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I’m nervous about writing this, I’ve been nervous all day, and that’s because the subject matters to me. Men’s mental, physical health and their place in the world matter to me, as I have struggled with both and have only become stronger because of good men and women in my life supporting me, helping me to find the words, to talk through the troubles I faced. You’ll have to be patient with me as I marshal my words again, and begin to tackle this subject.
When I was 12, someone asked me what did I want to be when I grew up? I replied that I wanted to be a Gentleman – Only because the idea of wearing a suit, tie and bowler hat, carrying an umbrella and riding the underground in London appealed to me. With this image, firmly in my head, I went around looking as dapper as I could – not very- but I was doing my best.
It was a few months later, at a dinner party, my parents and their friends were talking about a grave situation in the US, and I queried, “Why do we call ourselves human when being humane doesn’t reflect our nature – considering our destructive habits?” My father looked at me and said, “We call ourselves human, to inspire us to be more humane.” I pondered this while I was ushering people into the dining room table, (my one job of the evening) saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.” “Don’t call them that – they’re not.”, my father said. “No” I replied, “but they could aspire to be.”
It was only years later I started to understand what it could actually mean for myself and for men and women to aspire to be Ladies and Gentlemen. Not in an archaic, Mr. Darcy sense, but renewing the idea to fit the current needs of society. To be more empathetic, compassionate and gentle, for men to feel empowered not by suppressing people to feel elevated, but to feel powerful through empowering others; To recognize those caring qualities as human, not feminine. I feel that conversation starts simply with honesty and encouraging men and boys to be so.
It is this lack of communication and damaging phrases like “man up” and “boys don’t cry” that snuff out the possibility of the growth of boys away from the negative stereotypes – I definitely felt that way. Wanting to enjoy certain things and enjoy my life in a certain way, but concerned by doing so, my masculinity (whatever that means) called into question. Struggling to express the loneliness and anger, as a result, was agonizing – but I didn’t have the words or wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing them even if I did.
The suicide rate for men is three times higher than the rate for women in Canada, and the global ratio of suicide rates for men to women was 7 to 1 in 2015. Male suicide has been associated with specific life events, such as teenage years, or the coming of age time. Such a chaotic time made harder by both boys and girls feeling restricted by the stereotypes put upon them. Other specific life events also affect middle-aged men. A divorce is an event that may have a particularly deleterious effect.
They say Emperor Nero played the fiddle as Rome burned. Knowing the new generation and age of Christianity was inevitable – I love this story. It’s utter nonsense and historically incorrect, but the idea of the old generation recognizing their time had passed, they had stepped aside to allow the new generation to burn it to the ground and rebuild and renew something brilliant, and right for the time.
For young men, I feel it is hard to inherit the sexist privileges that limit us, not enable us – many men do take advantage of those privileges, but for a great deal of us, we don’t want them. We want to burn them to the ground and rebuild. But these privileges can build resentment. These rights can leave men feeling disempowered, desperate and distraught; the lost opportunity for Society of men to be better, so they can be better parents, husbands, sons, and friends.
Sadly, when men and women attempt to organize discussions about issues affecting men’s mental health, they are sometimes met with hostility. It seems to be based on a misguided notion that men are already privileged in society and thus, unworthy of attention.
But we can, and we should.
We can redefine what it is preserved to be a man. We can talk, open the conversation, and redefine masculinity to enable us, and tomorrow’s boys to feel empowered to speak and create similar conversations.
A new strategy must address the social determinants of suicide, including professional issues and workplace stress. Perhaps most urgent is a frank and open investigation of the influence of family law and family courts on suicidal behaviour, as well as the examination of the role of societal stereotypes on disclosure, help-seeking, and social support.
Now, I’m definitely older than 12, but still struggling to aspire to be the gentleman and a better man I wanted to be, but only coming close with working with and knowing great women – not to mention, the support of the wonderful lady in my life. For everyone Life is terrifying; the emotions, expectations, restrictions, and hopes we deal with; we can put so much pressure on ourselves. We can only make it together and shed ourselves of the damaging stereotypes. I hope the gentleman’s moustache for Movember and the great work and conversation that comes with it will last all year. I hope boys can become renewed, Gentle – men.
~ A Gentleman