Real men don’t cry
Men are dying, dying in great numbers. It’s a massive tragedy and it’s going on under our noses, in our countries, our cities, our suburbs and in our neighbourhoods.
Statistics from 2012 show that in Australia the direct and indirect cost of suicide was $1657 million, and there are more deaths caused by suicide than from skin cancer or car accidents.[i] And of course these deaths affect the friends and families of the victims and so the impact strikes deep into our society, hurting a great many people.
It’s not necessarily simple but a great start would be if we were to stop championing the aggressive, stoical form of masculinity that is embedded in society.
Lets take sport as an example, and rugby union in particular, as a further example of adopted and accepted masculine traits that are often used to define men. To look at this sport we can see how it has changed over the years. This game used to be taught on the basis of skill, deft footwork and tackling low. Now it has become a collision game more than ever, a gladiatorial contest where real men show their wares, and where you have to get big to compete. Being a bulked up muscle machine isn’t a choice – nowadays it’s a pre-requisite to simply be able to take part.
Now there is no argument here that this sport ever used to be anything other than tough. It was built on aggression and dominance, and it hasn’t changed in that regard, but the increased physicality of the game is in keeping with the strong message shared with society about what it takes to be a man. And it’s clearly a message that’s taking its toll.
You only have to listen to a commentary to hear how this bastion of male toughness celebrates the hits, the physical hurts and the honour of not showing your pain.
But how can we square those suicide statistics with this championed ideal? Do we dismiss them as separate, not relevant to one another? Of course sport and rugby union are but examples in a society that abounds with masculinity in its full misrepresentation. But they also represent the male domain, the way we expect men to behave. They showcase behaviour that never celebrates what men could be, and what perhaps men actually are experiencing underneath the bravado.
If men are killing themselves, then what is the cause? Is it the pressure of work, the pressure of life, the bottling up of emotions, the need to showcase an image that is completely false? Real men don’t cry. How we should sigh when we hear those words. How empty and nasty they are!
Real men should cry – in fact they must – if for nothing else than to set an example to the sons and daughters of what a real man can look like.
Yes, crying makes you vulnerable. It exposes men to fragility and that great fear, ridicule. There is probably little more terrifying than appearing vulnerable in front of male friends. Many in fact see it as shameful.
Yet what are we really so afraid of, ashamed about, worried will happen: a picture has been created that is entirely false and keeps those lips sealed. We don’t cry, we don’t express feelings, we live in a prison of unshared thoughts and all to fit in with a message about men that is entirely untrue.
Men are not “tough as teak.” They are made of the same physical matter as women, and the sooner we acknowledge this scientific fact the sooner we can start to heal the hurts that cause so many men, of so many ages, to end their life long before their number is up.