Written by Emily Fernando
Design by Zoe Shields
‘Man up. Stop crying. Stop being a pussy.’ Sound familiar?
Male pride and expectations of men include being strong, confident, and concealing emotions; it’s been ingrained within boys from a young age to ‘toughen up’ and not be expressive of their feelings, to hide any sign of weakness. How could they protect and provide for their family if they were emotional?
Yet, society has evolved from the days of the dominant male. There has recently been a pivotal focus on emotional wellbeing, for it to be natural for men to openly express their feelings and opinions. There are, though, remnants of old thinking, and much of the male mental health crisis can be attributed to the struggle that males face, of repressing their emotions to appear mentally and physically ‘strong’.
This masculine image society has come to adopt as the ideal male form is outdated and needs to be rapidly re-evaluated, or even destroyed.
James Bond and Hans Solo… What do they have in common?
Within society, boys are constantly exposed to these male ideals and expectations within the media. The James Bond franchise, for example, portrays a wealthy secret agent who saves the world whilst still getting all the (aptly named) Bond girls – a true stoic lady-killer. Similarly, Hans Solo (played by Harrison Ford) from the iconic Star Wars franchise, is portrayed as a womanizing hero, strong and brave.
These films idolise men as world-saving, veritable Casanovas, but often fail to portray the reality of some of these scenarios. What about when James Bond is having a bad mental health day? Or revealing the vulnerability of Hans Solo, perhaps even going so far as to go to couples counselling with Princess Skywalker to talk about the issues within their relationship, which are made relatively clear throughout the Star Wars franchise. If these scenarios were portrayed to males by these heroic figures, then maybe they would think it okay to be more open and unguarded about their feelings.
Whilst these types of figures are often viewed as valiant, emotionally-present men are often frowned upon or made fun of. Celebrities such as Drake, for example, have been given such differential treatment for expressing how they feel. Drake had a very public rocky relationship with Rihanna, with many aspects and his emotions surrounding it reflected in his music. Yet, society ridicules him for being expressive with memes such as “Drake is the type of person who sets his alarm to 11:11 to make a wish”. Whilst, perhaps, funny in today’s society, these types of quickly shared, world-wide jokes can be detrimental to a man’s mental health. In considerable contrast, when Perrie Edwards (Little Mix) dealt with a rough breakup by writing the song Shout Out To My Ex, she received very supportive reactions from her fanbase. More exposure to how men can feel and how it can be expressed is needed to normalise males feeling as though they can openly share their emotions.
The ‘Male Provider’
Throughout history, the male role has been viewed to be the provider for the family, the ‘conventional breadwinner’, working a 9-5 whilst women stay at home to look after the children. This role, and also the dual representations of men, is interestingly shown in the BBC show, Peaky Blinders.
This show, set in 1900s Birmingham, sees Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy) as the clear breadwinner for his family, being the head of his gang, whilst the female characters are either barmaids or housewives. Tommy doesn’t publicly show his emotions but, when in private, he is tortured by the memories of his involvement within the First World War. To be a successful provider, though, males would often have to suppress their feelings, both for their pride, but also to not be seen as weak and unable to commit to their jobs – especially as a gang member.
This is not relevant today, though. In this century, psychological potential traumas, such as fighting in wars across seas, or even family and personal issues, would incur negative psychological effects that could not be avoided. Whilst these effects may impair their ability to be the ‘breadwinner’, there is now more of a focus on the mental stability of men, and the equality of genders. Males are also not considered as the only potential providers anymore, as females and other genders have an increased presence within the workplace. Male psychological wellbeing is, therefore, considered far more important today, in comparison to the 1900s.
The enforcement of male pride and expectations can be seen within male gangs. Within this environment, young, impressionable boys may be pushed (by their friends) to complete initiation tasks such as killing other rival gang members or completing a drug run. Similar wild ‘initiation’ tasks can even be seen in gang-like university societies and frat houses; let’s not forget the guy who almost died from beatings in a college hazing ritual, and the many similar stories you often hear of them going over-the-top due to peer pressure.
There is no room for emotion. There is no room for doubts. The needs of the gang override the needs of the individual. Showing emotions and being a ‘wimp’, therefore, is not acceptable within this type of environment. An image of strength is all that’s acceptable. But this cannot work.
The tasks they’re required to complete and the risks they are exposed to are often extremely dangerous and emotionally wrecking. We need to begin to normalise males dealing with their traumas, even in the fiercest of environments, to receive the help they may need and decrease the chance of future violence.
Throughout society, unrealistic expectations of how men should behave has been predominant. This not only damages their well-being, but can contribute to a rapid downspiriling of mental health. The time to change is now. There needs to be more presence of the idea that it is okay for males to show their emotions – negative connotations of this needs to be downplayed. Through understanding and equality, society can change for the better.