Masculinity in Crisis
Tradition is a great pillar of society in every corner of the world.
However, in our increasingly ‘change is the new norm’ communities, it’s a fact well-known that pillars such as tradition succeed in precious little besides holding things up, and obscuring vision.
If we have achieved anything in the last century, societies have begun to make steps towards gender-equality and realise the position and impact of male-privilege. In the last decade, there have been murmurings about the current malaise for men worldwide, a people-group whose daily lives are dictated by traditions, widespread folklore and commonly-held beliefs. A quick flick onto Google and Social Media is all we need to see just what our societies really think. The first search result following the search for ‘Men are’ resulted in “Men are Better Than Women”, an apparently satirical book by the predictably named Dick Masterson showcasing the rise in militant-masculinity of similar ilk to controversial and much-criticised figures such as American Roosh V and Englishman Dapper Laughs; self-titled “Pick-Up Artists”.
Other search-engines offer similar fruit. “Masculinity is toxic”, “Why are men jerks?” and the age-old “Men don’t cry”. Instagram posts marked with #Man shows literally thousands of traditional icons of power-masculinity; muscles, watches, shoes and sunglasses, with noticeable lack of publicly recorded signs of emotion.
It appears that despite us living through one of the great redefinitions of gender roles in modern history, western societies are still promoting the traditional image of manhood; a desire and need for power, the possession of money/wealth, expressions of a sexual nature, and consciously avoiding public expression of an emotional nature.
We mustn’t underestimate; these four trends in masculinity have a position of tremendous influence. The statistics regarding male health and wellbeing make for frightening reading.
In the UK, males aged 20-49 are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause and recently accounted for 4/5 suicides and in the US, the amount of women who have taken their own life in recent years is around 3.5 times less than men. Worldwide, suicide rates for men outnumber women from anything up to 10:1.
The way men are spending their days is also worrying. In England and the US, men top unemployment charts and are also being out-performed before they enter the labour-market. Female pupils have been outperforming, on average, for the last 30 years.
As far as drinking goes, men are drinking more, and increasingly frequently than women and it’s the same story as far as drug-use. Men are not only more likely to use all illicit drugs, but also to overdose from subsequent use.
Crime figures tell a similar tale. Arrest rates (although imperfect) suggest men commit more crimes across nearly all categories (besides prostitution) across all ethnic groups, outweighing female criminal rates by around 5:1.
According to a world-leader in Pornography recovery, the strongest predictor of using Pornography is simple; simple being male. Men are 543% more likely to use Pornography than women and compared to women, men were exposed to pornography at a younger age, consume more (exposure time and frequency of use) and use pornography more frequently in relationships of their own.
If these figures make one point, it is one exceptionally and abundantly clear and simple: Men are struggling to cope with modern life on a huge scale.
But why is this?
Are men just less intelligent? Less safe in their substance use? Less likely to abide by the law?
If these were individual cases, we could happily distinguish some males and some females exhibiting these behaviours to differing degrees. When the aforementioned statistics range across socio-economic boundaries, ethnicities, ages and cultures, we clearly have a much broader problem on our hands.
These behaviour’s and choices exhibit both an individual and mass response to the cultural shift of the last century.
Whilst the internet and Social Media has put the world and our social lives at our fingertips, traditional forms of media (Television, Magazines, Advertising, Newspapers) are still up to their old tricks.
A recent meme posted by one of the young men I have the privilege of meeting up with each week summaries the modern dilemma brilliantly. It said ‘By the age of 14, most young people these days have a Million Social Media followers, a clothing range, and 3 number 1 singles. I have acne.’ This post highlights the range between realities, dreams and expectations of modern times.
When men see as many underwear models and as much sexually explicit content as they do real women, it will naturally contort and plague their understanding of the world and subsequent behaviours.
When the role-models and elders that men learn from are found in the form of gaming characters and recording artists who recite misogynistic lyrics and play the victor in hyper-violent tales, generations of men have few other options than to mimic these behaviours and share the same expectations. When Instagram is centred around individuals in the social spotlight posting endless streams of guns, girls, money and muscles, the rest of us cannot fail to aspire and compete. The current narrative that men are blindly sold is literally killing them.
But in the midst of passive withdrawal across the social spectrum, overly aggressive signs of strength, and generous amounts of posing, there is hope. Committing to building positive self-esteem in men must be our starting block, and by positive I forward the valuing of oneself regardless of our own perception of others. When we unhealthily compete with others, we instantly devalue ourselves, our friends or both.
If we understand and begin to understand just how precious, valuable, significant and unique we are, the false-promises of lavish and unwavering sexual experiences, unrivalled power and wealth, and rivalry with those around us begin to pale in significance.
If we are serious about supporting men, we must be part of the rethinking and reshaping of how men see their place in the world. We must never ignore the place of unfair privilege over women that men often find themselves in terms of human rights, social, economic and political means but we must treasure and cherish positive self esteem, found in every mans uniqueness.
I am convinced that if we equip individuals to value themselves for who they are, not who they think they should be in light of pressures and influences, and invest in relevantly supporting men and women from birth through each stage of childhood, adolescence and throughout adulthood, we can see men and women flourish like never before.
Over the next 8 weeks, we will explore the current state of masculinity and how we can equip ourselves and the men in our lives to thrive within today’s cultures.
Next week, we'll look at Biblical self-image through the lense of Social Media.
William Lee is the Project Coordinator for Made of More, a project of Golddigger Trust, an award-winning youth charity for 11-18 year olds in the United Kingdom. He is passionate about supporting young men to make positive life-choices and to play a part in transforming their communities for the better.