O P I N I O N – MEN’S DAY SPECIAL
“Be a man” – a statement emblematic of a bygone era that isn’t quite as bygone as it ought to be.
Thankfully today, a large chunk of society has come to the realisation that men are not supposed to be these emotionally immune beings who maintain a rock-steady demeanour under all circumstances. Sure that large chunk still leaves out enough people to ensure toxic masculinity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s still very significant progress nonetheless. However, as we approach Men’s Day this year, let us take a step back and appreciate how far we have come with respect to men’s mental health, as well as remind ourselves of the challenges we are still faced with.
It is the latter we begin with. The best place to start here is the cultural root of this issue, and really most other mental health evils: preordained societal expectations. In other words, the expectations a person is tagged with since birth. And thanks to the centuries of consolidation, some of these are almost looked upon as laws of nature. A man is to provide, a man must protect his loved ones, a man (and women too) must look and dress in certain ways that uphold his strength. Surely, we must now be asking the very basic question — why? Why does a man HAVE to do all of those things?
It is important to clarify here that asking the aforementioned question is not suggesting men to not undertake responsibilities. They absolutely should, as should women (once they are fully allowed to, by the system, that is). However, there is a very thick line between assuming responsibilities and trying to comply with enforced standards. The former involves a person knowing the path ahead and what he must do. The latter involves the person being force-fed a constant narrative that they have to complete said tasks with optimum efficiency and quality, otherwise they will have failed at life.
Our very culture is built around the fact that men are supposed to be the bedrock of a family, sheltering anyone who is not a grown man themselves. This rigid standard that a young male child has to constantly look up to, severely limits his emotional range. In many cases, this looming prospect of needing to live up to responsibilities often induces aggressive tendencies in boys. It is not hard to see how. Any brain which is constantly reminded of the magnitude of challenges lying ahead, especially young ones, will enter into a survival mode state.
For example, this was demonstrated in a 2005 study by the Wright Institute where they attributed toxic masculinity as a key determinant of aggressive nature in men. Taking this even further, toxic masculinity has also been discussed as a component of extremism, alongside its more more widely discussed, institutionalised components. Finally, research has also shown that individuals mentally entrenched with a masculine competitiveness culture are also prone to develop toxic leadership traits. This along with a vast body of other research leaves very little doubt as to the damaging effects of individuals growing up with a constant need for abiding by standards of masculinity.
At this point, teaching boys they need to become strong men in order to succeed has become the equivalent of training a house cat to fight jungle hyenas. It sounds like a great skill on paper, but one they ultimately don’t need and that causes long term behavioural problems. The only time when it is okay to tell a man they have to be strong and carry on in order to meet expectations, was when Disney officials said that to John Earl Jones upon deciding to make the Lion King remake.
Right, so that was all the society-wide mental problems and trauma harvests that result from the perpetuation of toxic masculinity. But as bad as things are, and they are the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga levels of bad, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Well, okay, it’s more like a tiny speck that lands on our eyes from a long way out. Still, nothing can take away the fact that we have made progress. A plethora of initiatives and studies are now looking into what causes and how to combat mental disorders in men. Mainstream celebrities like Harry Styles or Tom Holland are able to display stunning gender-bending physical showcases; something which would have been unthinkable in the media a few decades ago. In fact, if nothing else the simple fact that we are here asking these questions, is as big an indication as you can get regarding how far we have actually come.
There is still a long way to go, but together if we are able to put in the effort, dedication, and courage, then the world will have no choice but to change. It will take a lot of strength, but hey, someone once said men pretty are good at that.
Whether it’s pop culture, fiction or politics, writing is Saam’s ultimate passion and reprieve.