What do we value in masculinity, and, more importantly, why do we traditionally hold it as being of such great value? I think it is largely evolutionary benefits that have led us to prioritizing strength, hyper-independence, and the ability to provide specifically in the male gender. If we go back to Unk the caveman, the man who was those things was more likely to survive to pass on his genes and provide for the people who depend on him as they either mature (in the case of his children) or care for the products of their mutual genes (in the case of the female partner).
I do not mean this as any sort of encouragement it was just a largely practical division of labor. An ability to suppress emotions in the pursuit of short term practical goals made sense for the member of the species that was out hunting a large, dangerous animal while attentiveness and nurturing were more sensible characteristics to the one left with child-rearing.
While all parties share largely similar brain chemistry and functions making the spectrums of emotion available, encouraging certain behaviors just yielded early survival and therefore reproductive values. The thing is, evolution (whether biological or social) is a slow thing, and even relatively progressive societies still largely hold to these patriarchal systems. This isn’t universally a bad thing.
I grew up with a mother who staid at home with the five kids of her own choice (she did have a college degree) and a father who was the exclusive breadwinner for most of my life. Both my mother and my father are strong people who made this decision of traditional gender rolls mutually and are (to the best of my knowledge) very happy with the lives they lead.
There’s actually quite a trend of women in my family who want to be housewives and teachers. No one should force a person into a traditional gender role, I’m just saying that we also shouldn’t look down on people who do choose to pursue an option that would conform to norms. But we have come a long way since man hunted mastodons and we need to start addressing the long term necessities of humanity. I believe feminism is a large part of the solution.
It is of course worth noting that I am writing this as a man. At the risk of mansplaining, feminism does have a focus on female empowerment; however, by empowering both women and the very concept of femininity (or else, blurring the boundaries between the genders) is also a good thing for men because it makes traits that would traditionally shame or emasculate men acceptable and/or empowering. This rising tide raises all boats.
Part of the reason I wanted to write about this is my coming to terms with the fact that a lot of my demons are traditionally associated with haunting women. Specifically, I am thinking about mental illness. While the Mayo clinic reports the big one, depression, is significantly more common in women than men, the link is not that simple. The World Health Organization found that women are more likely to report mental health issues meaning there is a disparity in cases known which hampers both research in the field as well as the health of those not reporting.
What I am arguing today is that this is because of the negative effects behind holding to traditional masculinity. Asking for help is considered feminine, and femininity is associated with weakness. Knowing when assistance is required is no vice, it is a great virtue. So perhaps it is not bad to associate requesting assistance with the fairer sex, but one of the great goals of feminism (in my understanding) is to remove the association of women with meekness. So even if asking for help were to be a feminine quality (which it neither is, nor should be), there is no problem with a man admitting a part of his feminine nature for his greater well being and health, and the health of society. Right now, masculinity is quite literally killing a lot of men.
The last sentence is based on my core argument that pure masculinity is outdated and bad for both men and women. One of the stark differences where this is made apparent is in suicide rates. Like I said, women are more likely to report mental health issues, a common symptom of which is suicidal thoughts. So, reports from Forbes suggest the same research problem is present with suicidal thoughts as with depression, but it looks like women do suffer suicidal thoughts more often. On the flip side, Forbes also reported men are dramatically more likely to successfully kill themselves in almost every culture around the world.
Significantly, this isn’t reported suicide, which would leave room for the same error from self-reporting, but actual deaths that leave no doubt about whether or not this symptom of mental health was present. This isn’t some minor difference of a couple percentage points. According to Americans for Suicide Prevention, a non-profit that sponsors scientific studies about suicide, men are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women, with similar numbers coming from the UK in a report from the Guardian.
This makes sense because most successful suicides are done with firearms, and (like it or not) studies show that the presence of guns can increase the likelihood of violence. Think about it, it is an immediate, dramatic, and very effective way to end life, and Pew Research shows than men are more likely to own or have access to firearms. This is another essential part of masculinity.
If a willingness to ask for help is essentially feminine, willingness for violence is essentially masculine. Men are the ones who start wars, fight them, and kill each other. Certainly women kill, but it is no great secret that men commit violent crimes at a higher rate. Boys will be boys, and masculinity dictates that boys will be violent. Still, masculinity is privileged above femininity as “stronger” and “better” meaning that any man who would go through any act of femininity to get needed help has declared himself less of a man and therefore worse.
Men need to learn from women. I believe it is our duty to support the empowerment of our sisters not only for their sake, but also for our own. Or else we choose our own poison and live worse in our own pride.