There is nothing new under the sun: boys have always learned to repress their emotions in order to live up to gender stereotypes.
“A boy never cries. Be strong!” is an example given by journalist Liz Plank in her book For the Love of Men. Her book puts the spotlight on the dangers of the “great repression.”
By Geneviève Raymond
That’s “a type of emotional detachment so pernicious and profoundly anchored in the way that they were raised that it remains practically invisible until it’s too late. No surprise that men aren’t capable of managing their own emotions: as children, we teach them that they don’t have any,” Plank explains.
“We call that restrictive emotionality, and it’s an acquired behavior, not biologically inherent,” writes Plank, citing several studies.
The psychiatrist Jeroen Jansz, of Erasmus University Rotterdam, divides modern masculinity into four elements: autonomy, success, aggression and stoicism; which “leads to a rupture with feelings, vulnerability, and pain.”
This emotional blockage, combined with an incapacity to ask for help, has a destructive impact on men’s physical and mental health. The masculine ideal advocates strength and independence. Listening to your own emotions is seen as a sign of weakness. Shame stops men from finding adequate resources to help them overcome their difficulties. Anger, violence, alcohol or drug consumption are adaptation strategies that are inappropriate to achieving well-being. These problems can mask even greater mental issues, such as depression.
These days, women don’t want to do the emotional work in place of their partners. “And if a lot of their mothers endured the refusal of their own partner to confront these emotional deficiencies and take responsibility when it comes to their mental health, the next generation is starting to ask why it should imitate this,” writes Plank, who adds that the more that women become independent, the less likely they are to tolerate unsatisfying relationships.
In other words, women don’t want to be a “rehab centre.” Watching their husbands wallow in their own crapulence without looking for solutions can, in the long term, kill desire. According to a 1998 University of Virginia study conducted with 5,000 heterosexual American couples: “Feeling understood and close to their husband is the most solid indicator of a wife’s level of marital satisfaction.”
Not only does this repression of emotions kill romantic relationships, it also condemns deep and sincere friendships. Toxic masculinity dictates that men avoid all closeness with their peers and, above all, never show vulnerability. That’s why some men keep their relationships with those they work with at arm’s length, remaining acquaintances with them, not wanting to enter into affectionate, authentic friendships.
Plank says: “Recent meta-analyses conducted with 49,000 subjects conclude that friendships and social links are great indicators of life expectancy, more important than smoking, alcohol and obesity.” The strength of their social links explains why women live longer than men everywhere on our planet.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine involving 2,320 heart attack survivors concluded: “Men with a lot of close friends were less susceptible to dying in the three years following than those who lacked social ties.”
Many scientists are calling social isolation the greatest public health problem of our era. Happily, men are stepping forward and speaking up to condemn this archaic concept of masculinity. Some are even promoting the benefits of egalitarian relationships that are well connected to the emotional state of their participants.
All of us, men and women, are part of the problem… and the solution. A real awareness, a wake-up call, is required… “For the love of men.”
First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 29, no. 6, août (August) 2021, page 8