HOW THE FALSE GOLD STANDARD OF MASCULINITY POISONS LIVES.
Why is it easier to talk to a stranger than a colleague or friend? On Saturday night my local pub, the Cellar bar was full to the brim. Old friends, acquaintances, and people I'd prefer to avoid, spilled into the pub's garden. At midnight I found myself sitting at a table with merry, and drunk strangers- we got chatting. The man next to me looked sporty, no non-sense and hard working. I told him about my choir work, and my books and he showed polite interest. I showed similar interest in his cycling and kite surfing. For a while we floated on the surface of conversation- but then somehow, things got real.
The stranger told me that a month ago his wife had left him, and taken the children to live in Cornwall. As he spoke I saw- shock, bewilderment and disbelief on his face. I recognised them so well! I told him that four years ago I lost my home, job, wife and children. He spoke about getting home after an intense day as a paramedic, into an empty house. He missed his children. Because of shift work, he could only see them once a month. I saw the tears building up in his eyes.
I could feel tears building up in my own. If there was ever a time to cry. This was it. But men are not allowed to cry. We have to hold it in. Keep it together. We can't look weak. We can't get emotional. So we protect ourselves with thick armour: booze, adrenelin sports, light-hearted banter, fixing things.
"No matter how hard I try, I can't fix this. I can't get all the pieces back together. I can't figure it out." He said to me. We can do-up a house or a garden, we can convert a camper van. But we can't solve a broken heart. It can't be fixed or glued together like a table or a chair. Men don't know how to grieve. In the U.K, men are three times as likely to take their own lives as women. In the U.K, the highest suicide rate is for men aged 45-49. Our inability to grieve is killing us. Men don't know how to cry, and this is a disaster.
Toxic masculinity is to blame. But what is it? Toxic masculinity is a virus. It is spread through culture, and we catch it through the media, education, politics and from our bringing. It distorts our thinking and imprisons our hearts, so that at times we can't feel anything. At other other times we are angry, but we don't know why. Toxic masculinity puts a false idea of what it means to be a man in our heads, call it a 'gold standard', which prizes power, control and invincibility. Having a job and providing for the family are seen as vital. When men believe that they are not meeting that standard they feel a sense of shame and defeat.
The virus confuses men- most of the time they don't even know what they are feeling. We know when we pissed off, or worried- but recognising shame, hurt, or a need to be comforted and assured are almost impossible. Impossible because of the gold standard of masculinity-which like an iron fortress, keeps vulnerability out. To make thinks worse, the virus of Toxic Masculunity makes men think they meed to 'go it alone.' They don't ask for help, they don't even know what to ask for, or who to ask.
And so the pressure builds up- anger, addiction, violence erupt and cause havoc in men's lives. But they don't know why. Because they can't feel, and they don't know how to ask for help.
This is a big problem, and they are no quick fixes. I listened to the stranger in the pub. For a moment I sat with him in his pain. I understood his loss and bewilderment. I sensed relief in him- that at least somebody "got" what he was going through. Counselling or therapy can help some men. But it is up to each of us in our daily lives to tackle the problem of Toxic Masculinity- by challenging the gold standard, which prizes power, control and invincibility.