03 Sep 2020

Men, Masculinity, and their Mental Health.

ICHAS student Barry Redmond recently did research on the topic of men, masculinity, and mental health. 

There is an ongoing predicament with men and masculinity. Reasons for this phenomenon are wide-ranging, with biological factors, gender issues, societal norms, and socialisation all playing a part in the way men understand themselves, and how they are perceived by society. All of which impacts on and exerts a unique influence on men, their masculinity, and their mental health. 

The outcome from such relationships albeit changed in recent years, still have a profound influence on men’s perception of their unique place in the world. Here are some of the key findings from Barrys research. 

Gender is in a State of Flux  

The concept of gender at the start of the second decade of the 21st century is within a period of intense confusion and profound change (Mascolo, 2019). This transformation has placed men and masculinity at the centre of a sex/gender debate which has biological aspects of gender at one end, and at the other is social aspects with both not being comprehensively supported by psychological research (Mascolo, 2019). 

Therefore, leaving gender and men floundering as neither the theoretical base of biology nor sociocultural factors seem to be proficient to explain the differences between the genders (Parker et al 2017). 

These differences are accentuated by such factors as:

  • The interconnection between gender norms 
  • Belief differentials
  • Such collective outlets as mass media and the legal system

All of these give greatly differing outcomes for and to the genders (Knorr, 2017). 

With mass media offering a stereotypical viewpoint of the genders this largely reflects the influence of the patriarchal system and the capitalist economic requirements (Knorr, 2017). 

At the same time, the legal system in virtually all western societies has largely created a scenario, which is slowly eroding the family structure of the patriarchal system while reflecting the growing economic influence and independence of the female gender to the detriment of men. (Hoover et al 2015). 


The Patriarchy, its Transformation, and the End of the Breadwinner

 “This is the story of our times—the story of the family, once a dense cluster of many siblings and extended kin, fragmenting into ever smaller and more fragile forms” (Brooks, 2020). 


The immense influence exerted by the patriarchy, a system that is inextricably linked to the capitalist organisation has greatly affected the majority of men and masculinity. This system traditionally urged the adoption of gender norms which subjugated women and the majority of men (Comanne, 2014). 

Although this structure is still exerting its authority, it has nevertheless been in a state of transformation. A transfer of attention which has adverse effects on men, and can be profoundly seen in such areas as the family. An effect within patriarchy which Ruggles (2015) emphasises is due to the changing employment and economic milieu which has developed within the globalist panoply. 

This reversal, which has transformed the patriarchal family arrangement, dispensed with the male breadwinner and the impetus for the multigenerational family structure and by doing so has made the family more volatile, transitory in nature, and masculinity less relevant (Janssen, 2019). 


The Emerging Trend of attempting to Hinder Masculinity and Men  

 “Feminizing boys as we masculinise girls” (Sherman, 2018). 

 The patriarchy has become intricately linked with the notion of masculinity. So much so, that the very idea of masculinity has negative connotations for many sections of society (Coles, 2017). 

Kashtan (2017) understands patriarchy as damaging and maltreating boys and men by inculcating them into a system which prevents them from expressing their true entrenched emotions, in order to place them into a specific place on the hierarchical structure based on misogyny, and to an extent misanthropy (hatred of men) (Kashtan, (2017).

This perspective of the patriarchy, and apropos masculinity, identifies that both systems are maintained through sexist control structures by encouraging males to maintain their status through violence, and aggression (Salter, 2019). 

O’Malley (2018) identifies this phenomenon as a type of masculinity or a fetishized version of manhood, and that the man should be detoxified to allow him to self-improve. This inclination to demonise and eradicate masculinity some observers see as worrisome. 

Sherman (2018) while recognising the detrimental effects of extreme masculinity nevertheless sees the increasing trend of acknowledging all masculinity as a problem that needs to be solved as disturbing. 

He sees this tendency as feminising boys and masculinizing females, as imposing upon individuals that may have already high levels of self-esteem (especially males) only to have it removed through forced indoctrination (Sherman, 2018). 

Furthermore, he recognises the reality that society has already acknowledged masculine traits correspond with success and has hence deemed appropriate for females, but not for males (Sherman, 2018).  

Men, Stigma, Suicide, and Addiction

Stigma has contributed to higher levels of suicidality in men, as it discourages them from seeking supports in time of need (Movember. 2014) A phenomenon which emphasises the fact that men traditionally have issues with demonstrating a lack of control, and therefore do not want to be perceived as weak.

This experience has combined with the fact that men’s reaction to depression was traditionally less well understood than women’s, and hence has prompted men to prolong mental health issues. This situation in tandem with the reality that gender norms, socialisation, psychological and biological factors, encourage and influence men to complete suicide, while also creating an environment which has helped promulgate a worldwide situation which has done little for men’s mental health (Swami et al (2008). 

A realisation which falls short on other issues with regards to men’s mental health such as addiction (Sunshine House. 2020). Men are more inclined to be compulsive gamblers due to a biological predilection for impulsivity (Mayo Clinic. 2020) and stress reward systems (Hemmings, 2018), in addition to socialisation factors that actively encourage them to act out hedonistic tendencies (Goldhill, 2019). 

This disturbing reality is also greatly facilitated by information outlets such as mass media, which direct advertising and gender stereotypes at men at opportune time frames, to maximise impact and compliance (Reed, 2017). So much so, that it has prompted the UK government to contemplate restraints of such directed advertising (Reed, 2017). 

The Media, and Negative Stereotypes of Men

Stereotypes of men within popular culture and especially the mainstream media (MSM) and cinema, reinforce what it is to be an idealised man (Media Smarts. 2020). 

It is a particularly ominous influence on this gender as the societal norms in which these mediums promulgate are pivotal for the formation and legitimising of gender expectations (Arias, 2019). 

This inevitably emphasises not only all masculinities but especially extreme masculinities that promote violence, aggressiveness, and a repressive derivative of stoicism (Media Smarts. 2020). 

In addition to further promoting men as being overly strong (suppressing emotions) and heroic, while women are relegated to the stereotypical support role where they are more socially and emotionally aware (Equation, 2020). 


Is Masculinity the Problem?  

Men are now encouraged to be in touch with their emotions and feelings displaying behaviours which would have been greatly discouraged a generation ago (Gordon, 2014). 

An observation that Gordon (2014) says is confusing men as they are actively encouraged to not only be aware of their more feminine side but also an increasing segment of men are having a difficult time defining who they are within a masculine context. This being so as they are actively persuaded not to exhibit masculine traits such as competitiveness and sexuality (Gordon, 2014). 

Unfortunately, this scenario for men does not account for the fact that their testosterone levels are at least 10 times greater than women’s (Hormonology. 2020). An androgen hormonal system which is regulated within a 24-hour cycle, and will produce secretions which will inevitably produce physical, emotional, and psychological differences completely a variance to females (Hormonology. 2020). 

Therefore, although addressing extreme masculine traits by emphasising the role played by socially constructed identities, whereby men are expected to learn their appropriate masculine gender role through socialisation (Colorado State University. 2020), while possibly providing valuable insight into the gender debate, it cannot provide a definite picture as to why men are men, and why they inevitably demonstrate masculine gender norms (Gordon, 2014).