A long time ago I shared a video on my (now extinct) Facebook account. It was a montage showing the first moments of soldiers being reunited with their families upon returning from various tours overseas. It was extremely moving.
One friend of mine affectionately commented that ‘only a real man would post this’. Which was flattering at the time. Without wanting to make too many assumptions, what my friend was probably trying to imply was ‘real men are not afraid to express their sensitive side’, or in other words, real men are in touch with their feelings and are not afraid to express them, or something to that effect.
This begs the question, is it true? And why?
Is it true that ‘real men’ are able to express their feelings and, more importantly, is it true that men who tend to internalize their feelings are not real men?
There’s a modern trend to emphasise masculinity that is framed in terms of a modern, more feminine, view of the ‘self’. Supposedly a ‘real man’ is not afraid to express his feelings and be more sensitive.
Or alternatively, the more traditional stereotype of the stoic, is marginalised or cast aside and made into a parody.
Mark Gungor, marriage expert and comedian in his Laugh your way to a better marriage program explains that men and women are fundamentally different not only in the way they communicate, but in the way they internalise and process their feelings. He explains that men simply don’t ‘share their feelings’ in the same way that women do, and that this is OK. Men typically internalise their thoughts whereas women need to communicate. Men are problem solvers.
The reality is that men do have feelings, but how they express those feelings and deal with them is not the same as women. It’s time we understood this. Men have not been ill-trained in dealing with their feelings. They simply don’t deal with them in the same way that women do. For example, men and women deal with feelings of anger differently. This article explains that men and women deal with anger differently. It argues that at either extreme, the way men and women deal with anger is unhealthy (one could argue that almost anything when taken to an extreme is unhealthy). Men are more aggressive and overt about their anger. Boys in the playground are far more likely to engage each other physically, whereas girls are more likely to talk through their feelings of anger. Alternatively however, girls are far more likely to hold on to feelings of anger for longer periods of time, whereas men are move on quicker. Men forgive and forget more easily.
According to this recent Huffington Post article men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. A humbling and alarming statistic. It goes on to claim that the issue is an implicit social pressure on men to conform to a perception of masculinity. Primarily, the problem is never talking about their feelings. Supposedly men have been socialized into believing that they should keep their feelings to themselves.
Statistics about male suicide in Australia are consistent with the above suicide differences between men and women. However, it also explains that the ratio was lower in the past. You would think that if social pressure to conform to a certain ‘masculine ideal’ which would have been more prevalent in the past before the rise of modern feminism, then male suicide would be more prevalent in the past than it is today.
Male suicide is a serious problem and there are some really interesting statistics regarding it. It is a topic I will cover in more detail in future posts. Here I simply want to demonstrate that it is an assumption to conclude that more men commit suicide simply because they’re less likely to talk about their feelings.
In a previous article I argued that gender differences are real, and are evident from a young age. I’m not the only one. Joyce Benenson, explains in her book Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes that boys and girls, from a very early age begin the process of socialization very differently. Boys form small cooperative groups designed to compete against other groups. Girls by contrast learn to compete against other girls on a more individual level. Girls often do best in close knit familial groups. Boys forms tribes with complex structures where boys know their place and cooperate.
The above point is important. Men do express their feelings, they just do it differently to women. Men express their feelings through action. The problem arises when that action manifests itself in negative behaviours such as alcoholism, gambling or other avoidance behaviours. When men deal with stress or the pressures of failure with negative behaviours, the solution is not necessarily more communication. The solution is not to rob us of our masculinity, or to ‘socialize’ men to feel guilty about their natural state.
Men are problem solvers. We are tactile and pragmatic. If you’re a man struggling with depression and/or anxiety then part of your solution could lie in simply getting out and doing more things. Check out this thorough list of man therapy ideas from Beyond Blue for some great inspiration.
Men, you don’t have to feel guilty for being a man.