Helping Men and Boys: A Cause We Should All Get Behind
Chin up, men don’t cry.
Act like a man!
You are a man! Show no weakness.
Every man has heard one or more of these statements in his lifetime.
From an early age, boys grow up believing that expressing their feelings is untypical of the male character. This is borne out of gender stereotyping, which is a deeply rooted cultural norm that forms generalized views and preconceptions on gender roles, attitudes and expectations. However, these preconceptions have proven to be dangerous and a hindrance to men living happy lives.
According to “Choosing Therapy”, nearly 1 in 10 men experience anxiety or depression on a daily basis, but less than half of those men will ever seek treatment. This is because men are conditioned to toxic gender stereotypes and believe that expressing their emotions or admitting they need help is emasculating, and not male-like, leading them to develop harmful psychological behaviors or thoughts while bottling up their emotions. A harmful coping mechanism that gives rise to anger, depression, mental ill health, and even suicide.
Our capacity to experience emotions and process feelings is one of the characteristics that define us as humans. When we are angry, we fume and raise our voices. When we are happy, we scream in excitement. When we are sad, we cry in frustration. Being allowed to release emotions is what makes us full-functioning human beings and men are no exception to these emotional needs, hence teaching them to hide or mask their feelings is abusive and toxic.
The viability of a man’s mental health and how it affects him at home, school, work and his relationship with others is integral to his positive contribution to society. It is therefore ironic that the same society a man is expected to contribute positively to, forms unrealistic constructs that can lead him to exhibit behaviors that society will term as socially unacceptable. Behaviors like aggression, anger, or violence. If we could criticize society, we would use words from a Burna Boy song and say -This is the monster you made.
Hence, we cannot truly celebrate International Men’s Day without addressing the issues that affect men in society. In relation to this year’s International Men’s day theme — Helping Men and Boys, we are raising awareness and bringing to light the harmful narratives that hurt our men and stop them from being fully functioning individuals. It starts with us, and we can help our men and boys by changing the way we think, being more accepting of their vulnerability and teaching our young ones that men should be expressive of their feelings and seek help when they need it.