There is a suicide epidemic in our culture, and young men are by far the biggest victims. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, with suicide being the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Despite these horrific facts, it appears to me that our culture either has little grasp on the causes of this issue, or refrains from honestly examining the phenomena by using overly simplistic platitudes to explain the crisis. The aim of this article is to delve down the rabbit-hole of male pain, depression and suicide, as I offer some of my theories on not only why I believe this issue is so misunderstood, but also why people would rather turn their heads away from the issue than plainly stare at the brutal reality of the situation. This is by no means an exhaustive analysis, and I feel writing this might inspire me write subsequent follow up articles on the topic. But for now, I hope this post alone will serve as a catalyst for some much-needed discussion on the topic…

Like almost all politics nowadays, but especially gender politics, there are two opposing camps fighting to the death to prove their stance is correct. Both repeatedly slinging evidence at each other to support their position, without any appreciation for the nuance that this complex issue demands. Feminists trash Men’s rights activists. Men’s rights activists trash feminism. Unfortunately, the debate from both sides has become somewhat of a sibling rivalry than an open exchange of ideas. It strikes me that most gender activists would rather win an argument against their opponents than actually work together to establish a solution to the complex answers to the issue of male pain. Such a widespread epidemic cannot be reduced to sloppy, ideological rational and petty squabbling. There are men and boys that need our help, and resorting to tribalism will not find a solution to the problem.

How are men and boys supposed to talk about their feelings, when there’s no one there to listen?

Whenever we hear about a tragic male celebrity suicide, like Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, there is a outpouring of discussion on social media. It temporarily appears that the societal stigma is being dismantled, and people finally begin to attempt to analyse the underlying reasons behind why these men have been driven to take such devastating action. Unfortunately, this compassion is fleeting, and discussion usually dies out when the next social media trending topic becomes popular. It soon becomes clear that the abundance of support was little more than virtual signalling. Behind the Facebook platitudes and hashtags, it becomes clear that little help actually exists. All male suicide is tragic, but if the discussion only takes place when famous men take their own lives, we are doing a disservice to the regular working man. The man who doesn’t receive hashtags and vigils. To make matters worse, there are limited outlets for men to go to get help. Organisations like Samaritans and Calm exist, but they are few and far between. Our culture tells boys and men that they need to talk about their feelings more, whilst providing limited resources for them to actually do this.

Men’s fear of vulnerability

A commonly held cultural belief as to why men are reluctant to express their feelings is a social constructionist argument, that states men are brought up in a society that actively shames and demonises the idea of them talking openly about how they feel emotionally. This is certainly a contributing factor to the problem. The ‘provider and protector’ role is an out-dated and damaging narrative, and often leaves men with an overbearing sense of responsibility for ensuring they are strong and fearless at all times. Having the vulnerability to openly admit they are struggling would dismantle the provider role and putting men in a state of dependency, which would result in a death of an identity that the wider society encourages for men to adopt. Big boys don’t cry. Man up. These pervasive epithets may often be uttered in a tongue and cheek manner, but the destruction that they can cause to a man’s inner world is far from satirical. It can leave them bottling up their emotions, feeding the covert depression that is all too common in the lives of many men. Militant stoicism and self restraint can be a slippery slope, and only feed male depression.

The above theory does indeed have a lot of truth to it, correctly identifying a problem that exists on a large scale. However, I think this is as far as mainstream culture goes in terms of an accurate assessment of the problem. When we start to look at the dominant thought on men’s position in society, I think we have failed men and boys. From this point onwards, the debate spirals into ideologically fuelled analysis that not only fails to address the problem, but actively takes part in its prolongation.

The ‘Privilege’ Myth

Peddled by certain socio-political movements and supported by many activists and politicians, the privilege theory states that we live in a culture that inherently favours men in all aspects of society, and prevents barriers for the success of women in all walks of life. Also commonly referred to as ‘the patriarchy’, the theory also provides a causal rational for the epidemic of the unhappiness of men and boys. It states that the reason men and boys cannot open up and express their feelings is because of the social structure we live in, wherein men are socialised to be continually dominant, powerful, competitive and hyper-aggressive at all times, causing their ultimate unhappiness.

The problem with this theory, however, is that its initial assumptions are completely contradictory to the reality of the situation on the ground. How can men be in a privileged situation, when they are committing suicide at three times the rate of their female counterparts? It doesn’t seem like a particularly good deal to me. In order to try to tie up this loose end, proponents of this theory claim that men are creating their own unhappiness from expectations they are placing upon each other. Phrases like ‘toxic masculinity’ are used to describe the behaviour that men who are socialised into this patriarchal system. The message is clear. Men are the makers of their own misery, and women are still the inherent victims of society.

This, in large part, is why I feel the taboo exists. The acceptance that men are struggling on mass scale forces people to abandon the notion that we live in a man’s world. So we’d rather turn our backs to the problem in ignorance, politely nodding our heads at the fallacies espoused by the mainstream media and far left-wing political activists, instead of honestly critising these falsehoods. Its time to drop the cultural marxism, and start speaking the truth.

The Attack on Masculinity

There is no denying that egotistical and dominant behaviour that exists within certain men may well be toxic, but suggesting that this is a reflection of masculinity as a whole is a huge leap that has damaging consequences. This attack on masculinity is misguided, and implies that men are around the world are damaged, overly-aggressive and emotionally volatile, by virtue of their socialisation. Both men and women begin to internalise this message, and is has devastating effects on the way we relate to men, and the compassion (or lack their of) that we give to male issues. The other problem with this theory is that it suggests men should abandon masculinity altogether if they want to be socially progressive and fulfilled. What is ignored is that stereotypically ‘patriarchal’ behaviour is not the expression of deep and rooted masculinity, but rather an expression of the immature masculine. This behaviour is an attack on masculinity in its fullness as well as femininity in its fullness. The analysis of ‘toxic masculinity’ is not an accurate depiction of masculinity, but rather immature ‘boy psychology’ which many often men carry into their 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s (I’ll explore the reasons for this later).

Men are Privileged? Think again…

It may have been the case 10-20 years ago that men were the recipients of innate privilege, but thankfully the first two waves of feminism provided freedom for everyone by giving women equity under the law and dismantling the limitations placed on gender roles in society. Nowadays, pedalling the ‘patriarchy’ narrative is quite simply a lie of epic proportions. As already discussed, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Workplace deaths are 97% men, the majority of murder victims are men, men are lagging way behind in education, the vast majority of homeless people are men, and fatherlessness is at astronomical rates, leaving more young boys than ever before growing up without a father. How about that for privilege? I make these comments not to fall into the ideological trap of playing ‘who’s worse off’, but to emphasise the point that the idea that we are living in a system that inherently benefits men is downright stupidity, and is only further hurting our boys and men.

Are We Denying Masculine Nature?

For many men, there is no denying that opening up and expressing their feelings verbally can be very therapeutic and healing, and has huge benefits of male mental health. Many men are able to break down the ‘protector and provider’ persona temporarily, and gain the vulnerability and inner strength to accept they are struggling. A simple ‘you okay mate?’ can go a long way in preventing a man’s mental health from snowballing into decline, and we should all be mindful of making sure we continually ask these questions, regardless of whether men wish to open up or not. However, is this theory overly simplistic and impractical for many men? Firstly, it implies that this option is all that men have to overcome their pain in any context, under any circumstances. Secondly, it implies that men who do not wish to talk about their feelings are somehow broken or damaged, a product of a culture that perpetuates their ‘overly masculine’ tendencies. The solution? If men want to express their pain, they can only do it in a certain way, regardless of if it conflicts with their innate mode of being. But what if some men are making a rational choice to not talk about their feelings, because they don’t feel like people will understand? For many men, talking for the sake of talking does absolutely nothing beneficial. Instead, a pro-active, productive task orientated approach must be implemented for them to grow, understand and digest their experiences and their pain. I think a lot of men need to be given a practical goal of their emotional expression. As oppose to talking with someone face to face, standing with someone shoulder to shoulder. The below example perfectly illustrates my point:

Masculine Initiation

The video above is a perfect example of a rite of passage, or an initiation. Since the industrial revolution, the concept of a ‘rite of passage’ into manhood has been dismantled by society. Historically, cultures have understood that without clear markers of the journey into manhood, males have a difficult time making the transition from a boy to a man. Without a proper initiation process, men will tend to drift along in an extended adolescence throughout their 20’s, 30’s and even into their 40’s, with no clear guidelines of how to appropriately act as a man in the world, or any sense of a masculine identity. Women in our culture have unavoidable, biologically determined rites of passage that are universally acknowledged as ‘the entrance into womanhood’. But for the modern man? A flurry of sexual urges, aggression and a huge spike in testosterone, without any support from the wider culture on how to harness, understand and appropriately channel this energy. Throw in the demonisation and taboo of healthy sexual expression, the shame around male aggression and anger, and a distinct lack of father figures both in the home and within the wider society, and you have a recipe for an isolated, lost and confused young man. Masculine initiation can help boys transition from boyhood to manhood, help them to channel and harness their aggression, to show courage, and to learn to both acknowledge and control their emotion.

It is my contention that first and foremost, male emotion should not be demonised, shamed or tabooed, for this serves no purpose other than forcing men and boys to bottle up their feelings, inevitably resulting in emotional implosion. At the same time however, we must not deny the spectrum of ways in which many men best express that emotion. Whether it’s talking over a pint with mates, screaming at a heavy barbell, or relentlessly punching a heavy bag, every individual man will channel his emotion differently. In order to allow him the freedom to do this however, we must not shame any form of healthy expression, and demand only a certain kind of emotional expression from men and boys. And that begins with our cultures relationship to male anger.

Fear Of Anger  

One of the barriers to appropriately dealing with male pain is the way in which is often expressed, and how the wider society copes with this expression. I’ve already touched on how when men ask for help, there is often no one there to listen. I believe that this is in part due to male pain manifesting as anger or irritability. Instead of recognising this pain as a real cry for help, the wider society seems to demonise and belittle this expression as toxic and overly macho. This neatly ties into the ‘toxic masculinity’ fallacy that often comes along with the patriarchy myth, and further prevents other men and women from being able to find the necessary compassion to address male anger. Instead of accepting that this is how pain manifests for many men, society would rather shake their heads, wag their finger, and demand that men suppress these emotions, replacing them with a more typically feminine expression of emotion. Anger is often a manifestation of a very basic emotion. Fear. The sooner our culture realises this, the sooner we can help the men that need it. Of course, I’m not denying for a second that male anger can be incredibly destructive if not channelled and harnessed healthily. If men and boys cannot learn to healthily acknowledge, and ultimately control their anger, they will never conquer it. But the emphasis should be placed on recognising its existence. Pretending like its doesn’t exist like men have been conditioned into believing is asking for anger to come out when least expected. It is the responsibility of older, wiser mature male role models to help guide young men through their emotions and control their anger and fear, so they can digest ultimately transcend them. But unfortunately, these male figures are few and far between…

Where have all the father figures gone?

Over the last 40 years, there has been a meteoric rise in family breakdown, with more and more young men growing up without fathers present. This is a particularly big problem in low income, working class homes, with 48% of children in low-income families not living with both parents by the age of five. This lack of stable, consistent contact with a father influence can have a devastating influence on the development of a young man. Further negatively affecting this epidemic is the fact that less and less strong masculine influences exist within modern culture nowadays. Historical heroes have been replaced with immature quasi heroes, leaving young men with a lost sense of masculine identity. I believe this is why many young men are fascinated by movies like 300 and gladiator; unapologetic, unbridled masculinity in its most raw form simply isn’t something we rarely anymore. King Leonidas has been replaced by Kanye West. And somehow we view this as a sign of a society progressing?

As a by-product of this, we are seeing a rise in pseudo-masculine environments that advertise themselves as masculine havens, but in reality are nothing more than cults filled with ego-maniacs. Street gangs, terrorist groups, football fandom and pick up artist forums may indeed exist on a spectrum of sins, but their defining traits are similar. False masculine spaces, with the promise of turning boys into men, but achieving nothing more than turning boys into boys that are afraid of themselves and the world. Heightening the immature masculine within them, and damaging the development of a healthy masculine identity in the process. This is the real ‘toxic masculinity’, but ironically has very little to do with being a man at all, but instead being trapped in boy psychology.

Young men of today need masculine spaces where they can find father figures and mentors that inspire the healthy, creative and inspired masculine in the modern man. Mentors that bestow a sense of responsibility, will power, and autonomy in our young men. Not merely project their own fear, insecurity and demons onto them. Men who do not deny male anger, aggression and competitiveness, but are able to help them to work through these emotions in a practical way.

Concluding remarks

How do we foster this sense of progressive social development into manhood whilst also not denying the masculine spirit, allowing boys to move into manhood with emotional intelligence, inner confidence and will power to achieve their goals and follow their passions? We begin by removing the taboo of male pain from society and politics, providing the resources and support that men need. We stop telling men and boys that they are the recipients of privilege, which only serves to underplay and denigrate male issues. We re-establish and promote healthy father figures into society, giving men and boys the necessary role models they need to live an inspired and emotionally stable life. And we properly initiate our boys into men, by acknowledging their emotions, and simultaneously working with them to practically channel, control and harness the wide spectrum of emotions adolescent boys experience. Healthy masculinity is a powerful life force for infinite good in the world, but is currently in crisis. These are what I believe to be some of the first steps in a long list of strategies to help heal, inspire, and develop men and boys. They desperately need our help, and society better start paying attention…

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Rob says:

    Great article. As a father of an 8 year old boy who is finding his feet in his community of friends, I am reminded strongly of my own emotions at his age and actively re-live my younger days through him. I teach him to box and try all sorts of sports to channel his energy which is always in abundance as I know going into his teenage years his hormone levels will peak and having a physical outlet is what he will need. This is something I had to work out for myself without having a male role model in my childhood. I am all too familiar myself “bottled-up” emotions which inevitably manifest themselves when you least expect (or want) them to, so I educate my son to quickly voice, write or draw anything that’s playing on his mind to “get it out” and to never be afraid of crying…again to “let it out”.
    He takes it on board and his artwork tells a thousands words about his state of mind which I find fascinating and invaluable.

    • Matthew_Brown says:

      Thank you for sharing! It is heart-warming to hear from a father who deeply resonates with these messages and takes action to help his boy work through his emotions . Much respect.

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