you need to remain emotionless. That’s because emotions are seen as a sign of weakness, which hyper-masculine males are not allowed to have.

Emotions = Weakness?

These expectations are ingrained in men from an early age. Grayson Perry wrote The Descent of Man, a book in which he explores the modern meaning of masculinity and why it is the way it is. In one anecdote, he observes a small boy who cries as he struggles to bike up a steep hill. Meanwhile, the boy’s father stands and watches him with a stern face and folded arms, believing his lack of empathy and inaction would “build character.” Perry approaches the man and says, “I hope you’re ready to take your son to therapy for the damage you’re doing,” but the father just looks on.  

The poor, tormented boy will learn to hide his struggles because of his father, too. This pent-up emotion can cause a lack of confidence and an self-imposed duty to impress that will never be relinquished.

The Effects

These high expectations can, in turn, lead to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Although women are technically twice as likely to to have these more “common” mental health problems, men end up taking more drastic measures to end their silent suffering. The rate of suicides in 2013 speaks for itself: out of 6,233 people who committed suicide that year, 78% were males.

Rapper Professor Green spoke out about his own struggles with masculinity and depression in an interview with Sky:

“Women have progressed, but I don’t think we are as emotionally developed as we should be,” he said.

“As a man, we can’t be insecure, but we all have insecurities, and I don’t think we best know how to handle that yet.”

More people need to be encouraged to step forward and talk about their issues. A loss of life is far worse than a loss of pride. Professor Green has struggled with depression and anxiety his whole life, and he is now aware that a lot of men are in the same situation — and many are on the verge of suicide.

A Man’s Role, Then v. Now

Since the Prehistoric Ages, man has been the protector of the family whilst women stayed home to provide emotional and domestic support. As we moved through the decades both genders remained in these respective roles until women began to fight for — and earn — their equality. Women are now able to vote and can go out and work for a living, just as men do.

If the men of today feel that the concept of masculinity is changing, then the modern man can be the beginning of a new world where hyper masculinity is a thing of the past.

I encourage you to speak to the men around you and ask them how they are feeling. Just one action can make a big difference to someone else’s life.

Have men adapted as well? Do they believe that they are emasculated by a woman’s strength, or do they feel the pressure has been lifted?

Today’s Men Speak Out

I interviewed two younger men to see what they had to say about modern day masculinity:

Cameron King, 25

SO: As a man, do you feel you have to uphold a certain facade of being ‘a man’?

CK: There is pressure to be a man, indeed, a provider and hard column of support. But I blame this on the rules set by other men — I don’t think women truly expect it of us as much as we think they do.

SO: Do you show emotions even when you know your peers will judge you for it?

CK: Yes, mainly because I find it difficult to hide my emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve. 

SO: Do you act differently around men and women?

CK: Yes, but it’s hard to put into words, something about women — on first impressions — is usually easier, more relaxed.

SO: Do you feel intimidated when other men call you names such as ‘gay’ or ‘sissy’?

CK: Somewhat, moreso when I was younger. Now I’ve wisened up to knowing these ‘insults’ are childish and often come from insecure people. 

SO: Can you give me an example of when another man has said something you did wasn’t ‘manly’?

CK: I studied ballet for four years when I was a kid, between the ages of 5 and 9. If I tell a man nowadays I get a few raised eyebrows at least. 

SO: Coming from a small town yourself do you see a big difference in the mind set of small town people vs. big city minds?

CK: Big cities are often more modern and, therefore, more accepting. 

SO: And lastly, in the age we are in, do you think that the idea of ‘manliness’ is changing, or, in fact, fading altogether? If so, do you agree with this change?

CK: I do, but there’s still a lot of conservative ideals at society’s core. I hope by the time I’m an old man these notions, for both men and women, will have disappeared altogether.

Damien Gallagher, 28

SO: As a man do you feel you have to uphold a certain facade of being ‘a man’ or masculine?
DG: It comes naturally, but yes, sometimes it’s necessary to hide behind a facade.

SO: Are you willing to show emotions even when you know your peers will judge you for it?
DG: Not really. I tend to avoid showing any emotion.

SO: Do you act differently around men and women?
DG: Most definitely.

SO: Can you elaborate?
DG: As mentioned earlier, emotional topics don’t tend to come up in an all-male group, whereas opening up to a woman seems more straightforward.

SO: Do you feel intimidated when other men call you names such as ‘gay’ or ‘sissy’?
DG: Yes.

SO: Coming from a small town yourself do you see a big difference in the mind set of small town people vs. big city minds?
DG: In my experience, small-town folk tend to be more close-minded; city folk are more open minded.

SO: And lastly, in the age we are in, do you think that the idea of ‘manliness’ is changing, or in fact fading altogether and if so do you agree with this change?  
DG: I think the lines are slowly starting to blur between men and women: plenty of men wear skinny jeans, for instance. I don’t disagree with this change. The fact is, being a man in the 21st century isn’t anywhere near what it was like for our prehistoric ancestors. We don’t have to hunt for food, or defend our families from attack.


What do you think it means to be “masculine” in today’s world?

 

tenor

— Sophie Ogden

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