Apparently boys don’t cry. This is a view that seems to still hold a dangerous amount of weight in our society. Most men will be familiar with such disheartening phrases as “be a man”, “grow a pair” and “man up”; the last of which has had recent success on Twitter in the name of raising awareness of male suicide rates.
According to Manmade, an organisation concerned with male wellbeing, “Three out of four suicides in the UK are by men. In the time it takes you to make a cuppa, switch on the TV and watch a Hollywood Blockbuster, another one of us in the UK will have killed ourselves”.
The important question therefore is: why men? CALM, The Campaign Against Living Miserably, is a Charity concerned with the prevention of Male suicide in the UK. They believe the answer lies in the societal pressures on men to not express emotions. They state on their website: “We believe that there is a cultural barrier preventing men from seeking help as they are expected to be in control at all times, and failure to be seen as such equates to weakness and a loss of masculinity.”
Emotions are important. When we choose to ignore emotional difficulties, as men often feel compelled to do, we suffer. Perhaps a neglecting of feelings was useful when the male role was that of a warrior, needing to be emotionally detached, but now the ridiculous phrase ‘man up’ serves no purpose but to dig the holes of emotional damage a little deeper.
CALM also says that suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 45 in the UK. A worrying 42% of men ages 18 to 45 have considered suicide. It does not however surprise me. Suicide in general is not a topic people mention often let alone those considering it, yet despite that I personally have come across a very large number of men who have openly said that they have considered suicide. I number myself amongst them. Then there are the silent majority, who perhaps will never talk about the problem.
The “man up” campaign produced an advert which, although for a worthy cause, is problematic. “Before we can talk, we cry. It’s how we survive. So why do we tell boys to stop crying, to harden up, to grow a pair? Fuck That. If you feel down, speak up, because silence can kill. It takes guts to show pain. It takes a man to feel. It takes balls to cry.” Their message uses the language which has prior to now coerced men into silence in times of need. If CALM is right about the roots of such high proportions of male suicide, then the masculinised language needs to disappear.
Suicide is a huge concern as a whole and society should strive to help those on the brink as much as possible. In the case of everyone, suicide needs to be destigmatised much in the way that depression has been in recent years. In regards to men, the starting point lies in a transformation of society’s current dangerous expectations of masculinity.
Tim van Gardingen
(Image courtesy of The Huffington Post)