Dear Men, We are not your enemy
Can we talk? I’m worried about you guys. You are literally killing yourselves, with suicide statistics showing you’re two times more likely to kill yourself if you identify as male. Why do you think that is? A common theory suggests it’s because depressed men are less likely to be diagnosed with depression. So why Dear Men, do you think men are less likely to be diagnosed with depression? Could it be because men are reluctant to seek help when they feel like shit? Or maybe when they do seek help for depression they aren’t taken as seriously? A mix of both?
It seems to me that men are in crisis. Boys and men get so many scary and dangerous messages about how to be a man — from society, the media their families and peers. How many times have you been told not to show emotion? Can you remember how you felt when someone told you as a small boy not to cry? The first time someone told you to ‘act like a man’ or to ‘man up’? All of these messages are asking you to suppress your normal and healthy emotions. How can that ever turn out well for you? You’ve not only been told not to FEEL emotions but also been discouraged to talk about emotions. So how does that work? You are human so you have feelings then at the behest of society you suppress them but they get so bad you need to at least talk about them. But you can’t even do that — so where do you go from there? End your life?
What I’m describing is the breeding ground for toxic masculinity, I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ and maybe like some of my other male friends — you particularly hate it. I guess this letter is for those guys, cause it seems to me that they think toxic masculinity is a weapon used by women. And it’s not. It’s a weapon used by society. It’s a rot in our world. A blight. It’s how our world destroys men (and women and children’s) lives.
Toxic masculinity is men being exposed to movies where the male characters never seek consent from women, where women are set up to be won or conquered. It’s a media that turns women into an object whose sole purpose is to please or pleasure men. It’s a world that creates the circumstances where one man told me that every time he walks down the street he assesses every woman on her ‘fuckability’ and if she isn’t someone he wants to have sex with he looks away. Toxic masculinity is being taught you have a ‘right’ to women’s bodies. You have a ‘right’ to treat women as inferior to you. These harmful ideas are taught to (most) men, from a young age. And then you get into a relationship with a woman and she wants to be respected. But how can you respect a woman if your whole life you’ve been taught that she is your enemy? How can you treat her as an equal when the predominate message you have received about women is that they exists to serve you and your needs? That they are of less value? THAT is toxic masculinity and we are all victims of it. Men AND women. When we talk about toxic masculinity we mean a framework of shitty gendered stereotypes that are dumped on and fed to men. We mean the men who are unwilling to look deeply into the programming they received and make the changes they need to to ensure they don’t hurt or kill somebody.
I cannot stand the phrase ‘Man Up’. It’s used to tell men to stifle their emotions and to act like a ‘manly’ man. And we all know who that guy is. He’s a cross between John Wayne and the Marlboro man. I’ve heard it used on a 5 year old boy who fell and cut his knee and came to his parent crying. I’ve heard it used to a man in his twenties struggling to hold back his pain over his friend’s death. It is even the name of a campaign in Ireland that is designed to prevent domestic abuse — which is hugely ironic (and upsetting) as that phrase and all it symbolises is one of the reasons domestic violence exists. The phrase ‘Man Up’ and others like it are all part of that framework of awful that gets dumped on men. It’s why so many of you are suffering. Why so many of you are killing yourselves.
Please stop. The world needs sensitive men like you. If you are feeling pain, if you don’t know what to do with it, where to go with it or who will listen please don’t direct your anger and pain at us.
Reach out instead. Find someone who is open to a broader idea of what a man ‘should’ be and confide in them. Tell them your pain. Find someone to cry with or in front of. Crying is wonderfully cathartic and healing. And sharing your pain is the first step to a healthy masculinity.
Healthy masculinity is thoughtful, sensitive, caring, strong, assertive and driven. You can of course re-define your own values about what feels healthy and congruent within your own life. I know a man who encapsulates far more of the healthy feminine aspects than masculine ones and is also one of the most attractive people I’ve ever met. He’s so attractive because he’s living authentically — having long ago got rid of any ideas about being the way society wants him to be. Authenticity is a brave act in this world.
Most women I know just want to be treated with respect. Coming to us as an equal and expressing vulnerability is a beautiful opportunity for a real and human connection. The men who have been most vulnerable with me are the ones I am closest to (and the men and women I’ve been most vulnerable with are the ones I’m most close to). In being vulnerable with someone you are saying “I’m going to take a chance, I’m going to put some trust in you.” And most people don’t take that trust lightly.
Think about doing to the deeper harder work. It means questioning everything anyone ever told you (hello Matrix!), it means thinking critically about the messages you’re getting from media, culture, your friends and family. It might (probably will) mean realising you did some shitty things and having to own that and make amends. It will be hard. It will be a never ending process. But it will also mean you can be free of the bullshit ideas of how a man ‘should’ be. It will mean you can form genuine connections with other people based on the authentic you — not the ‘you’ that you created to fit into the shitty model of a man you were given in childhood. It will mean that for once in your life you can just be you, and be accepted and loved and appreciated for that. Because my friend, you are a gorgeous human, and we are not your enemy.