When you think of what it means to be a “real man” what do you picture? Pick up trucks? Beer? Scotch on the rocks? Mad Men’s charismatic Don Draper? An extreme allergy to tears? Maybe the first discovery of fire?
Male or female, it was at some point instilled in all of us that some men are more inherently masculine than others. These possess stereotypically masculine traits: stoicism, unwavering composure, leadership skills, dominance, an ability to manipulate fire and make a steak, (seriously, how rudimentary can our stereotypes be?) and the constant capacity to support a family whilst never letting their own “weakness” show. But since it’s no longer the 50/60’s and Mad Men was actually an incredibly over-rated show, it has become clear that this is a definition worth reevaluating.
Some months ago, I was in the car with the radio playing, and an advertisement came on. The voice over the speaker was that of your relatable every-man: masculine, down to earth, and “blokey”. In it, he explained that even if you’re a male, if you’re feeling the signs of depression, it’s okay to get help—this, relayed in the most manly way possible. At first, I wondered, is that really necessary? Surely men realise just as much as anyone that depression is a serious illness; they don’t need such an obviously gimmicky commercial to tell them it’s okay to feel. But then I really thought about it:
In all of my life, I’ve seen my father, brother, and cousins cry as adults on only a few occasions. For years, when I asked my partner “what’s wrong” he would assure me that it was “nothing”. So, having thought about this, it seems that yes: the acceptance of the fact that men can and should feel emotion is an epiphany necessary to push forward.
As a female, this is a sort of incredible phenomenon to think about. If my female colleagues cried at work, we’d receive immediate emotional support from one another. We’d be assured that everything is “okay” and amidst a mass of empathetic hugs we would leave the situation having felt catharsis. Even the admittance of mental illness has lost its taboo amongst female coworkers, confiding in each other feelings of depression and anxiety. I have seen these exchanges happen countless times in my career, but never, not even once, have I seen this occur centered around a male colleague.
So how do we adjust the “boys don’t cry,” “man up” mentality? How do we make feelings “gender neutral”? We can’t just instantly erase a stereotype ingrained in us for centuries. There’s no simple answer to this question because there’s no way to make a person openly accept feeling and admit vulnerability. So, I guess for now, blokey radio commercials, conversations like this, and the cinematic realisation that even (perfect-specimen-of-“man”) Don Draper cries is a fair place to start.