As one of the key founders of the newly formed LUU Mantality Society, our Editor-in-Chief, Reece Parker, discusses the concept behind positive male mentality and the benefits of refusing to suffer in silence.
Male mental health is in crisis. It is one of the most pressing issues which our society chooses to ignore. The demands of traditional masculinity, be it the pressure to conform to certain characteristics, the need to provide for significant others, or the forced suppression of emotional openness and vulnerability, is taking its toll upon all men. LUU Mantality Society recognise how these issues impact upon men in the student community, and are providing a solution.
The term ‘toxic masculinity’ was not designed to be used as a derogatory insult towards males. Rather, it references the socially-constructed and socially-constraining attitudes that propagate the masculine gender role as unemotional, aggressive and misogynistic. It critiques the view of men as emotionally detached individuals who are sexually assertive and who cannot be victims of abuse, domestic or otherwise.
From being told as a child that ‘boys don’t cry’ to experiencing the social pressure to provide financial and emotional stability to loved ones as an adult, the concepts of traditional masculinity are forcing men in our society into a culture which suffocates them through emotional suppression and alienation. This we often recognise in the statistic that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, but this is merely the most extreme concentration of these issues. Every man in our society suffers from these pressures in some way, shape or form.
For men who are studying at university, the pressures of traditional masculinity are intensified. Student lifestyles emphasise hedonism, disregard the importance of diet and sleep patterns, require the completion of stressful assignments and exams, and often promote alcohol abuse and illicit drug consumption. The university experience can often be lonely and isolating. Before arriving in halls, you are told by all around you that you’ll spend the best years of your life here, creating solid friendships on the bedrock of incredible experiences. It’s an impossible promise, and sees many individuals put on a front of immense success and happiness in fear of appearing a failure. The dissonance between expectation and reality can leave individuals feeling dissillusioned and isolated from their peers.
For males already feeling unable to express their feelings, the championing of such a damaging culture can be particularly detrimental to their wellbeing. Without the friends and family of home to open up to, men often sink into depressive cycles. For many men in university, the bind on their mental health is doubled.
LUU Mantality have been founded in an attempt to fill this void, to show those who are finding themselves in this position that there is an alternative option. Founded by myself, Joe Davidson (President), and Andrew Marks (Treasurer), our aim is to create an honest and inclusive environment for men at Leeds to be themselves. Created following our return from a Mantality retreat, our ethos is based on the ideals of Mantality Magazine, a media source created by Leeds Rhinos’ own Stevie Ward, who, during his own struggles with mental health, recognised how the damaging demands of masculinity could be countered through genuine connection between men. Our aim is to take this idea and introduce it to our university campus, to facilitate this connection between students who may struggle to engage with their emotions or the demands forced upon them.
There are two main strands to how the society works. Men are often understandably hesitant to open up about their emotions to complete strangers, so before doing this, we engage with concepts of physical connection. These concepts include breathing techniques, yoga and meditation, which serve to break the ice between members of the society, provide a source of relaxation, and ultimately begin to tune us to understand the physical sensations of our own bodies. Once this is completed, it is remarkable how much easier people find it to open up about themselves in group discussion. These discussions only have one underlying rule, that we show complete respect to whatever anyone wants to talk about. Those who attend may only feel comfortable sharing a joke, or an anecdote, or a memory which has arose seemingly at random. All of these things are relevant to the way they are feeling, and as such they are all welcome. For others, they may want to discuss potentially traumatic experiences or emotions, which are treated with the same level of engagement and openness.
We are a brand new society at Leeds, one whose first ever event is only just breaching the horizon, a talk and workshop with Stevie Ward. If you are interested at all in attending, like us on facebook for updates.
To enable men to live their fullest lives, we need to dispel typical ideals of masculinity. In order to redefine what it means to be strong, we need to ‘man up’ and start talking about our feelings.