An Open Letter to Men

Dear Men, Today I urge you to, instead of reacting defensively like the alpha male you aspire to be, to just read and contemplate. Listen to what I’m going to tell you, and then take a day or two to think about it. Take some...

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Dear Men,

Today I urge you to, instead of reacting defensively like the alpha male you aspire to be, to just read and contemplate. Listen to what I’m going to tell you, and then take a day or two to think about it. Take some time to ruminate over how patriarchal cultural stereotypes of men are busy killing us. We are busy killing each other without realising it.

I’ve always been a staunch proponent of the view that patriarchal cultural stereotypes of men lead to a deterioration of men’s mental health and can subsequently cause us to take our own lives. From a young age, the vast majority of men are taught that they’re not allowed to show emotion, that it is not okay to not be okay, and that the alpha stereotype should be strengthened through our behaviour at all costs. A recent report by Africa Check stated that, in 2012, 14 men on average killed themselves each day in South Africa. The male death rate for suicide was 21 per 100 000 people. That is a rate five times higher than the female death rate by suicide of 4 per 100 000 people.

research report by Samaritan puts the factors contributing to male suicide into the following categories: psychological and personality factors; masculinities; relationship breakdown; and emotional lives and social (dis)connectedness. Some factors related to cultural patriarchal expectations that increase the risk of male suicide are, in my opinion, the following:

Social perfectionism (psychological factor)

Men must always meet the expectations of others.

This is quite telling.

Men are expected to always be emotionally resilient and unemotional, and that we cannot bulge under pressure. These expectations based on male cultural stereotypes are not only perpetuated by men, but also by women.

Perceived burdensomeness (psychological factor)

The expectation of men to be the perfect alpha males leads to men feeling inadequate because they feel incapable of meeting such expectations, in my opinion.

Hegemonic masculinity (masculinities)

This refers to the current form of masculinity held in highest regard by society. Again, we deal with societal expectations of men.

This form is characterised by traits such as striving for power and dominance, aggressiveness, courage, independence, rationality, competitiveness, not perceiving or admitting anxiety, just to name a few.

Hegemonic masculinity is associated with emotional control and power, and men who fail to gain such control actually allegedly use suicide as a way of expressing or regaining control. Men use more lethal methods of suicide than women, and it is hypothesised that this can be an expression of masculinity.

Providing for the family (masculinities)

Men are still expected, in many societies, to be the breadwinner in their family. Hands-on caring for children is seen as non-masculine, and women generally enjoy higher societal recognition accorded to their role as mother.

This specific factor is not only harmful to men, but also harmful to women, as men are expected to be the head of the household as well, and that wives are supposed to be subservient to them.

Bodily expressions of masculinity (masculinities)

A lot of expectations regarding bodily expressions of masculinity include risky behaviour.

Uneasy about talking about emotions (emotional lives)

We live in an era of a changing emotions culture, which is a good thing. However, a lot of men in their mid-life phase are struggling to adjust to this change. While they know that talking is good, they struggle to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Men are, in general, much less likely than women to hold a positive view of accessing formal support for emotional difficulties. Many men do not describe relationships based primarily on talking about their feelings. Men seek unconditional acceptance or, put another way, seek a no-questions-asked type of relationship. I think you can see how this can be very problematic

One thing that is as clear as day when considering the above-mentioned factors is that men are expected to act in a certain manner that is almost devoid of engaging with their emotions constructively. Society has created the typical male stereotype, hegemonic masculinity, that holds men to a certain unrealistic and unhealthy standard.

This is what is meant by patriarchy having a detrimental effect not just on women, but on men as well. These standards are ironically being upheld by men themselves, and to a certain degree by a lot of women as well. In the words of Jane Powell, head of the male suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM.):

“The simple, numerical fact of the matter is that men are dying by their own hand far more than women. We need to tackle that immediately.”

Prevention is the only solution to suicide, and the only way we can prevent more men from feeling inadequate and unworthy is to stop expecting stereotypical cavemen attributes from them. Yes, the typical alpha male characteristics evolved as an evolutionary survival mechanism, but these traits have become redundant in the modern age. We also developed critical reasoning abilities, and we should use them to identify characteristics that are now more harmful than beneficial. We also need to stop with the bullshit narrative that men aren’t allowed to not be okay, but more specifically, that men aren’t allowed to show to others that they’re not okay.

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