Since the moment a boy is born he is taught to play with cars and tough toys. He is taught not to cry, to show emotions, and to behave “manly”. Boys are taught to not do anything that is deemed “feminine”. We create in our young boys a fear of femininity, sending them the message that it is not okay to show weakness or talk about feelings. This is what is known as toxic masculinity.
The truth of the matter is, this toxic masculinity is poisoning men’s mental health and physical wellbeing. Men should fear NOT showing weakness because studies have proven that this is the number one cause of early deaths for men.
Men have died too early and for unnecessary reasons simply because they feel too masculine to take care of their mental and physical wellbeing. The government and health administration should fund campaigns and programs that encourage young boys in schools to recognize symptoms of depression and physical unease.
Many studies by psychologists in various countries around the world have revealed that men have higher rates of suicide than women. Each country differs by a ratio, but they range from 1.4:1 up to 1.8:1. There is little research done on suicide rates in Sub-Saharan Africa because the concept has only just become less taboo to talk about however, historian Megan Vaughan has done some preliminary research in Malawi by studying what little reports there are available on suicides, and interviewing Malawian men who have thought about ending their lives. She found that most men committed suicide after feelings of grief or disappointment after a death in the family (such as a wife’s miscarriage) or shame in being impoverished.
With suicide comes the pain a person feels when they believe they no longer belong socially and emotionally to the community around them. Men over women experience this kind of isolation due to an adherence to traditional male gender roles that prevent men from developing good health seeking behaviors such as talking openly about their feelings of vulnerability. Men across the world are taught not be vulnerable, causing most of them to shy away from the idea that their mental health can be at risk and it is no different in Malawi.
A few months ago I wrote an article about how prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men worldwide. It is most prominent in African men over the age of 50 and is suspected to affect 1 in 6 men in their lifetime. Yet only 2% of patients with the cancer seek professional help.
This again, is an issue of men’s fear of being stigmatized and embarrassed over the state of their health because men generally do not like to discuss their reproductive organs. As a result, there is little research done on the topic and little efforts made by the government to fund medical aid for men living in rural areas. Most men present too late when the cancer has already become too aggressive causing harm not only to themselves but to their family and society as a whole. Most men in rural areas are the sole breadwinners of their household meaning they leave their wives widowed and without a source of income because they did not get checked soon enough.
Men are afraid of being stigmatized for “acting like a girl” if they talk about their feelings and pain. But it is our sense emotions and being in-tuned with our bodies that is what keeps us women alive longer than men. Admitting to depression and physical sickness is not a sign of weakness but rather a great strength, an act of courage, that faces life’s greatest challenges head on. It is time we do something that teaches men to conquer these fears and hide no longer behind a cloak of toxic masculinity.