The Pressure to ‘Be a Man’: Gender Stereotypes and Mental Health

Just a quick note, my blog is primarily based on personal views and experience, sometimes referring to research and some background information, with the aim of helping anyone who may be suffering, or know of anyone suffering from a mental health illness. I would welcome any advice and feedback on my blogs, or your personal thoughts on the topic.

This post is around the stigma of ‘being a man’. I’ll discuss the masculine v feminine stereotypes that society constantly judges males and females by; and I’ll talk specifically about the constant pressures placed on males (young males in particular) to live up to these masculine stereotypes, and how these stereotypes can have such a drastic impact.

The idea for this post started when I read an article (link can be found below) on the harmful effects of the phrase ‘be a man’. There have also been a few recent posts on suicide rates in young males; and how the statistics for males with depression and anxiety are very often underreported.

The article was written based on a documentary called ‘The mask you live in’ by film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom. I actually watched the documentary, which was extremely insightful. The documentary showed that ‘masculinity’ is often a front put on by males because of the constant pressures to fit in and be accepted. It showed how young males believed they had to be strong, fearless, and never cry. There was one specific point in the film where a teacher asked the young boys in the class to write how they are seen by others on the front of a sheet of paper; and what they don’t let others see on the back. Almost all of them had ‘pain’ and ‘lonely’ on the back, whereas on the front they used words such as ‘strong’ and ‘fearless’.

Stereotypical views on gender and mental health usually are that women are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other related illnesses. Whereas men are seen to suffer from substance use, aggression, and other behaviour related disorders.

But, are these opinions representative of true facts and statistics, or are they merely the opinions of a judgemental society?

Suicide is one of the major causes of death in males. If you look at suicide statistics, there is a higher rate of suicides amongst males than for females. Yet, statistics show a higher rate of females as having mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Why is this? It’s most likely because of the societal expectations, pressures, and stigmas surrounding masculinity and femininity. It’s considered ‘weak’ or ‘feminine’ for a male to be depressed or anxious, and males are told to ‘be a man’ when they experience such an illness. This leads to less males seeking help for their mental health.

One of the professionals featured in the film, said something that really sums things up. ‘People make the assumption that because the brain is biological, any sex difference must be hard wired. But, the brain changes as a result of experience.’ I think many people still see individuals as being simple beings, whose life is influenced only by nature. Many still don’t understand that environmental influences also have a huge impact on an individual’s life.

Feelings and emotions have really been feminised when they’re human, instinctual behaviours. This harbouring of feelings and emotions in males is so unhealthy and actually leads to the development of mental health illnesses. These mental illnesses are then very often underreported for fear of being seen as ‘weak’ or ‘feminine’. This in turn, can lead to further mental deterioration, or even suicide (when individuals no longer feel able to cope, and see suicide as the only way out). Many of the recent mass shootings in the past few years have also been by young males who were experiencing extreme psychological distress, that resulted in such violent behaviour.

From a young age, these gender stereotypes are instilled in us, by the family, within institutional settings, and within the wider society too. Stereotypical gender behaviours are constantly reinforced, from the toys we play with to the clothes we wear, and even what we choose to study. We’re constantly judged based on our gender (not to mention health, ability, race, … and the list can go on).

We (as a society) need to step away from these (and other) stereotypical, prejudicial judgments, and we need to learn to accept and encourage individuals to be themselves and be a part of positive change.

I have written this particular blog simply to discuss this controversial topic. This post includes both facts, and some of my own opinions. I hope that this blog has been informative, and that people can begin to understand that this is a real issue that starts with us all helping to change these stereotypes. This post also relates to some other recent controversial topics, such as race. Diversity is something that should in fact be celebrated and encouraged. If everyone was the same, the world would be a very boring place.  I quote a brief sentence from the film-makers official website that sums things up, ‘The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.’

Some of the resources referred to are:

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2016/aug/14/why-be-a-man-is-a-dangerous-phrase/ (The article on ‘The mask you live in’)

The Mask You Live In: Jennifer Siebel Newsom (2015) (This is the official title of the documentary)

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8 thoughts on “The Pressure to ‘Be a Man’: Gender Stereotypes and Mental Health

  1. This is amazing. My husband is a very sensitive in tune with his heart man. He loves to cook and clean. I myself am impulsive and a little rough around the edges! Fuck gender stereotypes it’s 2017 ya know! 👽😘

    Liked by 1 person

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