The burden of masculinity and societal pressure, plus an overwhelming neglect of men’s issues, are killing many men silently and slowly. For one thing, many men, without realising it, are suffering from undiagnosed, unattended, serious mental illnesses.
Some men who beat their partners and exhibit abnormal, harmful behaviours may, for example, belong to this category. However, this is not to rationalise their actions.
The point is that society is perpetuating a hypocritical silence about men’s issues, as though they do not matter, as though men do not suffer (at the hands of women and family) too; as though men are always strong and infallible.
Men everywhere go through the same problems, just as everyone else, yet they live and die within cultures that demonise them and give them little room to exercise their vulnerabilities.
In many societies across the world, men are not allowed room to be defenceless, show weakness or emotion, appear drained and tired, or crave human touch.
In his article, “How a Lack of Touch is Destroying Men”, Mark Greene argues that many men in America suffer from what he calls “touch isolation” - a deep-seated cutting-off of men from experiencing and relishing the joy of adequate human touch, because of society’s distrust for men’s intentions when they are being tactile with women (sexual harassment), with children (paedophilia) or with other men (homosexuality).
Men are starved of physical connection. Deep physical contact has been proven to reduce stress, encourage self-esteem and create a sense of community.
Research by several psychologists and sociologists has documented the lived experiences of many men who suffered neglect and insecurities related to contact with women and with fellow men, and how this, and other cagey masculinities, have driven them to become monsters, lacking in empathy.
There is, equally, research evidence that links traditional notions of masculinity to early stress-related diseases, unhappiness and violence in boys and men.
Many men hide their feelings behind work, alcohol, drugs, sex, the applause of other people, accomplishments and hobbies. But the truth is that men need help.
Many men are content with dismissing any sort of help or support with a “don’t worry, I’ll be fine” pretext.
This is a conversation that must be had. If we love our men, as we claim we do, we must have this conversation.
Men themselves must also be true to themselves, be honest and open about their insecurities and begin to share their stories. They must now begin to support each other more than any other group by inventing a self-determined sense of brotherhood.
Many men can begin to be more sensitive, and to save each other’s lives. It is high time men and boys broke the silence and began to speak out about who they are and what they actually need. A rigid sense of masculinity is problematic and does not in any way make our men better. It rather further perpetuates a toxic, false and overwhelming sense of self that drives our men into certain pressures and negative behaviours by which we may later be affected.
American author and preacher TD Jakes says, in He-Motions, that men must be willing to move past the masculinist tendency to define themselves by the things they own.
They must also play outside the familiar and mainstream arenas that serve as indicators of masculinity, such as sports, mechanical and technical ability, and love-making.
International development expert AJ Harbinger surmises that there’s a positive feedback loop set in motion when you decide to start accepting yourself as good enough already; a small step in that direction becomes powerfully reinforcing.
One can then, in turn, lead other caged men to this same realisation. Self-care and self-love are key.
Men must be capable of loving and taking care of themselves without feeling guilty, less masculine or weak. However, sequential to a conscious need for self-care and self-love is a bigger need for men to understand themselves better.
Self-awareness is everything; it is crucial that men realise that their seeming imperfections and shortcomings add to their overall uniqueness and capability to birth their greatness and become their fullest selves.
By all means, toxic masculinities must be challenged and a whole new sense of manhood developed. We need to remake manhood with a renewed understanding - with empathy, knowledge and a consciousness that allows an exploration of men’s humanity and softer edges.
* Chikezie Uzuegbunam is a doctoral scholar and teaching assistant at the Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.