A reflection on hypermasculinity & mental health in the male community
After eating a ravishingly delightful meal at the prestigious Olive Garden at Stonecrest Mall, my older sister and I found ourselves quite full and suffering from an onset of the “itis.” As we made our way out to the car, a family of five — a mother, father, an infant and a toddler boy and toddler girl — entered the restaurant. The toddler boy burst into a fit of tears, crying out to the top of his lungs, obviously in complete distress. I noticed the parents, too. The father looked unbothered by the boy’s crying as he held the infant, and the mother seemed beyond frustrated. Suddenly, she stopped and turned to the boy and yelled, louder than his high-pitched screeches, “Shut up all that crying!”
“Boys don’t cry,” the toddler’s father added.
The boy stopped screaming, but tears actively poured from his eyes like a waterfall of emotion. Seemingly satisfied with her brave act of parenthood, the mother turned on her heel and led the family into the restaurant, with the toddler boy at the flank of the group.
Now, I am no parenting expert, but I immediately wanted to cry out: “Please, no! Let him cry, please! Let him feel whatever he is feeling! Let him work through this emotion without scrutiny or punishment.”
I couldn’t see why she could not just sit her son down, ask what was bothering him and talk her distraught son through his fit. I also could not see what good would come out of telling the child that “boys don’t cry.” What we saw was a ruthless cycle being reset onto an impressionable soul. This little boy would probably not remember the visit to Olive Garden, but he will definitely remember his father’s words. He’ll grow up clinging to his fragile masculinity that is threatened every time he experiences something, because just when he almost feels an emotion like all other humans, his father’s words burn in his mind, refusing to allow him fully feel and forcing him to deny his emotions. My heart aches for him because being able to comprehend what you’re experiencing is the most important skill one can have. I witnessed that skill stripped from a little boy before he even got a chance to hone it.
In that moment, I realized that the statistics around mental illness floating along the currents of the internet are highly susceptible to bias. Mental illnesses is underdiagnosed in both genders, according to the World Health Organization, with less than one-half of people who meet “diagnostic criteria” actually being diagnosed.
Although one in five women and one in eight men are “believed to be diagnosed with a common mental illness (anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.)” that doesn’t necessarily mean those proportions are accurate in terms who experiences symtpoms. It could mean that women are more likely to be diagnosed because they are more likely to seek help for suffering than men.
DeKalb School of the Arts actor and singer Alex Ray noted that most of the representation of masculine energy he saw growing up was anger, and it affected his perception of his own masculinity. “[It] made me afraid of it. It made me not want to pursue or emulate my own masculinity because I felt it was destructive. It gave me a skewed idea of what it means to be a man.”
Could the reason men aren’t as likely to seek help be a consequence of the “boys don’t cry” notion? Or could it be linked to the image of the nearly emotionless man that only shows anger to the public eye and keeps every other emotion hidden tightly under a mask of proving their manliness? Is seeking help, being vulnerable or the fear of seeming weak and not “manning up” the real cause of men with mental illnesses going undiagnosed? Perhaps.
Although reasoning can vary for each person, it is quite possible that the societal expectations of what a man is supposed to be and what he is or is not supposed to do are major underlying causes of, ironically, the fear of being criticized because of their mental illness.
If males were assured that they are free to cry, scream or engage in whatever non-violent, non-toxic expression of their emotions without the threat of ridicule and shame from their male and female counterparts, perhaps they would be more likely to seek help and take care of themselves.
Thalia, 18, is a senior at DeKalb School of the Arts, where she is currently the best friend of about three boys. She encourages them to live their lives to the fullest — and she took the photo for this story.
Resource: “The Mask You Live In”
Research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely than girls “to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime and/or take their own lives.”
This film shows how young men deal with society’s hypermasculinity.