It’s time to TED talk about it: the stigma of male mental health

Gender stereotypes are deeply ingrained within our society and our subconscious. Through societal expectations, the masculine ideal has enforced the image of strength, charisma and power. Men are taught to be figures that lack any emotions except anger. The pressure of maintaining an image of strength and removing oneself from emotion becomes crippling and unbearable. Due to this, suicide rates have spiked as many men feel that they have no one to turn to and would rather bottle up their emotions.

Actor Justin Baldoni recently delivered an emotive TED talk titled ‘Why I’m done trying to be “man enough”’, in which he addressed the isolation and pressure of societies masculine ideals. Throughout the talk Baldoni refers to the struggle he faced through the expectations placed upon him and the need to be accepted.

Tony Porter’s TED talk ‘A call to men’ also focuses upon the peer pressure men face, dubbing the collective socialization of men as the ‘man box’. The seven pillars of the ‘man box’ were determined in the report The Man Box: Key Findings, which clearly distinguishes the constrictive and toxic ideals of masculinity. These pillars reflected the main stereotypes of masculinity; acting tough, aggression, homophobia, hypersexuality, self-sufficiency, physical attractiveness and rigid gender roles.

Society has driven these beliefs into our psyche, forcing one third of boys to believe that society expects them to be strong as shown in a survey by Plan International USA. Baldoni directs his talk towards the ‘disgusted view of the feminine’ that is encouraged through the masculine culture. This often forces a fear of rejection if a man shows his emotions, and so adhering to these stereotypes seems crucial.

Baldoni goes on to discuss the ways in which parents talk to their children. An understanding of parents and their engagement with the ‘scripts’ of gender norms is an important topic which he feels must be addressed. Tony Porter targets the issue of stereotypes in parenting in his talk as he explains how he reacted to his own son’s emotions. Both of the speakers mention the way society has altered their thoughts and actions, as well as the way they interact with women.

The idealised image of masculinity is often accompanied by derogatory views of women which have especially been revealed during the rise of the Me Too movement. Rather than fear the movement, Baldoni believes that men must notice the signs and stand up against locker room talk and cases of sexual assault, ensuring safety and happiness in what he describes as a win-win for both genders.

Masculine stereotypes have often driven men towards suicide due to feelings of isolation. Traditional ideas of masculinity have been linked to poorer mental health. In 2018, Samaritans recorded an increase in suicide rates between younger men and men aged between forty-five and forty-nine. The charity also found that men are three times as likely to commit suicide than women.

Baldoni referred to his own struggle with being able to speak to those around him about his problems. Suffering in silence appears to be more acceptable than revealing vulnerabilities and facing possible judgement. Baldoni says that there needs to be a direct, open conversation which removes the fear of speaking out; negative emotions should no longer be seen as a sign of weakness or be tied to pride and ego.

The myths surrounding masculinity can and must be gradually debunked so that we can avoid gender norms and simply see people as ‘good humans’, argues Justin Baldoni. He concludes that male vulnerability must be celebrated, and encourages women to forgive and help the cause.

Improving the pressurising gender stereotypes in our society is a huge task. However, as the upsetting male suicide rates and persuasive words of speakers like Baldoni demonstrate, it is no longer a desirable, distant possibility, but a more urgent and necessary change.

Image: TED Talks via ted.com

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