When there’s talk of “changing gender roles,” most of the talk is about the changing role of women, or the women are the agents of change. If there’s one thing that feminism has succeeded at, it’s bringing the female gender into the limelight as an isolated variable in the constant change equation. The male gender wasn’t granted that same agency; they’re not the sympathetic characters in the modern gender show, as an entity, haven’t received the same exposure. The male gender has lost relevance as a distinct and valid variable in the evaluation of problems pertaining to inequality. Due to its connotations in an age of feminism and changing sexual politics.
I’m guessing that it’s because men aren’t seen as being made to suffer the effects and resulting oppression from social inequalities. Men have been evolving and adapting right along with us the whole time, but their experience of change with regard to their gender isn’t brought to light nearly as much. Manhood is being too much ignored, and is increasingly invisible.
Middle-aged men have become more susceptible to suicide than ever before. Younger men are more prone to violence. Mass shootings are done by men, for the most part. Violence has been widely accepted as a male affliction; school shootings are done by boys, yet society isn’t raising the question of what is wrong with our boys? It blames mental health issues or access to guns.
As a female, I can vouch for the fact that it’s a lot more socially acceptable for women to be depressed. This is just me writing from experience and I’m by no means a mental health professional. It’s okay for women to admit to a vulnerability. Many men suffer from depression, but they don’t recognize it as such. The depression and resulting lack of success in society that women suffer from results in their becoming marginalized in a way that society has already seen. Thus, if women suffer from depression or other mental health issues, they may fail at jobs or life goals, but they still get to keep a sense of identity as women. Men showing a vulnerability compromises their identities in their gender. They’ll continue to work and may appear successful, but their emotional or personal lives may feel empty. Society wants them to work and is satisfied if they do, but it doesn’t care about what they struggle with internally. Because of conditioning, men will experience depression differently in that it will be accompanied by a host of stresses that come with maintaining a sense of identity as a man within a society that has made them feel that they can’t express things on the emotionally intimate level that women can.
The result is their mental health issues becoming marginalized. Gender inequality is a two-sided coin. It’s becoming more apparent that many of the societal forces that contribute to women’s oppression are the same factors that contribute to men’s depression. The genders experience the effects of all the inequality out there in their respective socially normalized ways. It’s widely known that women cope with distress by turning inward and men act out externally through anger. Just because this is what men are more likely to do, it doesn’t mean they’re happy doing it.
I have learned from watching the plight of male friends that they suffer from depression, yet they feel at a loss as to how to comfortably broach the topic. Perhaps that’s because there is no way to comfortably bring it up, much less to talk about how they feel. Men I’ve dated have tried to tell people, and people are either taken aback by their courage, or they shut down in response, not really validating them. The role of a man’s gender in regard to problems, all kinds of them, becomes the reason that his problems get overlooked.
“A lot of this has to do with the ideological gate-keeping function of the mainstream media,” according to author and lecturer Jackson Katz. He posits that violence is “gendered,” and that gender itself is a major factor in mass shootings, rather than just guns or mental health. As he said in an interview with the American Men’s Studies Association:
“If 61 out of 62 of the school shootings and rampage killings over the past 30 years had been done by women, would anybody not be talking about the fact that it was women in the overwhelming number of cases? Would they be talking about anything else, really? But when it’s boys and men, we talk about mental illness, we talk about gun availability, anything else other than the fact that it is men. Some people insist that’s because it’s obvious. Everybody knows it’s men, everybody knows, you don’t have to say it. But the problem is if you don’t say it, in the subsequent discussion about the causes you’ll reference everything else, and not talk about the central issue.”
There are tons of evidence out there as to why men’s acting out is a result of social inequality, and how these patterns signify an intersectionality of classicism, racism, and sexism. The mainstream media perpetuates this. The framing of the black man as public enemy illustrates this the best. There are countless stories of black men in marginalized communities committing violence. Then there are the stories of mass shootings carried out by, for the most part, non-black men. Then there are the stories of police brutality by male cops. What all these have in common: they are committed by men. Yet, they’re made to look like separate instances of crime in the media, separate instances of social problems. Perhaps they’re all symptoms of a common problem that is perpetuated by many oppressive forces at work all working together.
When I say in retaliation that “women are just people” to sexist comments about how women are different creatures, I mean that women just want to be seen as people. I never gave enough credit to men for wanting the same thing. Men want many of the same things that I do, but they’re for some reason not allowed to be seen wanting them. Maybe they don’t want to live up to their stereotyped norms, or maybe they want an open dialogue about depression transcending every subgroup. Depression shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but an issue and one that needs to be addressed.
Society takes for granted that men also feel the pressure to have kids by a certain age, to settle down and have a nice family setup. They want those things, but the popular ideology puts women in the spotlight. Feminism and the advent of women in the workforce has made everyone ask “can women have it all?” The media has totally overlooked the fact that men might also dream of being caregivers, spend their lives wanting to raise families, and that they, too have a biological clock. “Childless men are looked on with a similar kind of pity and suspicion as women,” wrote Steven Baxter in the New Statesmen. Perhaps men want to have it all too but for different reasons.
My four-year-old son can cry and show emotion. He’ll play with anyone, male or female, of any race, size, no matter how they’re dressed, enjoying their company. He can express a desire to sleep with stuffed animals, and he can say that things are “cute.” The things that he likes aren’t “boy” things—he just likes what he likes. In a few years, he will learn that he can’t just cry and show emotion without having other kids react negatively. He won’t be able to hang out with the girls as much even though they’re fun to him without getting called a sissy or have people start to wonder if he’s gay. He just is who he is. He’ll soon learn that he has to change this. He’ll have to give up this beautiful freedom and will long for being a child again when superficial factors didn’t matter and he could just be. It’s going to be tough watching him give up his freedoms, and the hardest thing will be to help him keep a sense of emotional freedom in a world where men really aren’t allowed to enjoy that in front of people.