It’s no secret that I am absolutely nuts about men’s health. One way I spend my time is reading and summarizing different research studies about the topic. A lot of these studies look at disparities in men’s health, but I am interested in why they exist in the first place.
A few weeks back, I decided to poll my social media followers with a simple question—“Why don’t men discuss their health?” I was amazed by all the different responses. So far, we’ve explored Response 1 (“Men aren’t told to check themselves at doctor’s appointments”), Response 2 (“It’s awkward to talk to my mom about it”), Response 3 (“Talking about your health isn’t ‘masculine/manly/macho’”), Response 4 (“There is no Susan G. Komen for men.”), Response 5 (“Men think they are invincible.”), and Response 6 (“Men keep it light out of fear and/or embarrassment.”).
Over my next several columns, I will continue to share the collected responses and what we can do to fix them. We’ve got two responses left—with this one being the second most popular.
Response #7: “Social norms and stigmas tell us not to talk openly about our health.”
When I discovered a cancerous lump on my testicle a few years back, I really had no choice but to tell my male boss that I needed to go to a doctor immediately. Even though he was completely supportive in every other way, I still had to grapple with the notion that I didn’t need to tell anyone about this—let alone another guy who happened to be my boss. I almost chose to keep it close to my chest (or more accurately, my groin). Though I did eventually sack up and tell him, I didn’t do it too willingly.
This reluctance to open up about health problems probably stems from my childhood. Throughout my formative years, I was constantly told, “Big boys don’t cry.” While it may not have been the intention, this adage eventually led to numerous broken toes and other medical maladies that I kept to myself.
For the most part, I don’t notice this same norm/stigma in women. I work in an elementary school, where I am one of about five men. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard my female colleagues talking about their mammograms, gynecologist appointments, or a monthly visit from Aunt Flo (who seems to come to town on the same week every month—what a nice familiar bond between a niece and aunt).
So why do men perpetuate this perceived norm that “we cannot talk about our health”? Probably because we’ve always done things that way.
Changing social stigmas starts with us.
You know what else we used to do “because that’s the way we used to do it”? We used lead in paint, asbestos in ceilings, denied women the right to vote, and segregated based on race. In each of those cases, people spoke up and effected the change they wanted to see.
The latter two examples are particularly poignant because external forces both began the practice, and then prevented any change for decades (if not centuries).
For the most part, men have been pretty privileged throughout history. Often times, we get trapped in this perceived “man box,” and then bemoan that fact—even though we’ve largely done it to ourselves. However, we can make a difference.
It starts with our friends and our family: our brothers, sons, grandsons, and nephews. Don’t discourage them from speaking up. Encourage the men in your life to speak openly about their health.
Men talking to men about men’s health. It seems too stupidly easy to be a solution, but that’s all it really takes.
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