This post first appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.
It’s been known for a while that men tend to have a shorter life expectancy than women. While there are a few guesses as to why that is, one factor is having a macho attitude.
Time Magazine reports that some new research shows that emotional openness increased boys’ mental health through middle school. Further, it’s known that men who try to tough it out when they need medical attention don’t get the care they need. Being able to ask for help is a much more effective way to deal with life’s challenges than trying to go it alone. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.
And yet, if you read the Time article, you’ll see some of the sorts of language that reinforce the macho mindset. For example:
Being a mama’s boy, new research suggests, may be good for your mental health.
So what’s wrong with learning to stop sniveling and “be a man”?
Why don’t they just come out and fag-bash anyone who doesn’t want to buy into the macho model? Nothing in any of the research suggests that having emotional skills requires you to be a “sniveling mama’s boy.” Guess what? You can have emotional skills and still be a man. It’s not an either/or and when we use language based on the assumption that it is, we reinforce the problem.
Anytime boys or men step outside the box of being a “real man,” we run the risk of being fag-bashed. In many ways, this is comparable to slut-shaming women. In both cases, when someone violates the rigid boundaries of gender by doing something that the “other group” is allowed to do (for men, showing emotions; for women, wanting to have sex or multiple partners), they get attacked, shamed, and assaulted. And even when reporting on research that shows that these inflexible rules cause problems for the people who comply with them, the writer still managed to get some digs in at men who don’t fit the stereotypes.
In any case, I’m glad to see that there’s some science to back up something that I’ve observed and intuited for a long time. One of the best ways to improve happiness and well-being is to develop the emotional skills that help us navigate our relationships and get our needs met. When you know what you’re feeling, when you’re able to identify and articulate it, you’re much more able to do whatever needs to happen.
And for the men who resist it, all I can say is that you’re the architect of your own difficulties. I’ve spoken with a lot of men and their partners about their sexual problems and one of the most common one is guys who can’t talk about their emotions. Overcoming the gender rules that we’ve absorbed isn’t easy, but I can tell you that the payoff is definitely worth it. You’ll live longer and the sex will be better. Seems like a good incentive to me.