For years, women have been vocal about the damaging and unrealistic expectations that society pushes upon them. To be thin yet curvy; to be nurturing but not too clingy; to juggle a social life, a career and two children like it’s a walk in the park: I really could go on and on. It is fantastic that so many women are conscious of these pressures, but it makes me wonder… what about the men?
Masculinity in the 21st century seems to be one of those taboo topics; something that it is almost forbidden to be spoken of. But why is that? I mean, it’s 2018! Why aren’t we allowed to talk about the stereotypes and pressures that women AND MEN are faced with everyday? I know it may seem strange, odd, or new to think that men and women suffer equally with self-confidence, anxiety, depression, body-image and gendered expectations but it’s a truth that really shouldn’t be ignored.
These societal expectations are intrinsically present from birth, whether we are aware of it or not. The book Handsome Heroes and Vile Villains by Amy Davis explores this idea of masculinity in Disney films. Davis explains that although Disney’s representations of gender roles are progressing, there is still much room for improvement. New films like Big Hero 6 showcase the typical male hero in a very different light. Hiro is scrawny, nerdy and a little damaged – but nonetheless, he’s a hero. Whereas, the film Tangled, showcases a very common type of hero. Flynn is emotionally insensitive, princess-driven, strong and toned, handsome, and incredibly self-centred. This unrealistic model can be detrimental in the development of a boy’s identity, especially when faced with the pressures to ‘fit-the-mould’ of a buff, women-chasing, and emotionally detached man.
Another book, Fairy Tale Interrupted, by Allison Craven explores a similar idea by analysing the crisis of masculinity in Beauty and the Beast. Craven explains how The Beast and most other male characters are mere representations of desire, power and entitlement. This, again, can damage a child’s idea of what it is to be a man and what their role is in a heterosexual relationship.
Now, I’m not just blaming Disney, Pixar or any old fairy tales. Many issues also stem from the Internet, social media and society as a whole. I mean, we’ve all had those guy friends that just won’t stop posting gym selfies, talking about cars and sharing sports videos. Oh, and how can I forget, good old, Yeah the Boys. These representations of what it is to ‘be a man’ are heavily prevalent throughout society. Once again, this pushes unrealistic expectations and stereotypes on young boys that they really can’t escape.
The organisation, Ditch the Label, that promotes a prejudice and bullying free world, found in their 2016 study, Masculinity and Misogyny in the Digital Age, that masculine-based insults are extremely common in our society. Their study explored what a ‘man’ looks like, their personality, lifestyle preferences and of course, their behaviour. The results are saddening but not really surprising.
They found that 1 in 3 Twitter posts that mention masculinity involved topics like physical aggression, gun and domestic violence, and war. It was also found that certain physical attributes like facial hair, muscular physique and stoicism were the top definers for ‘masculine’ or ‘manly’. Alongside this are activities like drinking beer, eating meat and lifting weights.
It also brought attention to the issue of bullying and insults. 17% of those who responded said they were bullied because of how others perceived their masculinity or femininity. This included being told to ‘stop being a girl’, or to ‘man-up’, and being labelled as ‘gay’. This bullying teaches young boys that any signs of femininity like crying and weakness are something to be ashamed of. Such insults prove to be a direct result of the perception that women are weak, emotionally-driven and ‘soft’. These gender stereotypes end up hurting both men and women, even if they’re not intended to. Their 2018 Annual Bullying Study highlights that 35% of those who are bullied, both men and women, never report or seek help, and 50% of respondents felt depressed because of this.
With these facts, I guess it’s really not surprising that suicide is the biggest killer in men aged 18-44. The psychological and societal pressures that men struggle to combat are very real. So again, I pose the question of what about the men? Why do they draw the short straw? For generations, men have been told that they cannot talk about their problems like women can. They feel emasculated. Embarrassed. And it’s literally costing them their lives.
It is strange to think that in 2018, society is still caught up in the stereotypical ideas of masculinity. It’s heartbreaking to think that in Australia, everyday, 5 men between 18-44 commit suicide. It is vital to remember that even though an issue may be overlooked or is not at the forefront of conversation, it is still happening. But there is hope. Things are changing. Conversations are being started and moulds are being broken. Typical Disney heroes and heroines are becoming a thing of the past. Organisations like Ditch the Label, Soften the F*ck Up and R U OK? are fighting for a world that is a more accepting place for men who don’t always fit the mould.
If you need help or know someone who does visit:
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Soften The F*ck Up Campaign
Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young folks and most of them are blokes.