Too often, men do not seek assistance for mental health and well-being because they are under constant pressure to maintain and present a masculine identity. This constant pressure leads men to experience intense feelings of despair and hopelessness, often to the point of suicide. Kilmartin (2017, p. 12) emphasizes that men are dying at a faster rate than women due to excessive pressure to be masculine and toxic masculinity. In addition, men are socially expected to not display non-masculine characteristics such as being emotional, scared, lack strength, and not show concern about their emotional and physical health. Unfortunately, living up to these unrealistic expectations have negative and serious consequences. For example, suicide rates for men are four times more than those of women (Kilmartin, 2017, p. 13).
There are certain reasons why men feel obligated to act masculine. They believe they must follow traditional gender norms. If they do not, not only their self-concept is at risk, but also their reputation in the eyes of other men (Rowell, 2016, p. 8). A section from Robert Brannon’s work (1985, as cited in Rowell, 2016, p. 8), discusses the notion of inexpressiveness and independence. This is the ability to maintain self-control and composure even in difficult situations to solve problems without the help of others, keep feelings to oneself, and not to display signs of weakness (Kilmartin, 2010, as cited in Rowell, 2016, p. 8).
There is a lot of emphasis on men’s ability to act masculine. Levant and Pollack (1998, as cited in Rowell, 2016, p. 13) research has demonstrated that Western society practices praise men for acting physically strong, limiting their emotions, and not admitting to any physical or psychological issues. However, these practices are unhealthy because men are more likely to experience more health issues when they hold back their emotions. Wong et al. (2006, as cited in Rowell, 2016, p. 13) emphasizes there is a strong connection between hiding emotions and experiencing physical and mental health problems. In addition, men are unwilling or hesitant to report concerns of their mental health and well-being because they are afraid to be criticized for expressing themselves. As children, men are taught to not show signs of distress or emotion because these traits are not masculine and they are criticized by others (Rowan, 2016, p. 14).
To relieve social pressure and seek professional help for mental health, men have to release the unrealistic societal expectations they constantly face. One method is when men act in traditionally non-masculine ways so they can recover from being trapped in the cycle of acting masculine to disguise emotions and pretending they are feeling okay and not seeking mental health help. Once they do so, they will realize that stereotypical feminine characteristics such as being emotional and seeking help for mental health are not gendered and these characteristics are not strictly experienced by women only. Instead, they are typical human experiences (Kilmartin, 2017, p. 13).
Men also have more flexibility in distancing themselves from traditional masculine roles. Rowell (2016, p. 13) emphasizes in this century, men have more leniency to deviate from traditional masculine norms to more modern norms. By doing so, they are able to experience what it really means to be masculine. It is not all about acting “tough” and “unemotional”, they are traits all humans possess, whether you identify as masculine or feminine. In comparison to men from older generations, for example, men of our modern society are socially permitted to be more concerned with their physical appearance and grooming habits; these traits were considered to be feminine only in previous generations.
Masculinity and acting in a masculine fashion are important to many men because they are socially expected to adapt to traditional masculine norms. However, following traditional norms can be a dangerous practice because men often find themselves facing unrealistic expectations. This is negative for their mental health because they neglect to take care of themselves emotionally and psychologically. However, with the emotional support of their loved ones, many men will seek help for their mental health concerns and not worry too much about their masculinity.
Blog post by Lara Silkstone, Volunteer
Kilmartin, C. (2017). Being better and doing better: men’s health and mental health on campus. About Campus, 22 (2), 12-20. Doi:10.1002/abc.21283
Rowell, A. (2016). A qualitative investigation of men, masculinity, and mental health. Alliant International University. Retrieved from https://www-proquest-com.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/docview/1796853642