Ideas about masculinity and vulnerability are changing. But is it enough to save men’s lives?
I don’t know if it’s the people I hang out with, I’m just reading about it more, or it is actually a thing, but apparently male vulnerability has become en vogue.
I’ve always been an open, honest guy and with that comes the sometimes risky state of vulnerability. I’ve always been this way, but thought I was the rarity. Maybe that never was true, but if it was it’s not anymore.
Back in the “olden days” a “manly man” was expected to be strong. That meant holding the fort, keeping it together, being a safe, stalwart, reliable port of call that others could rely on because you — well, you were born with a penis and that’s what penises stood for! Yes, Penis-Man was able to weather the storm and overcome any struggle without any of the emotional trauma that is supposedly inflicted upon the non-penis-possessing humans by a tragedy. Or by ya know, regular life.
I don’t know if this actually worked for men back then. I suspect there wasn’t much introspection. Maybe that was the key for them. A collective, sign-of-the-times, head-in-the-sand approach. Perhaps they were yearning for a like-minded group of men to reach out to and share the load. But nobody made the first move, so nobody got no man love!
That’s less the case today than it once was. Today, being real is the real deal. And that means being vulnerable. Being strong is not what we once thought it was. But not everybody is on board with that just yet.
Today, many men will seek out the help of a friend, family member or therapist when it’s needed. But most still bottle it up, not wanting to appear weak because society has been telling them that being a man means staying “strong.”
Researchers believe that this is a contributing factor to the high rate of male suicide.
In 2012, 76 percent of suicides in the UK were men. In the US it was nearly 78 percent. In Australia, it’s just under 80 percent and is the single largest killer of men under 44 years old. Not cancer, heart disease, drugs, alcohol, etc. Nope, suicide.
Take a moment to think on that. Suicide is the single biggest killer of Aussie men under 44.
Niobe Way, an applied Psychology Professor at NYU, undertook research that showed that forcing stereotypical masculine traits causes men to not seek out medical help when it’s needed. They then fail to foster emotional connections that give them a sense of well being. Because, you know, “boys don’t cry,” “suck it up,” and “men need to be strong.”
What is being “strong” anyway? Pretending everything is OK and nothing hurts you? Bullshit! Being strong is going through that hurt, facing it head on, coming out the other side having learned something and then carrying on.
You need some help with that? Seek it out. Need to see a therapist? Good on you for acknowledging you need a hand.
That’s real. That’s healthy.
The way we can really “man up” is to practice and teach each other and our kids to be real. Be vulnerable enough to acknowledge we need a hand, or that we’re struggling with something within ourselves.
Men, you’re allowed to let other people see that you’re struggling. You’re allowed to be real.
I imagine it’s one of those things that is the opposite of what you might think you need to do. As the great scholar Jerry Seinfeld once told George Costanza, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite must be right.” You think you can’t be completely open and honest with your friends, or your significant other because you might get judged. Yeah, maybe. Sadly. The truth about being real and vulnerable is there’s risk. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.
What are you going to do? Keep bottling the real you up and hope you can contain it for as long as your meat box of a body shleps around this planet? Is that serving you? Because that’s what it’s about, mate, the best course of action for you.
Bottling it up never fails to blow up in your face one way or the other. It might not result in suicide, but you can fight against yourself for only so long. You either get real, or you become a husk. Guarded, fake, half-baked.
The very existence of blogs and websites dedicated to solely to men’s issues speak to the fact that things are changing. There’s a recognized need for these issues to be aired. Articles on men’s mental health are posted far and wide. The stereotypical clichés about “being a man” are being broken down.
Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris are strutting their stuff in musicals, singing and dancing up a storm. Years ago they would have been labeled as “girly.” Are you going to tell me that because they kick ass on stage, these dudes aren’t real men? Barney would describe Wolverine’s work as Legen – wait for it – dary!
My favorite show of all time, Scrubs, has an incredibly loving friendship between two guys; JD and Turk. JD even conveyed the extent of his love to his girlfriend by explaining that he loved her “even more than Turk” even though it hurt him to admit it, it was true! Na-na-na-na-naaaaa!
All stuff you wouldn’t have seen a few short years ago.
Hell, even James Bond — a man’s man and a lady’s man if there ever was one — is getting in on the act. No longer does he kill some bad guy, drink his martini and move on. No. In the Daniel Craig era, the work he does, the things he’s done — they take an emotional toll on him.
I realize that these are fictional characters, but art imitates life as they say. Guys being real and vulnerable is the new — and healthier — order of the day.
Does this mean that you have to get all up in your emotions by sitting down with your better half and hitting up Grey’s Anatomy? No. But if you do, that’s A-OK, damnit! RIP McDreamy!
And in case you haven’t got the message by now, being real means being vulnerable.
Unless you’re a robot, you are going to have some shit to deal with. And if you can find someone, romantically or not, to be real with, to be vulnerable with, that’s going to help you kick ass in life! Or you can Hulk out! Ask Bruce Banner how that’s working out for him.
We can joke about this of course, but this faux need for men to live up to the old definition of strong has devastating consequences.
I had a friend from school who committed suicide a few years after we left. He had some issues previously, but seemed to be getting on top of them. From what I knew he never spoke to any of our group in real detail about what he was going through, and outwardly he was doing much better. But then one day, he ended it.
I wonder, if he’d had believed back then that he could be real and vulnerable with us, and we’d have had the maturity to accept it, would he be here today? Who knows what impact he’d have had on the world.
He was our guy, but he was just one guy. In Australia, there were 1,816 male suicides in 2010 alone. That’s 1,816 people gone. In one year. Tens of thousands more impacted. How many of them were like our guy? It’s unsettling to think that maybe, just maybe, being able to be vulnerable could have been prevented those deaths. What if?
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