That’s Men: Male stereotypes work against men, who are less likely to talk about their needs
Everything in the garden is not rosy for men – more men than women take their lives worldwide, by a big majority
Male stereotypes work against men in ways that perhaps are not always recognised.
A young woman sits alone in a railway station waiting room, crying. After a while, a passenger goes over to ask if she can help. Soon the young woman is telling her story to a sympathetic listener.
Outside the waiting room is a young man sitting on a bench, half drunk. Now and then he shakes his head as he stares at the empty beer cans between his feet. After a while, the railway staff approach and ask him to leave, which he does.
These two scenarios, from The Psychologist earlier this year, illustrate a difference between men and women. Women express their emotions while men are more likely to “act out”. And for these reasons, women are more likely to get help from others.
The oppression of women is very evident in today’s world and even in the West it appears that the battle for equality is never quite won.
But that doesn’t mean everything in the garden is rosy for men.
More men than women take their lives all over the world, by a large majority. Most of those who have serious addictions, most of those who are homeless are men, and men represent a huge majority of those who are in prison.
Male stereotypes work against men in ways that perhaps are not always recognised. Traditionally, men were expected to be the strong and powerful gender. Where does that leave them in situations where many have no role at all because of unemployment or because they live in communities with few resources?
In childhood, it is more okay for females than for males to behave like the opposite gender. The girl who acts like a boy is a tomboy but the boy who acts like a girl is a sissy. I have often heard women declaring “When I was a girl I was a real tomboy,” but you don’t hear men saying “When I was a boy I was a real sissy.”
Men tend to be more isolated than women; by and large, they have fewer friends and fewer connections in their localities, according to UK research.
Research would also suggest that experiences such as unemployment and the breakdown of relationships affect men more than women.
This may be due to that concept of the man as the stronger gender which, for many men, means they must be the providers. Take away that role and the man is lost.
Such expectations can continue even in today’s society in which women continue their careers after marriage and may, indeed, be the main breadwinners.
An interesting further issue raised in The Psychologist is that in the UK, at any rate, most inpatient mental health staff prefer to work with men. That’s because men, less likely than women to talk about their needs, also make fewer demands. Also, staff worry about making men feel powerless and vulnerable and collude with them in their silence. It would be interesting to know whether the same holds true in Ireland.
For all of these reasons I was glad to be reminded that tomorrow is International Men’s Day.
“Objectives of International Men’s Day include a focus on men and boys’ health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality and highlighting positive male role models,” the website for the day says.
“It is an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage and childcare while highlighting the discrimination against them.”
I wonder if the website might be in danger of slipping into that gender stereotyping I mentioned earlier when it states, “The ability to sacrifice your needs on behalf of others is fundamental to manhood, as is honour. Manhood rites of passage the world over recognise the importance of sacrifice in the development of manhood.”
That aside, it’s a welcome endeavour that has been happening since 1999 and will be marked tomorrow by men’s groups in Ireland.
That scenario in the train station, at the top of this article, shows how much work needs doing.
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email. firstname.lastname@example.org