Young boys, especially during adolescence, are often told to ‘man up’ or to ‘be a man’. They’re told to be tough and not to cry; but the ‘advice’ is usually vague. Typically, if these recommendations are explored a bit further, the idea of being a man is synonymous with aggressiveness, competitiveness, physical and sexual (and particularly heterosexual) strength, along with a disregard for – or absence of – emotional expression. It should be noted that not all of these attributes are entirely bad. In context and in moderation, a few may have a place in the life of an adult male. But it’s also important to note that research has found these characteristics traditionally associated with manhood and masculinity are also more likely to be associated with drug and alcohol problems, violence and mental ill-health. Accordingly, boys are turning in to ‘real men’, and our ‘real men’ are dying. That’s right, they’re literally dying. Men die significantly younger than women (on average); and three times more men take their life each and every day compared to women. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged between 18 and 45 in Australia and although the aforementioned traits can’t be blamed entirely for this outcome, there’s no doubt they play a significant role. The situation is made worse by the fact that our role models, if we have any at all, are usually limited to one person, our biological father, or at most a few people, usually those in our immediate family. There’s nothing wrong at all with having father figures – literally or metaphorically. But we often forget that these people are far from perfect, and they learned from those who were far from perfect. Even if they did get it right for them, that doesn’t mean it’s right for those who follow – time and social norms change and so too should perceptions of masculinity. The good news, however, is that there are alternatives to these scenarios and to the vicious cycle that seems to have been on repeat for far too long now. In fact, I believe a major part of the answer to the complex question of masculinity is to begin by coming to an understanding that there’s not just one answer; rather, we need to accept that there are ‘masculinities’ – plural. That is, multiple types of manhood that varies from person to person and even within one person, from situation to situation, and even over time as we age and mature. We each need to find our own version; which may well be different to that chosen by our fathers and at some stage by our sons, and different again to our friends and colleagues. We need to accept, ideally without judgement, other people’s definitions of manhood; just because two men are different doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. This might not seem like such a radical idea but if you’ve only ever observed one style of manhood, it can prove difficult to even comprehend alternative versions. From where, then, can we learn about these different options and begin to contemplate whether or not they might be suitable or appropriate for us? Start by looking around you. I’m not suggesting any new type of man needs to be created. Others have suggested we need a ‘new manhood’ for the 21st century, but I disagree. I think we already have it. In fact, I think we already have several versions of 21st century men that serve as fantastically positive models for us, our brothers and our sons. If you’re observant, you’ll see them at work, at the football, sitting in your cafe, pub or gym. Another way you can experience the range of masculinities is to read and/or listen more broadly. In the Be a Man podcast series, for example, Gus Worland and I interview a broad range of people, each of whom describe different lives and different ways they’ve learned to become men. From professional sportsmen, football players and boxers, to successful businessmen, writers and social advocates, a sexologist and the journalist who drove the #Metoo movement in Australia, Tracey Spicer. All manner of varieties of men are discussed and considered. Also, look among your family, friends, colleagues and others. Who do you admire? Why do you admire them? What, exactly do they do and how can you do more of it? Look into yourself and ask what qualities and attributes you’re most happy with; but consider too, whether you’re just doing or thinking something because “that’s what dad did”. I’m sure your dad, like mine and many others out there, was trying his best. But that doesn’t mean he was 100 per cent right all of the time or that what worked for him is necessarily going to work for you. Don’t just be a man; be your man. drhappy.com.au
AHEAD OF FATHER’S DAY, FOUNDER OF THE HAPPINESS INSTITUTE AND CO-HOST OF PODCAST ‘BE A MAN’ DISCUSSES THE IMPORTANCE OF POSITIVE MALE ROLE MODELS.
MAN UP? IT’S TIME MEN HAD REAL ROLE MODELS.