It is a very common stereotype that men are less emotional and open than women tend to be. Our culture and society pushes them to be this way, which is why it is not surprising that there is research saying men have difficulty confiding in others. An article written for NPR talks about the dangers of a lack of close relationships. The man studied, Paul Kugelman, was divorced and had little to no interaction with anyone other than the occasional conversation at work. He turned to alcohol and, eventually, to inanimate objects. Kugelman commented that there was a post in his living room “and the post became my friend. I would hug the post. I would hug the post for all it was worth because I was getting some kind of feedback physically”. There is a concept used to talk about why men close themselves off from society, and it’s called the “Act-Like-A-Man” Box.
The “Act-Like-A-Man” Box is a concept used to describe the way gender policing can limit the possibilities of men’s lives. It consists of a chart naming all the things deemed too emotional for men to be able to say or do, surrounded by all the ways men cover up these emotions. Some of these include being aggressive, argumentative, competitive, responsible and much more. Outside of this box were tactics that peers and society took advantage to push men back inside these constraints, should they try to claw their way out. This included mental and physical abuse, such as being teased or beat up, or being called names like “mama’s boy” and “sissy.”
Men spend their whole lives being told to be “tough” and “responsible” and that if they don’t want to act this way, they are considered too feminine or not manly enough. This is the reason men have a hard time expressing emotion and are “stoic.” Confiding in others is seen as an emotional act, which explains why men tend to avoid it. This is extremely unhealthy, both mentally and physically. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her co-authors, “having weak social relationships poses a greater mortality risk than physical inactivity or obesity”. Being stoic is conventionally seen as attractive or manly, but do we want our fathers, husbands and sons to lack empathy? Do we want them to sit in silence and suffering when all they want to do is admit how angry or sad they potentially are?
Studies show suicide rates and suicidal actions are much higher in women than men. However, out of the 38,000 people who took their lives in 2010, 79 percent of them were men. White males accounted for “seven out of 10 suicides in 2016”. This is called the Gender Paradox of Suicidal Behavior. People may be surprised by this fact, but in reality it makes a lot of sense. Boys are taught growing up that they are meant to act tough and eventually become the head of their future household. This is an enormous amount of pressure. It doesn’t leave room for emotion or setbacks in becoming a “man.”
Without an outlet for these pressures or any outlet in general, men are more likely to have serious depression that their close relatives or friends may not know about. Men don’t visit their doctors in the same volume that women do for either physical or mental problems, so while women are more likely to be diagnosed, this doesn’t mean that men are not experiencing the same problems in the same numbers. They’re just not seeking the help they require.
The point in the end seems to be that establishing healthy and long-lasting relationships is incredibly important to the physical and mental health of not just men, but everybody. The statistics may say men are more likely to be socially isolated, but singling men out is only part of the solution. Everybody should be more open to creating new relationships with people. Shankar Vedantam, author of the NPR piece “Why Some Men Have a Harder Time Confiding in Others,” points out that “spending time building and nurturing friendships might be just as important to your health as eating right and exercising”. This is a way men can gain equality for themselves. The fight for equality is not just about acquiring rights for women, but also about freeing men from the societal burden of being unemotional and “manly.”
Kaitlyn Pierce is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.