Social Perfectionism And Why Suicide Unfairly Impacts Men
August 15, 2015 12:15 PM   Subscribe

In 2013, if you were a man between the ages of 20 and 49 who’d died, the most likely cause was not assault nor car crash nor drug abuse nor heart attack, but a decision that you didn’t wish to live any more.

If you’re a social perfectionist, you tend to identify closely with the roles and responsibilities you believe you have in life. “It’s not about what you expect of yourself,” O’Connor explains. “It’s what you think other people expect. You’ve let others down because you’ve failed to be a good father or a good brother – whatever it is.”

Because it’s a judgment on other people’s imagined judgments of you, it can be especially toxic. “It’s nothing to do with what those people actually think of you,” he says. “It’s what you think they expect. The reason it’s so problematic is that it’s outside your control.”

O’Connor first came across social perfectionism in studies of American university students. “I thought it wouldn’t be applicable in a UK context and that it certainly wouldn’t be applicable to people from really difficult backgrounds. Well, it is. It’s a remarkably robust effect. We’ve looked at it in the context of the most disadvantaged areas of Glasgow.”

It began in 2003 with an initial study that looked at 22 people who had recently attempted suicide, as well as a control group, and assessed them using a 15-question quiz that measures agreement with statements such as “Success means that I must work even harder to please others” and “People expect nothing less than perfection from me”.

“We’ve found this relationship between social perfectionism and suicidality in all populations where we’ve done the work,” says O’Connor, “including among the disadvantaged and the affluent.”
posted by bswinburn (168 comments total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think this article makes some really good points, but aside from a sentence or two virtually ignores the fact that women attempt suicide more than men, men just happen to succeed more often due to choice of method. Certainly the choice of method has issues of masculinity and femininity tied up in it (using violent, "masculine" means like a gun versus non-violent, "feminine" means like pills). But the article doesn't discuss that; instead they say "Oh, well, it's not studied" and then go on to continue making their argument that suicide is a particularly male-centric issue that's driven by expectations of masculinity.

Not trying to deny that men seeking psychological and emotional help are not dealing with male-specific stigma, but suicide itself is hardly the male-specific phenomenon it's being made out to be here.
posted by schroedinger at 12:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [84 favorites]


But the article doesn't discuss that; instead they say "Oh, well, it's not studied" and then go on to continue making their argument that suicide is a particularly male-centric issue that's driven by expectations of masculinity.


But if you read the sections where experts from Cambridge, UCLA, and a South Korean university, there are gender differences. There's a difference between an article whose scope is about men (and then it calls in 3 experts to also discuss women's health and the relations between the two groups), versus an article that's actively claiming suicide should only be thought of in terms of men. I didn't see such a point being driven here.
posted by polymodus at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


suicide itself is hardly the male-specific phenomenon it's being made out to be here.

True, schroedinger. Now, violence towards others is largely perpetrated by males. But that would be a different thread.
posted by kozad at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


schroedinger I quote the article which you couldn't be bothered to do. "But it’s also true, in most Western countries, that more women attempt suicide than men. One reason a higher number of males actually die is their choice of method." Furthermore, while the article is about male suicide nothing in it states or implies that this is a "male-centric issue" or "male-specific stigma", you've just made that up.
posted by epo at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2015 [43 favorites]


Here's the orginal article from Mosaic Science, with illustrations and whatnot.
posted by unmake at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2015


[Gehenna_lion, I'm sorry you've had a rough time of it, but this is not the place to discuss your personal issues with something that isn't at all the subject of the thread. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:57 PM on August 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


while the article is about male suicide nothing in it states or implies that this is a "male-centric issue" or "male-specific stigma", you've just made that up

Perhaps the article doesn't, but the framing here in the title does : "Why Suicide Unfairly Impacts Men"
posted by saucysault at 1:03 PM on August 15, 2015 [39 favorites]


"Social perfectionism." Wow, it's good to have a name for that precise thing because it sure as shit is a fact of life.
posted by edheil at 1:03 PM on August 15, 2015 [35 favorites]


The framing of the original article is even more skewed. Here's the intro:
The male suicides: how social perfectionism kills
In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female. Will Storr asks why.
Given that attempted suicides by women outnumber men, this article's attempt draw a line from the deaths themselves back to their psychological roots seems a little disingenuous. If the author really wanted to know why male suicides outnumber female, the piece should have been about the methods, not the motives.
posted by eamondaly at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


Maybe the discussion of an article about men should be about them, and not women.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2015 [127 favorites]


[Folks, it's been solidly established that the title and methodology don't match well - let's please move on to the actual subject of the article, such as it is. If you feel it's so misleading that a good discussion can't result, please flag the post. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:17 PM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


This is a cognitive complex that I've been fighting against all of my life, a recurrent ideation as constant as Saint Anthony's devils. It's hard not to feel like a parasite. Whenever I consider my existence against a socially standard narrative, whether of my peers or of my demographic (ought to be: suburban, married, employed), I feel a powerful impulse either to destroy either myself or others. It's a bad intersection of existentialism and the capitalist construction of masculinity.

It's only empathy and pessimism that continues me. I maintain a high cognition of persons deformed and disabled by failed attempts- all those screams that don't have mouths, hooked up on support in various hospitals. And I remember that my own disquiet is fundamentally narcissistic, when matrixed against the trauma that my suicide would inflict upon persons in my social orbits.

The third way in which I fight against this negative mimetic conflict, titled 'social perfectionism', is to recognize it as a fundamental complex of neoliberal capitalism. The corporations seek to perpetuate a state of humanity that is of complete fungibility. And within a greater schema of resource consumption, a culture of suicide helps to reduce the number of elders that drain on society. In addition, perpetual dis-satisfaction is the desirable base state of the consumer human. Seen within that context, it becomes possible to recognize that endemic suicide is a feature, rather than a bug, of the present capitalist society.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:33 PM on August 15, 2015 [45 favorites]


“A man is removing himself from the world. It’s a sense of enormous failure and shame. The masculine gender feels they’re responsible for providing and protecting others and for being successful. When a woman becomes unemployed, it’s painful, but she doesn’t feel like she’s lost her sense of identity or femininity. When a man loses his work he feels he’s not a man.”

It’s a notion echoed by the celebrated psychologist Professor Roy Baumeister, whose theory of suicide as ‘escape from the self’ has been an important influence on O’Connor. “A man who can’t provide for the family is somehow not a man any more,” says Baumeister. “A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.”


Yeah, people joke about fragile masculinity sometimes. I see why, it can be a funny thing at times. But fragile masculinity also kills men. They feel their identity is tied to their actions, not themselves. I don't think there is anything more important to teach a young man than that he is valuable just for who he is, and nobody can take that away from him. You don't have to meet the standards of others, much less meet perfect standards of your own, to be a man. Achievement is something to strive for, not something you can't live without.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:34 PM on August 15, 2015 [94 favorites]


I'm glad Drummond got help in the end instead of killing himself, it was a depressing read otherwise so I'm glad it ended with hope.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:46 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think success rate is a good measure of psychological damage.

I won't get into trying to compare levels of "psychological damage" but low v. high lethality suicide attempts are a topic of interest. For example, people with bipolar depression tend to use more lethal methods.

Among the mooted evolutionary reasons for suicidal behavior, one is that an incompleted attempt can serve as an honest (clearly costly, and thus not faked) signal of need to others, resulting in the direction of resources towards the attempter.

A factor implicated in many suicides is burdensomeness, that the sufferer is, or perceives themselves to be, a net detriment to their family/tribe/whatever. Basically, "they'd be better off without me," and a completed attempt frees up resources for the sucide's kin, evolutionarily adaptive if the suicide's perception of their self as a detriment was correct.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:55 PM on August 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


Drummond dealt with it all in the only way he knew – hold it in. He was never one for breaking down in tears and rolling around on the floor. He didn’t have any close male friends he could talk to, and even if he had, he probably wouldn’t have said anything.

I think this part is key. Men typically have fewer close friendships and get most of their emotional support from their partners.[1] Add notions of masculinity that discourage showing sadness or any kind of weakness, and you get a lot of men who aren't simply vulnerable to despair, they can't even admit that they're vulnerable. As far as I can tell, the adoption of these friendship norms and gender roles starts early:
But, at about age 15 to 16 — right at the same age that the suicide rate of boys increases to four times the rate of girls — boys start reporting that they don’t have friends and don’t need them.


[1] here's the first paper I found on a brief search. The study itself looks pretty thin, but there are several references to background and similar findings.
posted by Wemmick at 2:16 PM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


It probably goes without saying at this point, but please if you are feeling suicidal and reading this in the United States, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the 24 Hour Suicide Hotline.

You can also read more and chat with someone at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
posted by nertzy at 2:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [29 favorites]


RELATED: 'Werther Effect'
posted by Fizz at 2:40 PM on August 15, 2015


Were it not for his strong catholic beliefs about suicide, I'm quite sure my father would have killed himself. We were running a small business, could not keep the cash flow up, and he borrowed heavily to keep the business going. I'm sure he did this for me, as he saw it as "my ticket". He did all this borrowing on the sly. He never told me (or my mother) that he'd mortgaged their condo three times in two years. He never told me about the business loans he'd taken out using his personal credit rating to do it. It was only after he became truly ill and had to put his affairs in order that the truth came out. And it was ugly, to be sure. And I'm really sure that the whole time it was going on, he was judging himself much more harshly that anyone else could have. Shit, if I'd have known, I'd have boarded up the windows and gone on to another job without any recrimination.

Much later, after he had died, his priest and my mom had a good long talk, since my dad had talked about this some with him. He knew he was failing, and had failed, and he couldn't tell anyone. He felt in his heart that if he were to bring up his woes to his (very few) friends at that point, they'd have judged him as a lesser man. And he wouldn't have been able to bear that judgement, so he stayed quiet. One of the saving graces, I guess, is that when it finally all did come out (and we were still there, not abandoning him to his fate) he was so relieved that he could face his mortality and the hard decisions that had to be made came much more easily for him, and he died knowing that it was all going to be okay.

He taught me these lessons about not talking about issues, too - I have had my struggles, and talking about them, even in very confidential settings, is really fucking hard. Because as I went through them, he was sure judging me. Which of course is something I learned to do: judge myself, over and over, comparing all the time against what others might think about me, or more toxically, what my dad thought about me. And he could do "crushing disappointment" in truly high style.

So this article brought some of that home for me, that social perfection starts at home. And I don't know how to combat it because I have no sons. But if I did, the strongest lesson I would try to bring to them would be that nothing that anyone thinks about them, including me, is any of my sons' business, that they should run their lives their way, and damn what anyone else thinks. And that no matter what, I am not their judge.
posted by disclaimer at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2015 [78 favorites]


I think this is a good example of how the patriarchy hurts men. As a feminist, I frequently search for such examples because I think they demonstrate the importance of feminism. It's not hard to find examples of ways in which the patriarchy harms women but in this case, it's literally killing men.
posted by kat518 at 2:57 PM on August 15, 2015 [121 favorites]


I wonder if the same thought processes underlie murder-suicide, or if that is a completely different beast entirely.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:45 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


no, feminism is not going to help a lot with this - there's going to have to be a movement of men, by men, where they raise their own consciousness about these things and come up with a better path for them to follow

and for god's sake, i'm certainly not talking about those MRA idiots, who are the last thing we need
posted by pyramid termite at 3:48 PM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


pyramid termite - women aren't the only feminists.
posted by desjardins at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2015 [62 favorites]


One thing I've noticed when people think I'm a man is that people use poverty and powerlessness as a generic insult. It actually threw me the first couple of times it happened, because I had never been insulted like that before and it didn't make any sense in context, but after a while, I realized it's a pretty powerful insult among men to accuse someone of being poor or having no authority.

And that is just horrific. As a woman, if I lose my job or my skills aren't in demand, I suffer the same economic hit, but I really don't think it strikes to the core of my self worth the way it does for men. It's still a gut punch, but my entire self-image isn't wrapped up in my value on the job market the way it seems to be for a lot of men.

It seems to be a real defining thing for them, which, coupled with and exacerbated by the masculine tendency not to maintain strong social connections and to maintain the appearance of being in control, could be absolutely devastating.

I am very fond of men, jointly and severally. Many of my favorite people are men. I live with men. Most of my family are men, and most of them are good, considerate, insightful, well rounded people, and most of them have struggled with patriarchal expectations and rigid gender roles.

It's not really men who are fragile, just masculinity. Men are capable of so much more than that.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:00 PM on August 15, 2015 [104 favorites]


here's the thing - i think many men have an innate need to try to attempt difficult tasks, to carry burdens, to journey - but somehow we've gotten the idea that a failure is a failure of the man, not of the attempt

its great to succeed - it's great to try your best and fail - it's never great to phone it in, or not try at all, or worst of all, call yourself less of a man because it just didn't work out THIS time

we need a consciousness that is celebratory of the effort and the journey, not of the result and the destination
posted by pyramid termite at 4:18 PM on August 15, 2015 [20 favorites]


ernielundquist: thank you.
posted by sutt at 4:26 PM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


disclaimer, ernielundquist, thanks for sharing.
posted by batfish at 4:28 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have been labeled (by others, it's a 'not just me' thing) as both a Male Feminist and a Male Failure. And I take pride in being a Failure by patriarchal measures. Failure in committing suicide may be considered the ultimate failure so men will more likely take actions to ensure success.

i think many men have an innate need to try to attempt difficult tasks, to carry burdens
This goes back to our epic discussion on Emotional Labor, where it is incontrovertibly shown that way too many men don't want REAL burdens. (Something I admitted for myself and accepted at an early age, yet still entered into a decade-long relationship where I did enough Emotional Labor to bring my personal Depression into full bloom) And Suicide is a great way to pass Emotional Labor to others, which may be why so many women's attempts seem 'half-hearted'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:30 PM on August 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


If you’re a social perfectionist ...

My lack of which being obviously why I'm staring at fifty. Not giving a fuck won't get you far in life, but it might get you just far enough.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:58 PM on August 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


And Suicide is a great way to pass Emotional Labor to others, which may be why so many women's attempts seem 'half-hearted'.

Which would then argue that male suicide and female suicide are different for reasons that extend beyond mere methodology.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:03 PM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Men typically have fewer close friendships and get most of their emotional support from their partners.

This is so broadly accurate in my experience it always blows my mind. I am, in many ways, somewhat atypical as a male, I certainly don't meet the stereotypes on nearly every level. And yet, as I've gotten older, this is one thing where - through no conscious effort - I totally meet the cliche. I have hardly any friends I talk to or see regularly (multiple interstate moves hasn't helped things, I might add).

This was not a deliberate effort. The thing I don't get is where do people find the time to have these close friendships? Between my job, and two kids under 4, I feel like I get a couple of hours to myself each day when the kids are in bed - I barely manage to stay in touch with my family as much as I'd like. My poor friends don't have a hope in hell.

What's even worse - and something I never thought would be true for me - is that as I've gotten older, I can see I've started to slip into that thing (is it male? The cliche is that it's male) where I struggle, not to talk about my feelings, but to talk about my most upsetting and vulnerable feelings. I can't believe it! I am a talker and I used to talk about anything!

It feels like puberty or something, this change that's kind of forced on my without my consent or doing. Really weird. I can see how many men become locked in their own invisible cages. I mean, my life is good, but I do have a pervading sense of fragility that lives underneath it. If my wife and I broke up or something, I would really struggle.
posted by smoke at 5:08 PM on August 15, 2015 [67 favorites]


These [workaholic lifestyle] have become aspirations to be ashamed of, and for good reason. But what do we do now? Despite society’s advances, how it feels to be a success hasn’t much changed. Nor how it feels to fail. How are we to unpick the urges of our own biology; of cultural rules, reinforced by both genders, that go back to the Pleistocene?

Yikes. For this kind of extreme catastrophising to get past both the writer and editor in a piece specifically about black-and-white thinking in the form of "social perfectionism"?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:11 PM on August 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think there is anything more important to teach a young man than that he is valuable just for who he is, and nobody can take that away from him.

Unfortunately, our culture seems to insist that "who he is" is synonymous with what he does/what he has/etc. It's very hard for a man to exist outside of that rigorously-enforced set of conventions and not face some form of ostracism.

The traditional world of men is a very inflexible club, and there isn't much in the way of sanctuary outside that world, for those who don't fit in. Suicide isn't surprising at all.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:17 PM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


A problem I've had since I was a kid is how much of our reality and culture is informed by business, banks, wealthy interests, etc. Our self-worth is tied to expensive material possessions, how well and at what level we serve our employers, and how well adjusted we are to this arrangement that is actually pretty destructive to most of us.

It's funny hearing people from Europe get incredulous at things like the fact that we have credit scores, and how much of that controls our daily life here in the US, and how much of our self-worth is tied to things like that. This insidious thing designed by banks for their own profit has become part of the fabric of our reality, and people really believe in this stuff because it's our social reality, and we don't get much exposure to outside views here.

I honestly can't stand it, the fact that my belonging to society involves me giving over my personal time and well-being to business interests that have forced themselves into our day to day lives. And success through hard work isn't even guaranteed, there's a great element of luck involved, too. Life in America has become very depressing and sometimes there doesn't really seem like there's a good way out.
posted by gehenna_lion at 5:37 PM on August 15, 2015 [29 favorites]


How are we to unpick the urges of our own biology; of cultural rules, reinforced by both genders, that go back to the Pleistocene?

Well, I think the first step is to divorce ourselves from the idea that this is "natural" and a reflection of "biology". It's not natural at all for men to be solitary and without social companionship. For example, there has been a lot of discussion about the demise of male friendships. The current pathologization of male emotion is not universal across cultures or history, either. Shit, people who read the Lord of the Rings now will swear up and down Frodo and Sam are gayer than Christmas because of the love and care and emotion they express. The concept that a man must be always, always working certainly doesn't jibe with the efforts of the labor movement to enforce the 8-8-8 day: 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours for family and leisure. Indeed, historically there's been a tendency to romanticize the man who disappears to find himself or lives on his own, whether we're talking a bus driver stealing his own bus or retreating to Walden Pond or road-tripping across the United States while getting high.

It damages modern men to get caught in a trap that their biology forces them to behave in a certain way, when the way they feel they must behave is defined by a narrow set of standards within the time and place they live. Rather than bemoan the pressures men feel as biological fate, ask yourself what in our societies can be changed to allow men to be the people they are.



As Sideshow Bob once pointed out, there is no Nobel Prize for Attempted Physics.

. . . so a person's suicide attempt is less important and their psychological pain less real if they choose pills over a gun?
posted by schroedinger at 6:41 PM on August 15, 2015 [30 favorites]


From the article:
both genders’ expectations of what it means to be a man are stuck in the 1950s. “The first rule is that you must be a fighter and a winner,” Seager explains. “The second is you must be a provider and a protector; the third is you must retain mastery and control at all times. If you break any of those rules you’re not a man.” Needless to say, as well as all this, ‘real men’ are not supposed to show vulnerability. . . . “Men compare themselves against a masculine ‘gold standard’ which prizes power, control and invincibility."
Reminds me of something I found a while back when looking up historiographies of masculinity, a piece observing that "many of the things encoded as 'feminine' . . . are inescapable aspects of human embodiment" (bottom of p. 12). It started me thinking that since many popular ideas of feminine and masculine position them at opposite poles like matter and anti-matter, this insight (feminine = human condition, fallible, vulnerable) would mean that idealized masculinity is not merely superior, but infallible and invincible. What's that going to do to your psyche when you fail at infallibility because, it turns out, you have human weaknesses? I can totally see the appeal of suicide there.

I wrote the following to a friend while I was stream-of-consciousnessing about this "if feminine = human embodiment, then masculinity = high-stakes Catch-22" thing (so nothing's meant to be an assertion of fact, I was just sorting out my own thoughts and I acknowledge I may be barking up the wrong tree): Even idealized or elite femininities are considered flawed and deviant, by which I mean, presumed to be questionable -- presumed to be doing / saying it wrong, presumed in many ways to be unreliable witnesses even to their own lives, much less the lives of higher-status people. This inflicts its own kind of damage.

Whereas idealized or elite masculinities, whatever their permutations throughout the ages (and the essay gives an overview of anglophone historians' findings on this from early 18th century through the mid-20th), seem to have been equated with various aspects of infallible / flawless: presumed to be omniscient, omni-competent, their words and experiences presumed to be ultra-authoritative and presumed to be unquestionable. No wonder masculinities have chronically been considered "in crisis" and no wonder men who buy into it are miles-deep in not being able to think themselves out of it.

If Elite Masculinities =! human condition, then

It guarantees multiple disincentives to self-question. Pride in fulfilling the ideal, aspirations to being infallible, belief in their own infallibility + need to deny deny deny the deep down incontrovertible fact of fallibility...all of that leads to "masculinity" that is chronically precarious, threatened, clung to by fingernails. The precariousness guarantees multiple incentives to maintain equilibrium at all costs and react violently to even minor acts of stepping out of line, by incontrovertibly squashing others (boys who cry, uppity women, gay men, trans* folks' existence) who dare to question this Sisyphean house of cards. The polarization and zero-sum (matter & antimatter) nature of it is a vicious circle. Men believing in, feeling both a social and moral imperative to, and for some of them feeling an ego-tastic desire for, embodying infallibilty... all of this is a superstructure that they're committed to conceptualizing as the be all and end all of their selves. All the while denying it's got a foundation that's quicksand.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:52 PM on August 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think this is a good example of how the patriarchy hurts men.

It is, but it's an even better example of how gun ownership hurts men.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:57 PM on August 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


It is, but it's an even better example of how gun ownership hurts men.

In societies without a lot of guns, the disparity in suicide success persists. Men pick the more surely lethal methods, whether it is a gun or a jump off a building.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:02 PM on August 15, 2015 [21 favorites]


I just got out of a relationship with a progressive, liberal, smart woman, who doesn't trust a lot of gender stereotypes and was aware of many of the hazards there.

She still, at times, told me that it's not attractive when men cry, or complain about discomforts like sticking contacts in their eyes. Or on occasion said that it *was* attractive when I stopped speaking in gently qualified cautious terms (my habit) and went so far as to be angrily passionate about a subject or even call someone an idiot. Or talked up some white knighting an old boyfriend had done.

Maybe that's just part of the socialization. I sure hope it's not wired in. And I think there are other occasions where sensitivity and thoughtfulness were assets in that relationship, and others.

But I believe that even in relationships where vulnerability and meekness are part of the bargain men can still pay costs for them. Ones sometimes worth paying, maybe ones you can cover through accumulating other interpersonal capital. Costs nonetheless.
posted by weston at 7:17 PM on August 15, 2015 [21 favorites]


Funny, weston, I experienced something similar with one of my girlfriends. Passionate feminist, went to a Seven Sisters school, very intelligent and outspoken, and very much liked challenging the status quo. Still she wanted a "real man", and was actually pretty damn abusive to me any time I failed those standards.

Didn't help that I grew up with a gay dad who was very much not masculine at all, and a few other closeted gay men in my family, and they were more on the twee end of things. So learning how to BE A MAN was a pretty tough journey, and I got mistaken for gay a lot, which is like a social death sentence when you're a straight man, even in 2015.

I think the stories of social progress have been greatly exaggerated, even among those who hold those stories the dearest.
posted by gehenna_lion at 7:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


I sure hope it's not wired in.

As a woman . . . It's not. At least not for this woman, or the women I know.
posted by schroedinger at 7:28 PM on August 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


There was an article I read somewhere -- I can't remember where, it may have been in a hipster-oriented website -- that had as its central thesis that under traditional gender roles, to be a man is to be needed, and to be a woman is to be desired. (And, of course, that this is deeply fucked up and ends up hurting people a lot.) It has really stuck with me, and I see it in so many gender criticisms. Like, nobody wants to be thought of as vain, but people judge a vain man differently than a vain woman. Or all the times that men respond to feminism or women gaining skills in non-traditionally-feminine skillsets by saying something like "but then what will you need me for?"

and then that illustrates a yawning chasm of desperate awfulness on its flip side: not only is your worth as a man judged by how much other people need you -- how essentially useful you can be to other people -- but if you want to hold onto your manhood, you must never, ever, ever seek to be desired. You must stop expecting to be desired, stop wanting to be desired, unless you are being desired because of your sheer utility, in which case it's allowable because that was never your intent. (Is this part of what feeds into the Nice Guy "women are vending machines that you put kindness into until sex falls out" dynamic? I don't know, but it feels like it might be.) Just look at how firmly behaviors as mild as "being meticulous about grooming" or "dressing well" have been coded as gay (although this may be changing?), I guess because if you're going out of your way to be desirable, you must be doing it to attract the attention of a man.

Add that to the horrifying presumption that men can only get emotional intimacy from women, and you end up in a toxic death spiral. You can't have feelings unless you're with a woman. You can't do anything to attract a woman into your life without being a [insult based on a lack of traditional masculinity]. Lonely? Tough shit, be magically less awful somehow and it won't be a problem, loser.

It's a vicious trap, with one jaw made of violence and the other of despair. I hate it. It has hurt so many men I love.
posted by KathrynT at 7:40 PM on August 15, 2015 [115 favorites]


Norah Vincent is kind of interesting on hetero male relationships, if the "black like me" device is mostly just a framing gimmick. One of her generalizations is that, while male friend groups can be highly inclusive, men absolutely suck at and have really no protocols for intra-male intimacy. Considering this is the premise of every third sitcom gag, perhaps not something we didn't already know, but I for one am grateful to breathe in non-lulzy treatments of it.
posted by batfish at 8:04 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just look at how firmly behaviors as mild as "being meticulous about grooming" or "dressing well" have been coded as gay (although this may be changing?)

This is actually more complicated than you surmise. It is possible for metliculousness in male grooming to "cross over" I guess into a more female version. But successful, desirable men have great hair, and are in good shape and dress well and all that.

One of the ironies of masculinity that I noticed early on was when I was a young teenager was that boys who didn't otherwise have a care in the world about what others think of them still spent hours in the bathroom preening and strutting.

Or all the times that men respond to feminism or women gaining skills in non-traditionally-feminine skillsets by saying something like "but then what will you need me for?"

One of the things I did with my wife when we started dating that was substantially different from previous LTRs was that instead of doing "masculine" things like taking the car to the mechanic or using power tools - was to show her how to do that and empowering her to do those tasks for herself.

That has had two main effects: one is that she does not have to nag me to put up the curtain rods - she can get the drill and knows how to find a stud or use sheetrock anchors. After all, I can use the dishwasher and the sewing machine, so what is so mystical about a router or a table saw ? Second, she feels like she has a better appreciation for how difficult some jobs are and has a better feel for the division of labor. For example, sure, I change the oil on the cars - is that worth 4 days of dishes or 2 ? Her opinion on that is informed by actually having done it a few times.**

Point is, I've been working hard to create a situation where she doesn't need me around, but rather wants me to be around, and has a better appreciation for how it is that I - as a man - contribute to the household.

Coming back around to the subject of the FPP - the worst year of my life was the year my son was born.* There is nothing that will make you feel as much like a failure as not being able to provide the life for your child that you imagine they deserve. There was more at work than that, of course, but that night I held that shotgun, that was the thing I kept coming back to.

Ultimately, what changed things for me was the realization that you get one life and then you are dead forever. It's not like Galaga or Pacman where you can die and take another swing at it - you live, then you die. The end.

So, might as well make the most of it.

* Also the best

**She got to do her first brake job last month. She... would much rather I do them in the future. Or, better yet, we just buy a new car. Heh.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:19 PM on August 15, 2015 [25 favorites]


/e-hug offered if it's desired, P_F.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:23 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


You know, I thought it'd just be too cynical to say -- if you don't care about male suicide, at least be concerned for all the mothers, and sisters, and wives, and daughters left behind.

And then, "And Suicide is a great way to pass Emotional Labor to others".

Really?
posted by effugas at 8:44 PM on August 15, 2015 [19 favorites]


Smoke said: "I certainly don't meet the stereotypes on nearly every level. And yet, as I've gotten older, this is one thing where - through no conscious effort - I totally meet the cliche. I have hardly any friends I talk to or see regularly (multiple interstate moves hasn't helped things, I might add)."

Exactly so. I found this happened to me when I was busy with a full-time job. It was just so much easier to go on auto-pilot, advancing your career while doing not-so-much in building a healthy social network.

Looking back, I think part of my problem was that I had too many easy-to-do default activities outside of work that hindered friendship-building. Tired after a long day? How about some HBO? How about some Game of Thrones? How about some XBoxing? How about some snacks?

Whereas if I wanted to make friends, I'd have to figure out where and how. And the strange thing about our cultural standards is that I would feel weird that I need to go out and do this. Why? Because if i have to go looking for friends, it means I'm a failure because I don't have enough friends. That's not a pleasant thought. Result: I'll just go with HBO, thanks.
posted by storybored at 8:53 PM on August 15, 2015 [23 favorites]


I've been dealing (poorly) with a lot of this personally over the past several years. I won't bore you with the long version. Let's just say it involves job loss, loss of income, family stress, and physical setbacks.

I thought I had long ago left behind all those concepts of "traditional" masculinity, but I was shocked by how strongly those ideas reasserted themselves deep in my psyche and I found myself struggling to live up to those standards.

Of course, I fell far short and, in doing so, my ever-present depression became deeper and far, far darker. Black, actually. And, as I spiraled down, the idea that everyone would be better off without me took hold. I was a failure as a man, after all. I wasn't providing adequately, I wasn't pulling my weight, etc. It all came to a head one day in a manner that seriously scared me enough to search-out counseling. That was just over a year ago. I'm still in counseling and am more-or-less doing ok.

The reason I'm sharing this all is to say that those masculine rules we are taught are shockingly pernicious and hard to kill. It's like a weed you thought you had rid your garden of, only to see it grow and strangle your flowers. The worst part of it is, you aren't supposed to admit you have weeds to the other gardeners.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 PM on August 15, 2015 [44 favorites]


Among the mooted evolutionary reasons for suicidal behavior, one is that an incompleted attempt can serve as an honest (clearly costly, and thus not faked) signal of need to others, resulting in the direction of resources towards the attempter.

It requires a whole mess of assumptions about human behavior and genetics, very little of which have been validated in the general case. Likely they can't be validated unless we can identify the genetic sequences in question or find bigfoot.

But the other central flaw here is the assumption that because we observe it in a population, it must be adaptive and not an outlier or a systemic failure. Sometimes an outlier is just an outlier; and sometimes a systemic failure is just a systemic failure. Evolutionary biology requires and predicts both.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:22 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I volunteer at organizations that give the homeless free food and sundry. Sometimes I meet homeless around town, and when appropriate inform them about when and where to find services.

A significant number of the male homeless I meet are uncomfortable with the idea of accepting free food, especially with other homeless. A common refrain is that what they really need is regular work, which they don't get from the temp agencies. That's not wrong, but it's not right either.
posted by tychotesla at 9:25 PM on August 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Among the mooted evolutionary reasons for suicidal behavior, one is that an incompleted attempt can serve as an honest (clearly costly, and thus not faked) signal of need to others, resulting in the direction of resources towards the attempter.

Evolution is hardly so selective. People think way too much of evolutionary adaptation. They think it can explain everything, when it simply isn't that smart or directed. Evolutionary adaptation can be summed up as "What gets the most babies out before you die?" Huntington's Disease doesn't persist because it provides some evolutionary benefit, it exists because it generally doesn't kill a carrier before they reproduce. Similarly, counterproductive behaviors like adult suicide will not be selected against across hundreds of thousands of years if on average the sufferers reproduce before doing it. Furthermore, given the role society plays in the cultivation of suicidal tendencies it has hardly been long enough for us to make sweeping judgments about this or that suicide attempt being an evolutionary adaptive response. Adaptation occurs across millenniums, not less than a century.
posted by schroedinger at 10:55 PM on August 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


I think this is strongly relevant to the emotional labour threads here recently in which, among other things, women were pointing out how much of the work of maintaining relationships -- both between them and their man, and between their man and his family and friends -- ended up falling to them. And that men disproportionally approach women for emotional support in crises, instead of their male friends. (etc etc) Without wanting to diminish the cost of this to women, it's worth considering that this isn't just because men are lazy assholes. It's because those behaviours -- showing affection, checking in emotionally, revealing vulnerability -- are beaten out of men, often literally, pretty much from birth through our entire adult lives.

A great deal of this -- especially the real or threatened physical violence -- comes from other men, obviously. But some of the women I've heard in real life complaining that their boyfriends are poor at communicating or understanding their own emotions are the same women I've heard talking about how sexy the "strong, silent" type is, and laughing at other guys as "girly" for showing vulnerability, often in the same conversation. A girlfriend of mine -- who knew I was depressed but not how close I was to suicide -- was consistent with the message that depression was a sign of weakness, was not manly, and that instead of talking about it or getting help I needed to "be stronger". She was an extreme example, maybe, but it's a pervasive pattern.

Along these lines, then, while I get why "fragile masculinity" jokes are funny and an important release (and many of the "...FOR MEN!" products really are ridiculous and insulting to all involved) I think it's worth remembering that they can only exist because there's a core of really toxic behaviour and terrible experiences underlying them. I've managed to arrange my life such that most of it is lived in a progressive/queer bubble, so I'm not affected too much these days. But, for many men, their performance of masculinity is policed very strictly by both men and women, with anything from mockery through ostracism to violence.
posted by metaBugs at 12:19 AM on August 16, 2015 [72 favorites]


Imagine a swimming pool divided up into lanes, not by lines of coloured floats, but by razor wire just below the surface. As long as you peacefully swim along behind the people in front, you'll never even notice the boundaries are there. But if try to cross to a different lane, you very much notice because of the pain and the harm you suffer. There's some width in your lane, but if you drift too far from the centre, you're never quite certain when you'll hit the boundary.

It's easy to say things like "women just need to choose to spend less time worrying about their appearance" or "men just need to be more open with their emotions". But people who say things like that generally haven't been dragged along the razor wire much.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:19 AM on August 16, 2015 [37 favorites]


A few years back, Newsweek did a profile of Dr. Thomas Joiner, one of the people quoted in the original article. He seemed to think that the gender disparity in suicides has a lot to do with the fact that men are encouraged to desensitize themselves to physical pain and trauma, making it easier to complete the deed. This is particularly convincing in explaining why members of the military have a heightened suicide rate, even among female soldiers or soldiers who haven't experienced combat.
posted by droro at 8:13 AM on August 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


It would be great if this thread became the male version of the Emotional Labor thread. It is really amazingly eye-opening reading such open and honest accounts from the men here. I am reading your stories and am struck by how much you've had to go through, facing the unfair expectations and struggling to fulfill them - which I never knew in real life, because no one talks about it (which is part of the paradox).
posted by Ender's Friend at 9:46 AM on August 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


KathrynT: ...not only is your worth as a man judged by how much other people need you -- how essentially useful you can be to other people -- but if you want to hold onto your manhood, you must never, ever, ever seek to be desired. You must stop expecting to be desired, stop wanting to be desired, unless you are being desired because of your sheer utility...

This was pressed into my brain for so long and with such force that its imprint is permanent. To this day the concept of my being desired for anything aside from my utility seems like a cold joke at my expense. Maybe the widespread nature of this type of belief contributes to the difficulty of men understanding the existence of women's sexual desires.

You can't have feelings unless you're with a woman. You can't do anything to attract a woman into your life without being a [insult based on a lack of traditional masculinity]. Lonely? Tough shit, be magically less awful somehow and it won't be a problem, loser.

And there was my inner monologue throughout my teens and twenties. "Suck less, loser, and maybe someday somebody might love you. But don't bet on it." That was fun to hear. Figuring out how to navigate this crap while maintaining a sense of masculinity and avoiding bitterness took a whole lot of ruminating and trying out different models of behavior over a whole lot of years.

Ah, maturity. Getting to you sucks so much ass.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 9:50 AM on August 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Apropos the above comment: Dr. Joiner knows his stuff (cite: my wife recently studied under him a bit while getting her PhD) and is really, really vested in, as I think I recall her calling it in his words, a "war against suicide", in no small part because (spoiler for said cited article) his father committed suicide while he was himself a psychology grad student.

I dunno what I'm getting at besides the fact that when Dr. Joiner speaks about suicide... his students and peers listen, not only because his research speaks for itself but because he cares and doesn't want others to suffer as he did/has/[does?].

posted by RolandOfEld at 9:54 AM on August 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


White men lead the pack in this. Make of that what you will.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:10 AM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Men typically have fewer close friendships and get most of their emotional support from their partners.

The partner as support dynamic is something I can relate to. I am known for listening to my friends and a lot of what they say, of what they are feeling and going through is similar to what I'm feeling and going through but I will not share that in any detail with anyone but a partner. It feels like I'm taking the focus away from the friend if I share these things and particularly with female friends probably because of not meeting traditional expectations (which would be my problem, not theirs). As a person who doesn't care much if at all for mainstream societal conventions one does still suffer from them, even if you're aware of it (but awareness does help and will help). I've been told I go to the doctor too much for a guy, but if I hadn't I would have gotten skin cancer, been suffering with hypothyroidism for years (massive weight gain, falling asleep throughout the day, foggy mind), and been in considerable pain, which I bring up every time this "point" is brought up. These are physical ailments. It makes me very cautious about voicing mental ailments unless it's with someone who suffers from the same ones I have or do.

As for fewer closer friendships I haven't seen that personally. My female friends often talk about their lack of close friendships, often feeling unappreciated by a lot of males they try to form friendships with (and it's astounding just how unappreciated, almost invisible, they are), and finding females they want to form friendships with far to competitive with them and rely on them to carry the relationship. I usually say if that's the case, they were never going to be close friends in the first place. But a lot of people seem almost obsessed with getting validation from people who will never give it to them.

Just look at how firmly behaviors as mild as "being meticulous about grooming" or "dressing well" have been coded as gay (although this may be changing?)

I've heard this all my life. People come into my place, which is minimalist and tidy and somehow this means I'm likely gay. Cut my fingernails every week. Probably gay. Don't sexualize a woman the moment I meet them. Gay. Listen. Gay. Similarly, my female friends will be given gifts like a hello kitty stuffed toy or scented candles and wonder why the fuck people assume they'd be into that. How is it that a guy who is interested in me doesn't know me sort of thing. Or they're told by idiot men that they're not womanly enough which is so far away from my perception of these women that I'm astonished. I feel that people have templates they bring to how they perceive others rather than getting to know them. I can understand the use of such templates, if you will, in quick social, business, crisis, whatever type of situations, but in a friendship, you learn about the person. You keep drawing them in your mind as you learn more about who and what they are.

I think the stories of social progress have been greatly exaggerated, even among those who hold those stories the dearest.

Indeed. Fortunately we can find some people who have believed in and believe in still the goals of such progress and they are closest friends (though the number tends to be small). Coupled with all the batshit insanity, racism, misogyny, and hatred that is pronounced with pride daily and it feels like the wide world is not a nice place and a place I, and many others, don't really fit into. The older I get, and the more aware I get, the less I feel I belong in society.
posted by juiceCake at 10:51 AM on August 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, just nthing that hearing this conversation has been really interesting and great.

It's hard to be a woman and listen to men talk about their problems because that conversation almost always devolves into some form of insidious sexism or gross misogynist buck-passing or whatever. So thanks for not doing that here, for the most part-- dismantling patriarchy in the minds of men and women alike is something we can work on together. Much appreciated, and it's astonishing how all these forms of social constriction (of men and women) fit together almost like a puzzle.
posted by easter queen at 10:55 AM on August 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


I have re-typed this very comment about lack of emotional intimacy in my life MANY times because it makes me so uncomfortable and... insecure? Like do I need to clarify I don't mean physical intimacy, will Mefites think I'm a loser for stating that I have no friends who I turn to when discussing heavy stuff or that I feel I've let down so many friends over the years because I just couldn't figure out how to keep friendships alive. I have never been suicidal but I can understand the idea of ending your life because it feels so heavy and lonely.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


As a woman, if I lose my job or my skills aren't in demand, I suffer the same economic hit, but I really don't think it strikes to the core of my self worth the way it does for men.

Interesting. You often hear a man referred to as "a failure" or "a success". Maybe this is what is so damaging to men : the assumption that one's life can be judged as a binary value, either a "success" or a "failure". And perhaps this ties into the suicide thing; for if you feel like you are "a failure", then what's the point of going on any further? You've already failed. Game over.

Are women judged in the same way? Do women judge themselves in the same way? Asking here because I do not know.
posted by panama joe at 12:05 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


it's astonishing how all these forms of social constriction (of men and women) fit together almost like a puzzle.

If you're a woman who's not endlessly keeping on top of all of the little emotional needs of everyone around you, then you're not a woman. And after years of doing that, you don't even know how not to. The kids have left the house, and you feel lost because you're supposed to take care of somebody. The husband's abusive and doesn't deserve your consideration, but are you really supposed to think about yourself?

As I mentioned in the emotional labor thread, the work that goes into forming and maintaining relationships--inviting people for dinner, tracking birthdays, catching up over the phone--are habits and skills. It takes doing them over and over to feel comfortable doing it and for it to become a regular part of your life. If you're a man and make little presents for your friends or organize regular adult parties (i.e. not keggers) or write thank-you cards you get taught from a young age that there is something unnatural about you. So you're never taught these skills, and at a young age are discouraged from them. Then you're an adult and get divorced or your wife dies, or you lose your job or retire, and your main social outlet disappears. And you have no idea what to do to get it back, because the idea of attempting to invite this guy you connect with out on a one-on-one feels weird and uncomfortable and the concept of calling someone up "just to talk" makes you feel like you're pathetic.

It's two sides of the same, shitty coin.

I see it in my parents. In addition to her full-time job, my mom is involved in a billion different groups and all the family drama and organizing events and making sure the house is clean and making dinner every night and scheduling the landscapers. She is always running a million miles a minute, and casually talks about waking up at 4:00am and gets up and starts working because she can't stop thinking about everything she needs to get done.

In his mid-60s, my dad is learning to cook himself dinner for the first time in his life because he's taken a job that's long-distance from my mom. It's far away from their friends, and he goes home to an empty apartment and has nothing to do in the evenings because their social networks were always formed by her. He wants friends, he wants to do things in this new place, but he has only the faintest understanding of how to go about doing so.

Prior to this job, he went through a six-year period of sporadic employment, the longest of his life. It did a number on his psyche and his conception of himself as a man. And while he's definitely progressed, it's obviously apparent that when he got his new position and was steadily working full-time again he felt relieved to be able to fit back into this preset identity and not struggle with the feeling of failed expectations coming from himself and the society around him.

If my dad died, my mom would be devastated but I feel she would be able to keep herself together. If my mom died, my brother and I have privately discussed how we would convince him to live with one of us or whether one of us would come down to live with him. Neither of us is confident that he'd be able to go on without her and the connection she provides to the outside world. Now that he has this new position it's less dire, but the prospect of it is still deeply frightening.
posted by schroedinger at 12:20 PM on August 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Are women judged in the same way? Do women judge themselves in the same way? Asking here because I do not know.

Perhaps not around having a job, but around maintaining a family, a social life, a certain physical appearance, and having kids? There is definitely that pressure. If you haven't been married by age X you won't ever get married and nobody will love you and you are a failure as a woman. If you do not have children, you are a failure as a woman (and a wife, so double-failure). If you are too aggressive, too successful, not involved enough in the PTA, etc, then you are a failure as a woman. Women get their femininity called into question and the value of their lives judged as a success or failure, but it is on a different scale than men. I've never felt unfeminine for having a shitty job (or no job!). But being the fattest woman in the room has made me feel like I've failed at life in some deep, irreparable way.
posted by schroedinger at 12:28 PM on August 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Hard Won and Easily Lost: A Review and Synthesis of Theory and Research on Precarious Manhood:
This article reviews evidence that manhood is seen as a precarious social status that is both difficult to achieve and tenuously held. Compared with womanhood, which is typically viewed as resulting from a natural, permanent, and biological developmental transition, manhood must be earned and maintained through publicly verifiable actions. Because of this, men experience more anxiety over their gender status than women do, particularly when gender status is uncertain or challenged. This can motivate a variety of risky and maladaptive behaviors, as well as the avoidance of behaviors that might otherwise prove adaptive and beneficial. We review research on the implications of men’s precarious gender status across the domains of risk-taking, aggression, stress and mental health, and work–life balance. We further consider how work on precarious manhood differs from, and can add to, work on individual differences in men’s gender role conflict. In summary, the precarious manhood hypothesis can integrate and explain a wide range of male behaviors and phenomena related to the male gender role.
posted by Wemmick at 12:52 PM on August 16, 2015 [19 favorites]


There have been many reports and studies on the correlation between the economic crisis and suicide rates in the past years in the USA, and of course across Northern America and Europe, in Greece.

They all reflect that disparity, even within the correlation between unemployment/financial crisis and suicide, it’s always men’s suicide rates rising more than women.

It makes me wonder, aside from the influence of cultural ideas about gender roles, how much the disparity also reflects a disparity in employment levels as well. If there was full gender equality in the job market, would we see a more similar increase for both men and women also during hard times? Or maybe not? Maybe the mentality about the importance of your job and "providing for your family" in defining you as a man, in defining your dignity as a man, is really the biggest factor in that disparity?
posted by bitteschoen at 1:34 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


So what is it that drives men to think about committing suicide in one way and women in another? So either a man or a woman gets to the point where they consider killing themselves, what does determine the form of ideation, and realisation?
posted by biffa at 1:39 PM on August 16, 2015


There is a relevant bit of dark humor among EMTs and ER nurses which I will share with the caveat that EMTs and ER nurses often deal with the stress of their work by developing a gallows humor that they carefully hide from patients.

The joke is, "I have a lot of respect for people who get it right the first time."

I wonder how much of men's greater rate of completed suicide can be explained by fear of being seen to fail at this last task.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:51 PM on August 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Are women judged in the same way? Do women judge themselves in the same way? Asking here because I do not know.

This sort of where any thought on this by a man can easily be misinterpreted as mysoginist blaming or something similar. So, with that in mind...

I think there has been amazing and highly productive work done in our society over the past 40 or so years in toppling so many of the "traditional" feminine roles that my parents adhered to. I've personally witnessed the incredible advances women have accomplished in overturning those restrictive roles. I know it doesn't feel like it for many of you (and there's a whole lot more to do) but, believe me, I've witnessed the changes in realtime and it's been spectacular.

This is all to say that I think women have a lot of leeway now in how they direct their lives/careers/etc. Except for some pockets of Neanderthals, I really don't think there's anything directed at women like the level of "conform or be cast out" pushback put on any man who dares opt for an alternative direction in their life. Hell, I'm a damned graphic artist and even that gives the suburban men in my neighborhood trouble processing, because it has the word "artist" and artist=suspiciously sensitive, so maybe we shouldn't invite him to the cookout, because he probably doesn't like sports, so he can't talk about the Colts.

And, yeah, close friends are few and far between. And, even with the closest friends I've had, there is nothing like the sort of close communication that women seem to enjoy with their friends.

Sometimes, being a man sucks so hard you can't even imagine.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:10 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


So what is it that drives men to think about committing suicide in one way and women in another?

It isn't surprising to me that highly driven men (or as military suicides suggest, anyone, really) who think(s) of life in terms of success and failure and missions to be accomplised will think of suicide in the same way, as a task to be executed as efficiently as possible. I'm speculating wildly here, but if there's a gendered aspect to suicide, then the evidence from the linked article (which struck me as platitudes, frankly: that driven men with acute sensitivities to feelings of shame and worthlessness are at a high risk of suicide when those feelings are precipitated by life crises doesn't seem especially revelatory to me) seems to suggest that women to a greater degree use suicide to signal, to try to communicate, where men tend to use it to get the job done. Again this isn't surprising given what's said about men thinking in terms of utility.

FWIW, lot of what's written here about male emotional lives I find pretty alien to my own experience. But then my own relationship to the various roles and rituals of MANDOM has always been pretty off-kilter, I realize.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:56 PM on August 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was looking through studies that analyze choice of suicide method, and it seems to indicate choice is primarily determined by availability.

For example, guns. The number one predictor for suicide-by-gun is gun ownership. Less women own and use guns, so less women kill themselves with guns. More households with guns means more men and women killing themselves with guns. More women owning and using guns raises that further--I read gun ownership is associated with a seven-fold increase in risk of suicide-by-gun among women.

Another example: drug poisoning is correlated with increasing age with both genders--older people are more likely to have access to a wider variety of medications than their younger counterparts. Drowning is more frequent in coastal areas, and jumping more frequent in cities and other places with high points to jump off.

Depending on the study you're looking at, hanging, a method available to pretty much anyone anywhere, has about the same rates between men or women or higher rates among men (generally in countries where guns are not widely available).

There also appear to be the influence of popular culture on method as well. For example, amongst rural Indian women self-immolation is relatively popular, especially compared to Western countries where a historical tradition of self-immolation does not exist, whether as an expression of grief, political protest, or otherwise. And suicide via charcoal-brazier monoxide poisoning took off in a number of East Asian countries in the mid-90s, but sees no such increase in other areas of the world.

So, in the US at least, in popular culture we're told men use guns, women use drugs. I wonder how much absorbing that idea--even unconsciously--influences choice of method in addition to availability and whatnot?
posted by schroedinger at 3:23 PM on August 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


Are women judged in the same way? Do women judge themselves in the same way? Asking here because I do not know.


I really don't want to whataboutthewomenz this, but oh yeah, women are judged and judge themselves on their value in the job market. We're also human, and we have the same egos you do. We get judged on other, often-irrelevant qualities as well. My favorite is the one where people on text-only internet forums call me sexually unappealing when they disagree with me about computers or something. But we are all human. I am not aware of any experience that is consistently gender segregated. We all experience the same basic things. The gender dichotomy mostly seems to be focused on how we're socialized to respond to them.

And boys and men are disproportionately socialized to both internalize their feelings and externalize their reactions. To suck it up and fight. To value themselves as producers and providers, to ignore or suppress their nurturing tendencies and their empathy, and to forge ahead and be 'successful' by some concrete social metric.

I'd suspect this has a lot to do with men's greater suicide rates, and with that sort of aggrieved entitlement where men lash out violently in response to feeling like they've been failed. (I am not trying to conflate suicide with murder and other violence, and I hope nobody takes it that way. I'm just saying they seem like different responses to similar things.)

Girls are raised to think of others much more, which results in a lot of pretty ridiculous expectations for women, and weird double standards for how behaviors are perceived. We're trained to care for and about others, often to our own detriment.

And it's easy to make a case that this benefits men, but it hurts them too. Men often lack basic skills necessary to care for themselves and to even really understand and manage their feelings. We don't just not teach those things to boys. We actively discourage them by teaching them at ridiculously young ages to be brave and stoic when they're hurt, and not seek out affection from others. (I know there have been studies showing that parents start rejecting their sons' attempts at hugging and cuddling and such at much, much earlier ages than they do with their daughters, but I am coming up blank on search terms.)
posted by ernielundquist at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


I really appreciate this thread, because so many people are expressing feelings which I've found difficult to articulate myself. This has been really helpful for me.

I've little new to add, but I'll say that in my experience as a man, it really, really sucks when I fail. Because everyone in my life, man or woman, feminist or not, looks at me like I'm a little bit less than I was before. Doesn't matter what it is. Even if the failure is trivial, even if it doesn't impact them, my value to other people is reduced through that lack of accomplishment.

There are a few earlier comments about learning to have self-worth through something other than achievement.[1] While I think that would be wonderful, I honestly don't know what that would mean. I have a job, I have hobbies, I do things to help my family and my friends and my community. I am what I do. What else is there?

I'm not going to claim women don't go through the same things; I don't know. I honestly can't imagine what a life not feeling like that would look like. All I know is that, in my experience, I'm not allowed to fail. That's just how it works.

[1] (Apologies for lack of comment links; I read the thread all at once and don't want to hunt back through right now.)
posted by fencerjimmy at 4:05 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


My experience is if you stumble or fail even a little, people will come out of the woodwork to stomp you down even further. And if you don't have a support network who actually cares about you to help you, then you're basically toast. You have to access this inner mystic will power to fight yourself out of that situation. It ain't fun, I can tell you that.

My own example is I graduated from law school but couldn't find a job as a lawyer fast enough to pay the rent, so I had to take a job in my old industry, which is at a good company and pays a middle class wage. But apparently to everyone in my life that meant I was a disgusting, despicable failure (of course they aren't exactly the nicest people to begin with). Loser. Pathetic. Asshole. Mimicking vomiting all over themselves when I'd shake their hand. All sorts of fun stuff.

There are people who take this stuff really, really seriously. And you ignore it at your own peril. I always thought I could be some badass free thinker who could live according to his own morals and values; what that gets you is attacked, ostracized, abused, and looked at sideways. The only place where I could be myself was in NYC, and even that place is getting out of reach due to it being a haven for the global super-wealthy. Life ain't easy these days.
posted by gehenna_lion at 4:13 PM on August 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


adding to the chorus of guys that this thread has been kind of revelatory for. i've been in a slump the last couple of years and in the meantime have managed to alienate myself from nearly all of my friends out of shame. i won't get into the specifics of my situation (there's that shame) but i can rationally recognize that its not even that bad -- the way i've been articulating it is that i'm behind my peers, i feel like they would judge me as a failure if i let them in and knew the details of my life. i've been deeply depressed and basically my only regular human contact is with a couple of internet friends, who are mostly women that i've had long platonic friendships with.

it hadn't really occurred to me that this could be wrapped up in an understanding of masculinity that i'm applying to myself because i never construed it in my head as something i was experiencing as a man. now it seems kind of obvious. i consciously withdrew from even wanting to be in any sexual, romantic, or even friendly relationships because i feel like i'm failing to meet the standards that have been drilled into me as what is expected as a middle class white dude.

i admittedly don't really know where to go from here with this information
posted by p3on at 4:30 PM on August 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


I love this thread. I'm learning so much and it's fascinating me. I hope you guys keep sharing here.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I usually have to actively tell myself that it's ok and not a statement on my manhood when I fail at something. It's an ongoing battle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:18 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are rather too many things to say as there isn't really much of a forum for the subject . The only regular commentator on man-ness that I can think of who isn't insane is Ally Fogg, who I have tremendous respect for. If there are others, I'd like to hear about them.

This isn't going to go well. I don't have a language for it, but never mind, I'm modestly in my cups and there's no one around to stop me pressing Post Comment.

Speaking from my experience, and that of at least some other men to the best of my knowledge. Not claiming that it's all or even most men's experience (dear God, no), but it's easier to write it as if it were: the experience of being a boy is that to trying to avoid punishment, careening from one telling off to another. A good day is one that doesn't have a punishment in it.

The problem is that as a boy one is by default naughty. Being good involves suppressing one's boyness. If one doesn't manage to do that, one is banished - to your room, or to the "naughty step" (an innovation from after my time). In order to be included in the heart of the home, you need to perform "goodness", which is the absence of "naughtiness" which is, you might remember, your default state. The only really reliable way to be good is to stay very still and keep your mouth shut. When I was eight, neither of these things was easy at all.

The important thing isn't to be good, because you can't be good. It's not in your nature. The important thing is not to be found out.

It's difficult to convincingly say how devastating telling off and mockery can be. There's this notion of the Fragile Male Ego, which seems usually to refer to vanity - that men's vanity is easy hurt. Maybe, I couldn't say. I'm not sure that it's as easy as that. I can say that if you strip all the vanity down - realise in your heart of hearts that you are really just a dog squirming in the mud - the devastation remains. The thing about it is that telling off and mockery - on the one hand being told that you are bad and on the other that you don't deserve dignity, or that your dignity can be stripped from you at a moment's notice - are small control strategies that are used over and over from when you're very young. Like being tapped on the face, it's not abuse as such, but the repetition gives it a power rather greater than the actual violence committed.

OK. Especially problematic bit coming up:

The people who were doing most of that to my generation were our mothers and other women who were standing in for them in schools and so forth. The really weird thing about being brought up like that is that one ends up expending rather too much energy trying to win the approval of women. And if you can't get that approval - because you know you're really naughty deep in there - you can at least get their attention by performing badness ... nobody likes me, everybody hates me, going to the garden to eat worms. I know, awful, isn't it? Yet, there it lurks in my unconscious and I can't get rid of it.

I like women and enjoy their company. It happens that almost all my bosses and co-workers have been women (yay publishing). My unconscious still tells me that they despise me, and that I will be tolerated until I'm found out.

The best thing we could do, I think, is expend a certain amount of energy to find a way to get gender parity in child-care. In a lot of places men (and especially straight men) are not so much under-represented in pre-school and primary teaching as non-existent. Personally it's not a job I could do, as I don't like kids and they find me a bit scary, but I know a lot of men could do it, would enjoy it and would be good at it. Traditional structures separate men from children - especially working class men - and I think if some effort was put into making opportunities for them to work with children it would be much appreciated.

I often have a problem with people invoking "toxic masculinity" because there are some people who mean that there are elements of the expectations that our society has of men that are toxic and there are others who mean that masculinity is in itself toxic, and I don't think they've worked out that they don't mean quite the same thing yet.

To me, the place problems in masculinity gets discussed best is fiction, not politics or theory - the politics and theory are designed specifically (and perfectly understandably) with us as the other. Breaking Bad is awesome at it, though. The two things that resonated most strongly for me in that series were both Jesse Pinkman rather than Walter White - on the one hand his declaring after one of his fatuous therapy sessions "I accept myself for what I am - I'm a bad man" (going to the garden to eat worms); on the other, while shackled by the neo-nazis he escaped into a dream of craftsmanship. The whole series is about the emptiness of modern masculinity. The tragedy of most of the characters is that they are intelligent, capable, ambitious and compassionate. And that ends up in them spreading suffering and destruction. Breaking Bad is heartbreaking.
posted by Grangousier at 5:23 PM on August 16, 2015 [61 favorites]


Flagged as fantastic, Grangousier.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:51 PM on August 16, 2015


(I know there have been studies showing that parents start rejecting their sons' attempts at hugging and cuddling and such at much, much earlier ages than they do with their daughters, but I am coming up blank on search terms.)

This article touches on it:

The emotionally damaging “masculinization” of boys starts even before boyhood, in infancy. Psychologist Terry Real, in his 1998 book I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, highlights numerous studies which find that parents often unconsciously begin projecting a kind of innate “manliness”—and thus, a diminished need for comfort, protection and affection—onto baby boys as young as newborns. This, despite the fact that gendered behaviors are absent in babies; male infants actually behave in ways our society defines as “feminine.” As Real explains, “[l]ittle boys and little girls start off… equally emotional, expressive, and dependent, equally desirous of physical affection. At the youngest ages, both boys and girls are more like a stereotypical girl. If any differences exist, little boys are, in fact, slightly more sensitive and expressive than little girls. They cry more easily, seem more easily frustrated, appear more upset when a caregiver leaves the room.”

Yet both mothers and fathers imagine inherent sex-related differences between baby girls and boys. Even when researchers controlled for babies’ “weight, length, alertness, and strength,” parents overwhelmingly reported that baby girls were more delicate and “softer” than baby boys; they imagined baby boys to be bigger and generally “stronger.” When a group of 204 adults was shown video of the same baby crying and given differing information about the baby’s sex, they judged the “female” baby to be scared, while the “male” baby was described as “angry.”

Intuitively, these differences in perception create correlating differences in the kind of parental caregiving newborn boys receive. In the words of the researchers themselves, “it would seem reasonable to assume that a child who is thought to be afraid is held and cuddled more than a child who is thought to be angry.” That theory is bolstered by other studies Real cites, which consistently find that “from the moment of birth, boys are spoken to less than girls, comforted less, nurtured less.” To put it bluntly, we begin emotionally shortchanging boys right out of the gate, at the most vulnerable point in their lives.

posted by triggerfinger at 6:06 PM on August 16, 2015 [29 favorites]


Grangousier: "To me, the place problems in masculinity gets discussed best is fiction"

Yes, fiction! I keep thinking of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea here. Really much of Hemingway's work, actually, portrays the dark side of masculinity. (He also killed himself with a shotgun, so...) He's often called misogynistic, but I think that misses half the picture — his attitudes toward women seem to me the flip side of a haunting sense of masculine inadequacy. His characters must continually reaffirm their manliness because they're only as good as the last bullfight, the last boxing match, the last fish...
"I'll kill him though," he said. "In all his greatness and his glory."

Although it is unjust, he thought. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures.

"I told the boy I was a strange old man," he said.

"Now is when I must prove it."

The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it.
And this line takes on a new meaning:
“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but
not defeated.”
A man cannot be defeated, because defeat means he's no longer a man.

...aaaand I think I've posted research and talked about Hemingway here because I still find it difficult to discuss struggling with masculine norms without a certain amount of intellectual distance. I know in theory it's ok to admit to feelings, but it's hard to overcome a lifetime of socialization that says otherwise.
posted by Wemmick at 6:17 PM on August 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


The people who were doing most of that to my generation were our mothers and other women who were standing in for them in schools and so forth. The really weird thing about being brought up like that is that one ends up expending rather too much energy trying to win the approval of women.

This resonates for me, though in my case it wasn't being directly told off so much as coming of age in a particular corner of 1980s California where feminism was equated with open misandry. Constantly hearing (from my mother and her feminist-in-this-sense friends) how men are violent oppressors / incapable of empathy / the cause of all wars / bozos who can't even be trusted to pee straight, at a time when you're becoming conscious that you're shortly going to be turning into one of these creatures yourself, was, shall we say, not the best recipe for adolescent psychic health. In a way this is the opposite of the "be a man!" message this thread has been mostly about, but in another way the 'positive' and 'negative' stereotypes have a lot in common. I'm very glad that feminism has largely moved on from that.
posted by zeri at 6:18 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


My dad jumped off a bridge in 1999, and I think the reason was mostly related to the fact that he needed us (my mom, my sister, and me) more than we needed him. He was used to supporting the family and he couldn't admit he needed our support.

It's really devastating to think about the fact that he would be alive now if he was able to ask for and accept help. He always wanted to help other people before he did himself. At one point he spent 9 months in a rehab center and the whole time he befriended and assisted other people, without addressing his own stuff. I know he thought he didn't need help, that he was smarter than all of us.

The worst part of it all is that it worked - he was right. We are all very happy now. We did go through a few bad years, and I had a failed marriage that was definitely related to my relationship with my dad. But I was sitting with my mom, her long-term boyfriend, my sister, her husband, and their 3 kids this weekend, and I thought how wonderful our family is. It would have been a much more difficult 10 years if my dad stayed alive and stayed an addict. It's a horrible feeling to be a little thankful for how things worked out.
posted by elvissa at 6:22 PM on August 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Guys don't really have friendships with other guys. We have meetups where we LARP as bros.
posted by suckerpunch at 6:32 PM on August 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Possible subtitle: "Gendered Social Expectations Will Kill Us All".

I believe this is the only comment that I am qualified to make as a transgender, masculine person who is finding themselves bewildered with everyone's stories. I felt the same way reading the Emotional Labor thread. I feel like being transgender enables you to escape these social pressures because, for me at least, I have this awareness that some subset of society will never view me as the gender I am anyway so fuck their rules. (Or maybe it's just that it's too early in my transition for it to have caught up to me yet.)
posted by sevenofspades at 6:56 PM on August 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


I spent 20 years of my life, from age 8 to 28, dealing with extreme, crippling depression and daily thoughts of suicide (only a couple attempts, though). At times it was directly related to how much a failure I was as a man, and even though I am doing better now, I still think of myself as a pretty weak imitation of a man. I read this article and assumed it was about other guys, you know, masculine men, not guys like me.

So on the one hand, I read this thread and thought "wow, it sucks to be a man a lot of the time." But I know other people have it worse. I know there are brutal social expectations for women, queer folk, for people of color. I know, and I always knew, that I'm basically one of the least oppressed people in the history of the world - but it's really hard to conceive of that when you're in pain. I don't know how to unpack that, and I wish someone could tell me.

My experience with masculinity has been one of constant frustration: the years I spent judging myself based on how many women I've slept with, even though I knew better. The years that I had a scraggly beard because it was at least a tiny reminder that I have some testosterone in me somewhere. The friends and girlfriends who wanted me to "man up" when I was falling apart, who got all disappointed if I wasn't ambitious enough. All the times failed masculinity became a punchline, even by people I loved (I wear work shorts and read about woodworking, and sometimes I just feel like a joke for kidding myself into pretending I'm manly in some way).

It is undeniable that I was in agony for two decades, and I still feel guilty or overdramatic to phrase it that way. What I did I have to complain about? I know in a broad sense I can be just as much a part of the problem as other men - say, by all the times I turned women into a sexual currency by which to value myself. I'm not proud of thinking and behaving that way, but it's so pervasive that it's incredibly hard not to. And I know, that's not good enough, but neither was I.

I don't honestly know where the line between mental health and patriarchy is. I'd love to say my depression was the fault of the patriarchy, but I know I benefited from it even when it hurt me. I don't know how to wrap my head around that. I'll spend a lifetime continuing to learn how to understand other people, but if this thread has shown me anything, it's that plenty of men, myself included, clearly don't always understand themselves either. I appreciate the opportunity to work on that.
posted by teponaztli at 7:36 PM on August 16, 2015 [27 favorites]


I totally agree with schroedinger about female judgements. But I think we generally don't get judged on work because people don't necessarily have high standards or expectations of women's work and their advancement in the first place. I absolutely feel like I failed at life for not having a husband and kids. I don't even WANT kids, but it's a comparison thing you just can't get away from. But nobody ever expected me to be anything other than a clerical worker, so I don't exactly get "we're so disappointed in you" reactions to that. I'm good at writing and art and not STEM, so that's all I'm good for anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:42 PM on August 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have always been terrible at female friendship, and I feel massively judged for that-- by conventional-ish women, because I'm a weirdo, and by myself/alternative-ish women, because I am a bad feminist for not loving women and making female friends. (I actually TOTALLY love women, but I'm just missing the brain-parts that make female friendship make sense, apparently. I have a lot of sisters so I get most of my female companionship in that way.) A lot of straight women think I'm flirting with them, because I'm so male-socialized (apparently... ).

Anyway, my point being that men are punished for wanting deep friendships, and women are judged for not being GREAT at them. It's all really... weird.
posted by easter queen at 7:54 PM on August 16, 2015 [11 favorites]


TheophileEscargot: It's easy to say things like "women just need to choose to spend less time worrying about their appearance" or "men just need to be more open with their emotions". But people who say things like that generally haven't been dragged along the razor wire much."

God yes. For the last three months I've been involved in a messy and complicated job search that would let my partner and I move to a new city and let her pursue the career path she wants. I've been so utterly stressed about the whole thing that I ended up getting physically ill and had to take time off of work after almost bursting into tears in a staff meeting. When I came back to work I found that -- while it's somewhat socially acceptable for female coworkers to admit to stress and anxiety -- it's really not okay for guys to admit to any form of fragility at all, and so even my pretty progressive colleagues sort of went with the absurd pretence that I'd had the flu or something. As if I wasn't feeling pathetic enough already.

Then, once the facts about my job search started to leak out, I discovered that almost no-one (one or two awesome colleagues excepted) actually believed me when I said that I was leaving for my partner. It literally doesn't stick in their heads that a male colleague would be making major career decisions in order to follow his partner to a new city. Over and over again people suggested things like "but why not just do OptionThatWouldSuckForMyPartner instead?" It actually got to the point that I had to go through a completely superfluous process of demanding TotallyUnrealisticOption from senior management -- and quite rightly being rejected -- just so that I could illustrate that there isn't a better option for my partner and I here in our current city, and so that in future conversations I'll be able to use it as a way of explaining myself to others.

The more I think about it the more frustrated I feel about it. Everyone assumes that I put my career first, always, and are utterly unable to understand that my excitement about my new position is not better because it is better for me (I'm not sure that it is) but because the move is unequivocally better for her. This is a thing that does not compute, so if I want to do the right thing by my partner the best thing to do is hide it behind a false flag of ambitiousness so that everyone else can have an easier way of pigeonholing me. And so now I feel like a failure on that front too because REAL MAN would have done ... I don't know what. Something different than what I did, clearly.
posted by langtonsant at 8:00 PM on August 16, 2015 [43 favorites]


God, langtonsant, that is so obnoxious. How horrible that you're judged for being a supportive partner, because it makes you less worthy of respect. I'm sorry. :(
posted by easter queen at 8:07 PM on August 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


easter queen: "God, langtonsant, that is so obnoxious. How horrible that you're judged for being a supportive partner, because it makes you less worthy of respect. I'm sorry. :("

Well now I'm all emotional and a little teary, which is awfully embarrassing, but maybe that's not so bad! The affirmation of strangers on the internet is weirdly reassuring at times. Thanks, easter queen.

I guess reflecting on the whole saga, the thing that I find most sad is the way in which I've internalised these norms. It's almost comical how often I have to keep asking my partner to reassure me that her new job offer is what SHE really wants to do, because it keeps slipping out of my head. I continue to do exactly the same shitty thing that everyone else does, by evaluating the job hunt primarily in terms of whether it's a good career move for ME. (I mean, it probably is? It's a pretty neat job). But this is not the point and it's not really about me, and I keep forgetting that no matter how hard I try to stay focused on what matters most. I have this toxic worldview stuck in my head, and I can't seem to get rid of it even though it gives me nothing but grief.
posted by langtonsant at 8:28 PM on August 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


If you're a man and make little presents for your friends or organize regular adult parties (i.e. not keggers) or write thank-you cards you get taught from a young age that there is something unnatural about you.

I definitely see the thing about men not having as many adult friendships as women. Reminds me of my dad - though much less so of myself at this point in my life. But the above strikes me as a very particular (and unfamiliar to me) idea of what friendship entails. Because it's coded feminine, yes, but also because it's all so damned formal. It seems like as people get older and have jobs and kids at some point they start feeling like they need an excuse to see their friends, like it's a waste of time to just hang out and that sucks.
posted by atoxyl at 8:37 PM on August 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


But the above strikes me as a very particular (and unfamiliar to me) idea of what friendship entails.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but here is my impression of things that are OK and not OK for guy friendships:

OK
"Come over and let's have a beer"

Not OK
"Hi, I'm just calling to have a chat"
"This postcard made me think of you"
"Here's a birthday card for your kid, sorry I can't be there"
Plus the other examples I mentioned, and more.

The problem is there are a myriad number of legitimate reasons that two adult friends can't meet up to have a beer on a regular basis. That's where the examples I gave in a previous comment and the stuff in the "Not OK" category come in. They maintain that connection of friendship and let the other person know you're thinking of them during that period of indeterminate length when you can't actually see each other. And it seems like all that maintenance stuff--that emotional labor--is not currently considered to be something that "masculine" men do. That really puts limitations on one's social circle.
posted by schroedinger at 10:12 PM on August 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Except for some pockets of Neanderthals, I really don't think there's anything directed at women like the level of "conform or be cast out" pushback put on any man who dares opt for an alternative direction in their life.

Having lived as both a man and a woman, I can assure you that that is far from my experience. By all means, the pressures men face are fucking atrocious, but to say that the pressure to conform is greater than it is for women? Just not true. There is a narrower range of templates for men to conform to, but if you as a woman don't fit any of the somewhat more numerous options, then god help you.

You can see this in action in queer communities, often - there is a much greater variety of expression and personality represented by the men, and even in these groups, where everyone supposedly rejects societal norms and pressures, the women will broadly be performing an acceptable and much more uniform expression of identity and queerness. The men who are not like the other men are valued and included, even if viewed with suspicion. The women are excluded and ridiculed.
posted by Dysk at 3:06 AM on August 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


And it seems like all that maintenance stuff--that emotional labor--is not currently considered to be something that "masculine" men do. That really puts limitations on one's social circle.

I am super uncomfortable with how in some circles people think that men walking out on their families is just something that men do because "men are bastards". What these people don't realize is that it is completely unfair to indoctrinate a boy into not feeling anything except anger, not showing any emotions except anger in the form of aggression, and then blame them as men, when they are too emotionally crippled to even think about having a healthy and fulfilling emotional connection with those around them, including their children or their SOs.

And even if a few of the men who grow up in this kind of environment had by miracle a little desire left to form emotional connections after all this pressure, they would very likely not know how to do it, because emotional labor is not on the "how to parent tough boys"curriculum.
posted by Tarumba at 5:44 AM on August 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


I discovered that almost no-one (one or two awesome colleagues excepted) actually believed me when I said that I was leaving for my partner. It literally doesn't stick in their heads that a male colleague would be making major career decisions in order to follow his partner to a new city. Over and over again people suggested things like "but why not just do OptionThatWouldSuckForMyPartner instead?"

Fucking yes. I mean, my wife and I are both highly educated folks but I basically put my career on hold, to the point of it being nearly a sure thing that I will never get to use my engineering degree in a workplace setting since I've had to find other fields of work because geography, to allow her to progress through her PhD in the field she loves, psychology. It's obvious to us. The calculus worked like this: she loved what she was doing and was good at it while I became an engineer because it fit me and I was capable but not because I loved it necessarily, not like she loves the idea of helping sick people or kids via research or treatment.

So it was a no brainer because in our relationship we're equals, therefor her degree took priority and I, the male, took the back burner and turned down job offers to move to a location that had no job opportunities for my field instead of us continuing to do long-distance love as we had for the last half a decade and more. Cue failure, enter stage right.

Folks acted like they understood. Friends and family even. They said some of the right things. Maybe some of them even meant it or knew they should mean it.

But in nearly everyone I can recall, and said recall may not be perfect I admit that much, there was at the least a distinct pause and taken aback moment when I told them or they realized that I was giving up much of my prospects and instead catering to her education/career. For her masters, PhD, thesis, dissertation, internship, postdoc, everything, at each and every step there's the confused looks or fucking rude questions or just silence when it comes up. It even cut both ways when she came back from campus, coffee, dinner, or what have you with her colleagues and not just the male ones and mentioned how similarly confused or taken-aback those people were when she mentioned what I had done. Great, I'm a total fuckup for not shitting on my wife, even to the folks that are primarily her friends, this is about as no-win a situation as I can imagine.

Now I'm a work from home (thanks information technology proclivities, if not enthusiasm) primary caretaker dad, which I revel in despite similar interaction shittyness, in yet another city where folks will continue to look at me funny when I stroller my daughter into a park or store.

And even as I type this I feel horrible for doing so, I mean women have it so much worse in so many visible and invisible ways and I should just suck it up and shut up and realize how blessed I am to have a wife that's as awesome as she is and who, for the most part... because even she has backslide moments where she questions why I am where I am every so often and boy do they hurt, appreciates my situation and role in our relationship/life.

Venting doesn't even feel good, probably won't again, so yea, *cue budweiser great american hero intro* here's to you male-forever-oppressed-and-self-devaluing-figure, you make shitty beds for everyone else to lie in and then end it all because of how it impacts yourself. To everyone in the thread, don't kill yourself, which is the only and saddest input I can really offer. I know I won't ever reach that point because, as visualized by Dr. Joiner's Venn diagram of suicide risk that was linked above, I fear death way, way, way too much to ever accelerate its arrival.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:51 AM on August 17, 2015 [28 favorites]


The important thing isn't to be good, because you can't be good. It's not in your nature. The important thing is not to be found out. [...] The people who were doing most of that to my generation were our mothers and other women who were standing in for them in schools and so forth. The really weird thing about being brought up like that is that one ends up expending rather too much energy trying to win the approval of women.

God, I see this. I see it in so many men, yes, mostly in their late 30s and onwards; an almost automatic reaction to strong female presence, trying to impress and earn approval, and withdrawing into invisibility or fevered self-defensive excuses when detecting even a hint of criticism. Maybe it is changing with the times and the younger generations have experienced slightly more gender-varied caretakers while growing up (though probably not by much?).

There is a man in my life right now who is just like that, and I am at a loss. The accompanying lack of self-awareness about his own feelings and connections to other people makes any discussions really hard. So how can I help? How can I make it better? How do I interact with those of you who feel like this, to help you feel reassured and valued, but without taking upon myself the role of mother/teacher?
posted by Ender's Friend at 8:11 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bosom Buddies: A photo history of male affection. That men aren't this affectionate towards each other anymore seems to be a terrible loss.

So how can I help? How can I make it better? How do I interact with those of you who feel like this, to help you feel reassured and valued, but without taking upon myself the role of mother/teacher?

I an also wondering this. On the one hand, I am very cognizant of the issues of emotional labor as it applies to women but on the other hand, these stories from men break my heart and make me want to help, but I wonder if by doing so, I'm somehow feeding into a bad dynamic. It's really hard for me to tell.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:22 AM on August 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think to some degree the issue of loneliness is exacerbated by a modern era where everyone is expected to move a million times like some sort of modern day okie trying to find a scrap of work somewhere. The few close friends that men are allowed to have are childhood ones, and everyone moving means that those few groups are even more separated.
posted by Ferreous at 9:39 AM on August 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is a very interesting discussion, but I had to stop reading the comments at this one, in which save alive nothing that breatheth described a major motivation behind my husband's suicide. As a means of trying to get me to understand his desire to end his suffering, he kept telling me that our friends and my family would help me in his absence. He was right, but I still feel odd at what I call "cashing in on a dead man's karma." It's one thing to make money selling off electronics parts I'll never use, but it's another to have more than one person say it would be their honor to pay my hosting bill because of how much they respected Mr. Nerd and his work.
posted by luckynerd at 9:50 AM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am the wife of a man who was hurt -- I don't want to say "abused" because I don't know if he'd use that word, but I feel like if he did it would not be inappropriate -- by family expectations that he never, ever, ever say or think or feel anything negative growing up1. And I am the mother of a gentle son, a boy with big feelings and a small frustration tolerance, a boy whom everyone tells me is just like my husband as a child. I had already resolved to make emotional competency and expression a big plank of my parenting, even before I had kids, but this thread is making me realize the extent to which that is not just a parenting choice but a really serious matter, possibly literally life and death.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories, please keep sharing them. I am listening and learning.

1. The first time he ever cried around me, after we'd been dating for a couple of years, was after he confessed a whole series of perceived failures and fears and stresses around worse failures and said he was scared to even tell me these things, and I said "Oh, sweetie, no, I always want to hear these things! I am on your side! I am ALWAYS on your side."
posted by KathrynT at 10:00 AM on August 17, 2015 [23 favorites]


"Oh, sweetie, no, I always want to hear these things! I am on your side! I am ALWAYS on your side."

But you're not, that's the problem. Or at least, you can't really tell if you are. As you can see from the above comments, even friends and families who are well-meaning and think they want to help end up, maybe unconsciously, reinforcing the traditional masculine gender norms.

Like those above, I've also been bit by girlfriends and friends who I've opened up to and they've told me that's great but later did or said things which made clear that my attempts at opening up had harmed my status as a "real man" in their eyes, that I was weak and incapable.

Maybe you think you really mean it, but after a few of these experiences you learn not to even try. It's always a trap.

As has been said over and over, these are societal norms that are ingrained into us from birth at a bone-deep level. You can't just consciously say you're turning those off, they're always going to be there, informing your actions and thoughts even if you don't perceive it.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:46 AM on August 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


So how can I help? How can I make it better? How do I interact with those of you who feel like this, to help you feel reassured and valued, but without taking upon myself the role of mother/teacher?

One of the issues is that if a person doesn't know something, someone has to teach them or at least point out their ignorance, so they can teach themselves or go find a teacher.

How that's handled comes down the individual and the relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:59 AM on August 17, 2015


So, haven't read the whole thing or the the thread yet.

But two things that crop up:
1. The article says: "In Japanese and Korean the word for ‘human being’ translates as ‘human between’. The sense of self is looser in Asia than in the West, and more absorbent. It expands to include the various groups an individual is a member of. This brings a profound sense of responsibility for others that stirs deeply in those who feel suicidal."

I'm wondering what their basis for that is? The word for 'human' that I'd always heard is '인간', which doesn't really have that translation of 'human between' that I know of, unless it's etymological or something I'm completely missing? But, I mean, I wouldn't want to get in the way of some nice exoticism about East Asia.

2. Suicide is a pretty big problem in S Korea, sure. One theory I've heard which I don't put too much credence on is that the persistence of the myth of fan death is there as a collective polite fiction for all those who choose to opt out.
posted by qcubed at 11:36 AM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


@Sangermaine

I think you might be right. It seems that the total value and definition of a man is what he can provide to others, both as a friend and a mate. Once that man "needs" something, his value is compromised no matter how well intentioned we might be.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:38 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


That sounds a lot like what women deal with, though (they must give give give and never need). Could the unifying theory be that women are forced to be selfless givers to men, because men can't be seen to be "needing"-- but women can let their guard down with other women in a way men can't? Is the whole burden that is placed on women to conform ourselves to narrower and narrower physical and emotional specifications a way of guarding the admission of male need? Like, if society/men as a group demand women get smaller and smaller and smaller and give more and more and more, without question-- then men won't need to "need," and they can instead freely take, which is masculine? Like, the definition of masculinity is bulletproof self-sufficiency, and the definition of femininity is catering to that illusion? And men reinforce the bonds on women due to fear, and women often embrace "traditional" masculinity for the same reason? (See: every Ayn Rand novel... )

Women get a break, in that we can let our guard down with other women-- though we're also deprived of any tangible reward for our hard work, and harshly punished if we deviate from the script. Men, on the other hand, can reap ample professional and financial rewards (and frankly use/abuse women to their pleasure) but they have nowhere to turn when they can't support the illusion of potency any longer.

Just throwing things out there, though...
posted by easter queen at 11:53 AM on August 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


addendum to my previous comment: i actually brought this up with one of my friends -- a woman who is very progressive, queer, etc -- and was briefly very expository about my situation and feelings, and she just... literally said "hmm" and started talking about her lunch. i'm actually really hurt by this, and it's caused me to abandon bringing it up with a friend that i'm much closer with.

man, this sucks.
posted by p3on at 11:53 AM on August 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


OK
"Come over and let's have a beer"

Not OK
"Hi, I'm just calling to have a chat"
"This postcard made me think of you"
"Here's a birthday card for your kid, sorry I can't be there"
Plus the other examples I mentioned, and more.


I think technology has changed things a little bit? Neither I nor my close friends (guys in our mid-20s) would literally do any of the things on the second list, but we would certainly text/message via whatever "hey what's up have you seen this? I think you'd like it." I dunno I have, somewhat unusually, a set of close friends I've known since I was a kid and will probably be in touch with throughout my life. Everybody else comes and goes, even if I spent a lot of time with them at some point - but if I wanted to contact them I could whenever really, because you can do that now. And my S.O.'s interaction with her different friend groups is actually fairly similar. Whereas my dad will... talk to family members on the phone, and see his friends (who are mostly people he's worked with) only at work or when my mom arranges dinner or something.
posted by atoxyl at 11:54 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


p3on, something you learn in the feminist trenches is that people really need context to discuss these kinds of issues, and they won't always relate on a personal level. It does definitely sting (it's been the product of a lot of frustration over feminism threads/etc. on Metafilter) but you might have better luck with a closer friend (who you might want to show the link in the FPP first).

I have also "hmm"-ed my way out of many personal conversations with male friends because we spend 80% of our friendship talking about their deep feelings and about 20% doing shared activities and literally none talking about any of my personal needs, wants, or feelings. (Even when the men are feminist and interested in talking about feminism, if it becomes personal, they're "hmm"-ing their way out too.) Your friend might have thought "oh boy, this sounds heavy" and noped out, because she's dealing with a lot of emotional burdens in her life.

It does suck, but maybe the suckiness isn't as bad in context. I hope you're able to explore these things with someone in your life.
posted by easter queen at 12:03 PM on August 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


You know, even reading the comments on this story is telling of the precarious position men are placed in.

Story: "Here's how men are hurting, outside of the context of gender dynamics and as a topic wholly in itself."
Response: "Hmm, that's nice but what matters is how women are the ones really hurting."

Even the discussion of male vulnerability and suicide is met with disbelief, derision, and accusation. I can't imagine having the courage to actually expose oneself to that.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:03 PM on August 17, 2015 [17 favorites]


Well, some people call that intersectionality. I don't think there can be a healthy conversation about men or women's plight without taking into consideration how it intersects with other oppressions. Feminism needed an intersectionality wake up call (well, it needs an ongoing one), so a serious discussion of masculinity is in the same position.

Plus, women are used to pushing back to the idea that their suffering is less serious, for good reason. There's an ongoing joke about how women are too weak/silly to even kill themselves properly, just want attention, etc.

PS: None of this is outside of the context of gender dynamics. It's very definitely inside it. Masculinity/maleness is a gender.
posted by easter queen at 12:05 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Triggerfinder, those pictures break my heart a little.

I know my husband is seriously struggling to find male friends who can connect with him beyond the usual sports/tv/music talk, and those photos make me grieve for the friendships he could have had were it not for homophobia and the terrible emotional regulations we impose on boys and men.

I (his wife) can be his friend as much as I want to, but nothing will replace the friendship and understanding a male friend could bring to him. As close are we are, there are many subjects that I just don't get; or that he is not comfortable sharing with me, being his wife (conflict of interests), or being a woman who might judge him for his weakness (even if this were not completely the case, it's a valid concern he has learned to have when interacting with women).

We have talked about starting a sort of male friendship club, but I am not sure if he will do it, and honestly I can't blame him if he doesn't. The manliness police can be assholes in his circle of acquaintances.
posted by Tarumba at 12:06 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, some people call that intersectionality. I don't think there can be a healthy conversation about men or women's plight without taking into consideration how it intersects with other oppressions.

Eh...it does come across as kind of a "what about the women" thing, which is an odd place to be. I was pretty disheartened to see schroedinger's first comment or the first few that followed it, because I feel like this topic is often dismissed as the gender equivalent of "first world problems" or laughed at.

It's nice that the thread didn't go that direction and managed to stick to the topic at hand.

I was also enraged and sickened by oneswellfoop's comment above, especially the "And Suicide is a great way to pass Emotional Labor to others, which may be why so many women's attempts seem 'half-hearted'" part. I hope I'm reading it and the rest of that comment wrong, but it really comes across as "men who commit suicide are pussies", which exactly the traditional view.

I can still see clearly the day when I was 16 and found my 14 year old brother lying on the floor of his bedroom after attempting to kill himself with pills. We managed to get him to a hospital in time, thank God, but comments like oneswellfoop's repulse me and I feel like a comment like that would never be allowed to stand in a thread on women's suicides.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:12 PM on August 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


I too hope this thread can remain on the topic of male experiences growing up or living with the oppressing stereotypes. Quite frankly, putting aside all ideology, it really is immensely important that men do speak up about those things and tell their stories. I want to hear them, I want to keep hearing them, because I can't hear them anywhere in the real world. And I care abut all this - about you! - and want it to change, because it is such a goddamn waste of human life - even in those who do not choose the final solution.

Intersectionality is great, and provides an important perspective on many issues, but I think that first we must first collect some data to even have something to apply intersectionality to. Intersectionality is like the next step in research - a lab analysis, while at the moment we're still out doing fieldwork and collecting accounts from people most directly affected.
posted by Ender's Friend at 12:27 PM on August 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't know-- a lot of horrifying comments have been left standing in feminist threads. But I take your point.

"What about the women" is a bit of a cheap shot, I think. That phrase was coined because so many online discussions about feminism have been historically completely derailed by a shift in focus. As you say, this thread has been pretty on topic, and I think a discussion of how women/feminism fit in is not the main focus but is definitely necessary to intersectionality. There is no responsible feminism that does not address racism (against men and women), homophobia (against men and women), etc.; I don't see how there could be a responsible male-oriented healing that does not address feminism/women. It's a heavy burden to heal thyself while worrying about others but it has been the task of feminism for a long time and I don't know if there's another way to do it. I think that feminism that doesn't consider these issues around masculinity/maleness has a fatal gap as well (though obviously feminism has a lot of political goals and being highly focused in message is often expedient).

Personally, I think this discussion is a great read for me, as a woman, after the emotional labor thread. The EL thread made me (rightfully!) angry about the time and energy I have wasted and the healing I have sacrificed for others who couldn't repay the favor. But coming in to this thread and reading stories from men has reminded me that we're all in this together, and most of the things I'm angry at have caused suffering in the men I know as well. It has really made me think about how to model behavior for a future generation and it has curtailed a lot of my anger, and I think it will make me more thoughtful in relating to the men in my life.

I'm actually going to step out because I have made a few comments about women's place in this horrible issue and I think that's enough, but I think most people here have treated the topic of suicide with the gravity it deserves, and using hard-won rhetoric and tactics from feminist discourse against women is kind of misplaced. But thanks everyone for sharing, this has been really interesting.

Quite frankly, putting aside all ideology

I think that's part of the issue-- there is no putting aside ideology. Feminism isn't any more ideological than the defense of male dignity. It all works together; that's the nature of intersectionality. It can never be a "second step," though I acknowledge what you say about data-gathering, and agree that this discussion is fairly preliminary(!). But better to consider our thoughts and desire for action as early as possible; feminism made great strides before taking e.g. racism more seriously, but it also did a lot of harm and left a lot of women behind.
posted by easter queen at 12:28 PM on August 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


Your friend might have thought "oh boy, this sounds heavy" and noped out, because she's dealing with a lot of emotional burdens in her life.

yeah, i mean that's fair enough and i don't hold it against her, it just sort of highlighted to me the very few venues i've allowed myself to be open with people are perhaps less receptive to me being open than i had hoped. i know that's not anyone else's fault. i'm glad to at least have the opportunity to explore this with sympathetic pseudonyms. i won't be bringing it up with the closer friend because it would cost far too much to me as a relationship were it to go poorly, so i'm just leaving that door closed.
posted by p3on at 12:31 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I totally get it, p3on. My meaning was just that receptivity is work in itself-- which makes it all the more valuable when people do offer it up.

Now I'm going to hush up-- thanks for talking with me respectfully and I'll still be here reading whatever people choose to share.
posted by easter queen at 12:32 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


As you say, this thread has been pretty on topic, and I think a discussion of how women/feminism fit in is not the main focus but is definitely necessary to intersectionality.

Pretty sure intersectionality isn't the topic or point here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:33 PM on August 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Pretty sure intersectionality isn't the topic or point here.

isn't that the point of intersectionality, though? it's like water -- it pervades every topic because everything is intersectional. nothing exists in a vacuum, and it can be helpful to understand how things relate to one another in order to gain better understandings of those discrete things.
posted by p3on at 12:43 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


it's like water -- it pervades every topic

You don't see too many adherents of Thales around these days.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:53 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The existence of greater crimes does not excuse lesser crimes" is something that feminists retort with when people start saying things like "why is catcalling such a big deal, women are stoned in Saudi Arabia?" I think we could do well to keep that in mind on this thread, which I think is going quite well, attempted derails notwithstanding.

Forgive me if this is more of a MetaTalk comment, but I feel that MetaFilter truly does promote an unhealthy and unrealistic image of men. Like, we're all just a bunch of big-dick-swingin' all-powerful brutes for whom the world is our oyster by virtue of our "privilege". I know the goal is to knock us down a peg so that we can be more equal to women but I'm not sure this is productive behavior. You know how women on MeFi often complain that men talk over them? Guess what--they do that to other men that they consider inferior (or not as "alpha") too! And it sucks. So don't think we don't know how hurtful and demeaning that shit feels and that we don't experience it ourselves.

Ok, I'm rambling again so I'll stop here. Thank you everybody for participating in this thread.
posted by DrAmerica at 1:14 PM on August 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


An honest conversation with another man is often just one personal, open-ended question away. You might be surprised by who will speak candidly about their life and offer support to you.
posted by michaelh at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Various observations, in no particular order:

-There's a scene in Black Hawk down that stuck with through all these years. A group of soldiers have returned to base. One kisses another on his forehead and hugs. It was just such an odd behavior to see in American men and it was shame it's the sort of thing that could only happen in the context of combat, even in somewhat fictional film.

-On Apollo 11, after the guys on the Moon returned to the command module, Mike Collins, who had been circling the Moon, felt the urge to kiss Buzz Aldrin on the head when he first saw after they returned to orbit from the successful Moon landing. But he thought better of it, fearing how it would be perceived or interpreted. Collins was test pilot and astronaut for god's sake, yet such a simple expression of joy at making history was a risky move for him, as a man.

-One of the big things about manhood is that of you're found lacking, you can be challenged by other men with results ranging from loss of social rank, mockery or outright beatings. It many ways, you can't let your guard down, because otherwise you're a target. It can be particularly brutal if you let your guard down with loved one and they think less of you for it.

-In the modern western world, most women don't need men to be provider, they're capable of getting a job and providing for themselves. Yet the social pressure of being provider is still there for men and it's probably a weird pressure for heterosexual women, as they'd liked to have a mate, but defining where the boundaries are can be an ever shifting challenge.

-All of this is a helluva of mess.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:36 PM on August 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. One "this is sort of Metatalky but..." comment and then out is sort of marginally okay, but coming back again to and-another-thing it is really not a workable thing to do. If you want to actually have a Metatalk discussion, that's okay but it's gotta happen over there.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:37 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Male lives matter.
posted by effugas at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


-One of the big things about manhood is that of you're found lacking, you can be challenged by other men with results ranging from loss of social rank, mockery or outright beatings. It many ways, you can't let your guard down, because otherwise you're a target. It can be particularly brutal if you let your guard down with loved one and they think less of you for it.

Thank you.

Just in general, I was wondering when homophobia and transphobia (not always by men) were going to make it into the picture.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:25 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


The utility argument's interesting--that men seem to find value in how much they're needed--because that does seem to dovetail deeply into a lot of MRA rhetoric, which views men as the "disposable" gender.

I'll be honest, that's about as much as I know, because I find most MRA rhetoric vile, and I usually can't bring myself for a deeper dive, but if we take it at face value, it does provide a reason why so many desperate men get suckered into a deeply misogynistic mindset--it transmutes the self-hate to an other-hate.

But that's just armchair speculation. I never viewed the darkness through the lens of masculinity; the whole lack of self-worth, burdensomeness, and failure stemmed not from an inability to provide "as a man should", but an inability to do what "a good child should". That is to say, what I went through had more in kind with what many other 2nd-gens go through instead of what unsettled men go through.
posted by qcubed at 2:37 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


But you're not, that's the problem. Or at least, you can't really tell if you are. As you can see from the above comments, even friends and families who are well-meaning and think they want to help end up, maybe unconsciously, reinforcing the traditional masculine gender norms.

My first reaction to this was defensive. My second was to realize that this isn't something that can be defended against. My third reaction was to realize that this isn't something that needs to be defended against, because it isn't an attack, it's a statement of reality. And that fucking sucks.

I won't talk more about my feelings, because my feelings aren't the point here. But guys, I am reading, and I am interested. I have to be! As a (pretty vigorous and outspoken) feminist, I feel like I have a good handle on how to address shitty gendernormative patriarchy crap with my daughter. But my son? My kind, brilliant, relentlessly active, wide-eyed, gentle son, whose feelings flow so close to the surface that he can be delighted by the discovery of Romanesco broccoli at the grocery store and frustrated to screaming by his inability to stick licorice together end-to-end? How do I stop the world from grinding him down?!
posted by KathrynT at 2:55 PM on August 17, 2015 [24 favorites]




Men typically have fewer close friendships and get most of their emotional support from their partners.

I spent last weekend with my oldest and dearest BFF and his husband, who were in town on business. At some point my friend mentioned that they have a friend who was going through some stuff so they offered him their guest house, free of charge. Then he tells me that the friend is actually doing okay now but they like having him live there simply because neither had been able to maintain long-term male friendships. And the reason this came up is because my friend asked for the contact information for a mutual friend that I hadn't seen in 30 years until we were reunited at my friends' wedding exactly a year ago last weekend.

I brought up a few things I'd read in the Emotional Labor thread that touched on this and you could see the light bulbs switching on but I'm not sure how comforting it really was.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hrm, on further reflection, I think what I was trying to get at with the "inability to provide as a man" was in some ways its similarities with the "inability to do as a good child". I'm not sure how strong it is, and how much of it is actually a factor of depression as opposed to society expectations that drive it--but the whole echoing of worthlessness, failure, and egregious waste of precious, limited resources... every point described was there, albeit from different roots.

Until these articles/comments, I'd always chalked it up to twisted Confucian beliefs, allowed to run rampant like an unkept bonsai, but now I'm wondering how much of it may have been linked to masculinity--being a son, and the eldest, no less? Even if my connection with masculinity in general feels attenuated at best, and, to be honest, the recent spate of articles re: 2nd gen Asians have described a lot of similarities, but not limited to one particular gender.
posted by qcubed at 3:12 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


And even as I type this I feel horrible for doing so, I mean women have it so much worse in so many visible and invisible ways

Yikes, no, please, don’t feel like that, at least personally, speaking only for myself, and speaking very frankly, if any kind of feminism or perception of it ends up having this effect, it’s a kind I’d rather do without. I’d really hate it if all the increasing awareness and progress about social issues, from sexism and racism and all kinds of stereotypes and prejudices etc., that we’ve had through the past decades turned into a sort of zero-sum game where you end up thinking that there’s always some socio-economic-demographic group that typically faces more discrimination/less advantages than you (not a fan of the word "oppressed") so... you’d better shut up.

Otherwise we all end up tiptoeing around each other and before you know it you have the modern equivalent of "eat your dinner, there’s children starving in Africa", which is really not that fair or useful to anyone.

Especially when the topic is mental health, because individual pain and suffering is always completely legitimate, without needing any justification from the outside, or any comparison.

And there are, clearly, demonstrated by figures and research, extra pressures that men do face, as men, when dealing with depression and mental health issues, pressures that are similar in some respects - we are all human beings, really, I sure hope we never lose sight of that in all this talk about gender - but also in many other respects different from the ones women have, and the higher rate of suicide among men deserves its own focus, its own academic research, its own attention in terms of health services, its own open and free discussion.

One of the risks of depression, and especially of severe depression leading to suicidal thoughts, is precisely not seeking help because of this idea that you supposedly have it better than others... or that you can’t possibly even complain, because you’re supposed to be having it good enough or better compared to x, y, z all the way to starving children.

Depression can hit you hard whether you’re a billionaire or a factory worker, whether you’re a marketing manager or a single parent on benefits, whether you’re a war refugee or a famous Hollywood actor. It’s a complex interaction of nature and nurture, genetics and life events, etc. If you’re depressed, the worst crime you can commit is feel guilty for being depressed. Sure, the amount of money you have will have a huge impact on many things in life, including the kind of mental health services you can turn to, but that’s assuming you do intend to seek help in the first place. So there’s a point, in severe suicidal depression, where it almost makes no difference really. As has been proven by celebrity cases.

The article in this post was an interesting starting point, and I personally am interested in hearing and reading more about the specific difficulties men face, when dealing with severe depression, and also, specifically, why men are more affected during times of economic crisis. More men have been killing themselves since 2008, at a higher rate than women, all other things being equal. Across a lot of different societies and cultures, from the US to Greece, with varying degrees of gender equality, evidently men feel a higher pressure, and a higher sense of worthlessness, when the financial context is more difficult.

Realistically, maybe a more useful approach is not just being aware of gender stereotypes, but also more awareness itself of these huge economic factors and pressures and trends, and in which specific ways they affect men, and the need of maybe having another system of values other than economic worth and achievements. It won’t be an insurance against the worst depression, but it can help. Depression strikes individuals of any age and group and gender, it is very personal, but it is also not just something happening in a vacuum. Especially the way it is dealt with, the consequences it can lead to, concern all of society.

And, maybe, based on the research, mental health services need to do more to address men specifically, too, where that has been ascertained as a problem – the access to services and encouragement to access services, to break down the barriers to seeking help, with no shame or reticence.
posted by bitteschoen at 3:14 PM on August 17, 2015 [23 favorites]


To be perfectly honest, the only people I trust unconditionally not to freak or be creepy regarding my queerness, non-masculinity, and associated problems are my dad and my partner. That's likely an unfair prejudice and paranoia based on the fact that some key people in my life flipped their shit or became appropriative in creepy ways. I am struggling to come out and trust more broadly.

And I've learned the hard way that what a person says by the light of day, and what a person says at 3:00 am are often very different.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:34 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was wondering when homophobia and transphobia (not always by men) were going to make it into the picture.

For me, homophobia (and probably transphobia, although I've spent less time thinking about it) falls naturally out of the same pattern of masculinity we're talking about here. It's common ingroup vs outgroup behaviour that the groups distance themselves by assigning themselves and each other traits/behaviours/roles that are in opposition to each other. "We're different from and better than that group because we do X while they do Y. I'm a real member of our group because I do X more and harder than anyone else." Of course, a powerful way to secure your position in the group is to police others' adherence to the roles. Hence all the men -- even those who realise that they're suffering from the effects of toxic masculinity, 'though I doubt many would call it that -- who try to reclaim safe ground by denigrating, mocking or beating up men who are insufficiently interested in sports, DIY, display inappropriate (girly) emotions, etc. etc.* (And, generally, don't have a good reception for women exhibiting masculine behaviours: even though the behaviours are viewed as superior to feminine-coded ones, they're badly tarnished by the fact that the woman is stepping outside her expected role and blurring the lines of group identity. They're more likely to accept her as "one of the boys" and expect her adherence to the whole masculine performance than as a woman who's good at welding, because in a weird way it preserves the norms and boundaries of the group.)

If the biggest difference between men and women in that model of masuclinity is who they want to have sex with, then it follows that homosexuality is the biggest possible betrayal of the in-group behaviour and must be hated -- and be seen to be hated -- accordingly. It's not hard to build an argument within this model that trans people, who're also performing a massive rejection of their assigned in-group roles, would need to be punished -- and be seen to be punished -- similarly. To me, this framing clearly explains why those hatreds arise and why specifically public attacks of LGBTQ people are such a great bonding / status-granting activity for the people involved.

...My theorising aside, I would be very interested to hear more gay guys' and trans guys' takes on the whole area. As a cis, mostly straight guy (I'd say 75%-95% straight, depending on the day or direction of the wind or whatever) who's straight-passing unless I'm certain I'm around a friendly crowd, I don't have a good insight to that end of the experience.

*It probably goes without saying that I assume there's similar policing of femininity and can think of several possible examples offhand, including from the emotional labour thread, but am less well placed to write about it.
posted by metaBugs at 3:38 PM on August 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Pretty sure intersectionality isn't the topic or point here.

I brought up intersectionality in my own story (now long buried) because it has, in the past, weighed heavily on my desire to be a reasonable, sensitive man. I was raised by my sister and mother, and the majority of my friends in high school were girls. My self-perceived value as a man has always been directly tied to, among other things, my ability to rise above the harmful things men do on as a group. I think that's every bit as significant as my male friendships, because it's a huge part of how I've always defined myself. The ways that I've failed to do that, or failed to consider my own privilege, therefore have a negative impact.

The first comment in this thread was a reminder that other people have it worse than me. It's a source of pain when you feel like you can't own up to how miserable you've been, because you feel too selfish for not thinking of others enough. It's been a real challenge with me as I've tried to do everything right and be one of the good guys, and still feel like that's not enough. Women are a huge part of my social life today, and how I interact with them is every bit as important to me as how I interact with men. I don't want this conversation to be centered solely on male-male friendships, because there aren't a whole lot of opportunities to express the kind of hurt and frustration I'm talking about here.
posted by teponaztli at 3:40 PM on August 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Please, talk about this stuff before it becomes a crisis. You have to stand up for other men before you find yourself desperate for attention and affection and validation. Getting these kinds of attentions from one person in your life (usually a partner) is not generally sustainable.

Men. Changing this landscape is possible. It has to be done early, often, and consistently. You (and us, as women) can't wait until you need a new scene to take action. And we can't just paint the boards and move them around the stage.

A relatively new theory of suicide is the Interpersonal Theory,.

I have been involved in some discussions of suicide here on Metafilter.

When we were having the big enormous Emotional Labor thread, many of us were trying to make it clear that this is what the birthday cards and bringing casseroles is about. This is what baby registry gifts and homemade cookies do. Women don't just do these things as a sort of show of superiority. These gestures build, reaffirm, and solidify our places in a social world where we are needed, recognized, and loved, and where we show that we need, recognize, and love those around us. It is established science that men who are widowed generally don't live as long (or as healthily) as their female widow counterparts. The stress responses of disconnection are real and tangible. As social creatures we need not only to receive these gifts, but also to give them.

This is why I constantly beg people to do better. I find a space for myself in this world as a person who nudges people into tiny changes for the greater social good. Is it working? I sure as hell hope so.

It's a hard topic. It definitely affects different people in different ways. There is no need for me to tell the story of my brother here. We all have a story like this. Sadly, if you don't yet, the odds are good that you will. Or that you have one and you don't know it.

One of the things that has not been addressed here in this thread is this Interpersonal Theory of suicide. There has been some touching on feeling like a burden, and a lot of discussion of feelings of disconnection, being unsuccessful in life/shame for having emotions/otherwise feeling that people don't know or want to know you/a feeling that one is performing gender incorrectly. Being unafraid to die is really a critical component that is hard to discuss. I would posit that it's not a total lack of fear, but rather that other fears loom larger and overwhelm the survival instinct. And what is often reported by survivors is that after beginning an attempt, the fear of dying returns, or the feeling of connection returns, or the sense of being a burden is lifted when one remembers a contribution that could be made to the lives of others. Being afraid to die includes being afraid of someone finding your body, or having to plan your funeral, or having to explain your death. Women are trained in that. Women are trained to make it clean. It's not accident that the suicide rate for members of our armed services is...high. These men and women are trained to be unafraid to die. These men and women also tend to return to civilian life with a distorted sense of connection and purpose.

Make those connections ahead of time. Build those relationships that encourage those you love to feel wanted, loved, and respected. Teach your loved ones that they can call you to talk about difficult things. Do this for children, do this for teenagers, do this for adults. Do this for yourselves. And importantly, do this for the people in your lives who are already doing this. Spread this emotional labor out so that the people who already have lots of practice at it don't get burnt out. Do this before people ask you to. Do this before someone makes an attempt.

And like I ask so many people about other social issues. Don't accept casual joking about this topic anymore. You never know who in the locker room is considering an attempt. You never know who has lost a loved one to suicide. You never know who has already attempted. You never know when you might find yourself considering it.

Let's stop standing around wringing our hands grieving that we don't know how this happens. Because there is some pretty good research into how this happens. And as they say, many hands make light work. The more often each of us reaches out, the less likely any of us is to be the only source of support for someone who is struggling. The earlier you get the contact information for hotlines, the easier it is for you to refer a friend/colleague/total stranger on a bridge to them. And the readily you will dial that number for yourself in a time of need.
posted by bilabial at 3:46 PM on August 17, 2015 [13 favorites]




Ah yes, there it is. Being a man means having only one emotion, anger. "No whining, no complaining, and no crying." I hate that trope with an incandescent fury. The lack of allowed emotional range is horrific and soul-destroying, and I hate hate hate it. I used to have the capacity to respond to the whole "be a man" thing in a more nuanced way, but that's long gone: rage is all I have left on this topic. Which is pretty funny given the context. Just not haha funny.
posted by langtonsant at 4:57 PM on August 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I also wonder about my (millennial) generation. It seems as if in the circles I move, many of us are much better at maintaining friendships, though I'll admit that my friendships with (straight) men have a different tenor than those I have with women.

There is more openness, but there's also a limit that almost never seems to be breached. Hints at deeper issues, and fears, and dreams appear, but vanish like mirages, while with the queer men I have friendships with, they're a lot more visible.

With social networking being omnipresent, even if we don't use things like Facebook and Twitter, IMs and texts provide a lot more mediated closeness; there's the protection of the screen, but async conversations that take place, that drop in and drop out, allow for at least some discussion.

Maybe that's the benefit of it--lowering the costs or stakes of emotional labor for some subset of men?
posted by qcubed at 5:11 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I spent all day yesterday, on and off, writing a couple of hundred words about this but they ended up coming across as a fairly obtuse justification for suicide which I figure wouldn't go over here (or, well, anywhere but my nonexistent teenaged 'zine, pick up a copy on your way out!)

But if suicides' the subject of the thread, wow, 8x. That did my head in, for some reason. And, I don't feel qualified to really talk about it, 'cos I've never done it, probably won't.

However. What I wanted to say, and still want to, is… I doubt that this will turn into the male emotional labor thread, because guys can't talk about it. I don't mean because we're inarticulate brutes, although isn't it pretty to think so. Neither because we can't trust anyone no matter how feminist or cool they seem, not to turn on us for it later on.

It's more that, you know, shut up and deal. We didn't talk our way into this, and we're not going to talk our way out. (We're still playing cards here, right?) If what I need is more cards, then more words won't help.

That's why I deleted so many words yesterday (and it's not too late to delete these yet!) Because what am I doing but talking and where am I but the internet and it's which is basically made of words .

If you have needs that aren't being met, then maybe talking about it will help, maybe it won't. Sometimes it's definitely the latter, and you can't tell me it isn't.

I'm not trying to get all mystficatory about masculinity and where the line can be drawn where you've basically not got enough- of whatever - to get on with. Especially since I'm obviously not there- I mean, I think I've seen it. But, being alive, I have no right to the authority of the dead, so you can easily discount all this as the babbling of some old punk who's still alive.

I don't think you should though, though I don't know that it gives you anything you can work with, If there's stuff that words can't get to, well, I can't easily tell you about that or prove it exists, right.

I don't know, hug your kids or your SO, work for economic justice, keep living, it's fine. But, you know, I understand if it isn't.

Fuck. This is all still coming across as some kinda "me Hemingwayian tough guy, too terse for adverbs", "I'm sure a good cry would straighten him out," "dude should man up and have proper emotions" kinda thing. Which is not at all the deal, here. But I don't know how to fix that, so
posted by hap_hazard at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I guess "Real Men cry" isn't any better than "Real Men don't cry"
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:35 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't have very many male friends, because I've lost so many to suicide.

My kind, brilliant, relentlessly active, wide-eyed, gentle son, ... How do I stop the world from grinding him down?!

To an extent, you probably can't, but one thing you can do is try to keep the communication open.

As a quiet, shy and intelligent child, I had internalised enough negative feedback [from peers, but particularly from teachers] by the time I was around ten that I stopped talking to my parents about anything that happened at school in case I got in more trouble.

As a result my parents had no idea how bad the bullying was getting while I was in high school - until I ended up in hospital.

Make sure your son knows that you're on his side unconditionally, and that if he talks to you about emotional, verbal, or physical bullying, you won't ever blame him for what's going on.

However if there's a way to protect him from women who want him to simultaneously "be more emotional" and "be a real man", then I don't know what it is.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:20 PM on August 17, 2015 [15 favorites]


I know the goal is to knock us down a peg so that we can be more equal to women

Umm, so, like, no. No. Nonononononononononono. NO. The goal is to level the playing field, which means bringing women UP, and addressing the behaviours and mechanisms that keep women down. Some of these happen to be enacted by men, of course, so there's that, but it's a far cry from 'we gotta take these men down a peg so they can have a shitty life like us'.



I guess "Real Men cry" isn't any better than "Real Men don't cry"

Real Men are a myth. There's just men, regardless of whether or not they cry (or how they dress, who they love, etc, etc.) Shame society more broadly hasn't worked this out yet.
posted by Dysk at 1:38 AM on August 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


For no apparent reason in the middle of a random July, all the terrible bleak awfulness that has anguished me all my life and that I have never understood, though I've read reams of essays about it, started to get explained. People kept saying more and more revelatory things and after a while it seemed like we were all fireflies, flashing and flashing, and it was still the middle of the night but we could see and it was like a miracle. This thread is another one. Flash, flash, flash, again and again, more of what ails me and mine is emerging from the black so that I can see it and understand it, one terrible little piece at a time, and what was bleak and inexplicable is now merely bleak, and maybe, god, who knows, probably not but maybe something can be done about it. It's more than I ever thought possible that finally I can see it, and that is thanks to everyone here. I love this website. It's the best thing. You people who have posted about your misery, you should know you have brought huge and unexpected comfort. Now I know I and my dearest ones are not alone in this, writhing around all our lives trying to figure out how to survive in this huge, cruel vise. You have no idea what a relief it is to read what you've written. It is helping me, in my real life. Thank you.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:05 AM on August 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


I have never shared a discussion on metafilter more than this one. First, because it resonates with me in ways I'm having trouble putting in to words, but like others who have posted here it is a spark of light in an otherwise quite dark search to escape my own programming. But second, because it moves the topic forward, is a model for incorporating diverse viewpoints but common goals, and makes me proud of this community.
posted by abulafa at 6:44 AM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I also wonder about my (millennial) generation. It seems as if in the circles I move, many of us are much better at maintaining friendships, though I'll admit that my friendships with (straight) men have a different tenor than those I have with women.
qcubed

I think it's just too early to tell with the millennial generation.

As smoke alludes to above, it seems like it's more a function of age. When I was in my teens and 20s I had a circle of good friends, but they all somehow drifted off by the time I hit 30. Now I have about two good male friends, but even with them I would be very uncomfortable opening up about my feelings.

You may be in your 20s and haven't started seeing this yet.

With social networking being omnipresent, even if we don't use things like Facebook and Twitter, IMs and texts provide a lot more mediated closeness; there's the protection of the screen, but async conversations that take place, that drop in and drop out, allow for at least some discussion.

This may be old man talk, but I think social networking may make things worse, because it intensifies the need to always be "on" by a million. You can never disengage, you always have to put on a face. There is in face evidence that social networking makes us less happy and more distrustful.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:53 AM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


And, maybe, based on the research, mental health services need to do more to address men specifically, too, where that has been ascertained as a problem – the access to services and encouragement to access services, to break down the barriers to seeking help, with no shame or reticence.


Definitely this. I still remember going to my uni's health center for a checkup on my depression and upon having my doctor jokingly say she thought my girlfriend (now wife) might dump me. It was like being slapped in the face.

Though perhaps that's just a knock against the quality of university health center doctors.
posted by Hutch at 7:00 AM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a kid, my dad pretty much never talked about my feelings or actions. It was all "if you were born a girl, you could take your time to be frustrated and get things eventually right, but you're not, so be a man." Yeah, there was a lot of misogyny. I pretty much just hid all my feelings, and complied with everything, regardless of my personal feelings. Anger was actually taught to be anathema, because anger prevented you from achieving your goal. All emotions were bad. It's gotten better recently, but I see how much my parents simply cannot think about my feelings because I have never expressed them towards them. My mom imposes her own interpretation of "how I must feel," and my dad thinks I'm constantly trying to slack off and considers anything indirect I say to be rude and unserious.

Recently, I sent out am email at work recently reminding people to turn something into the office, which wasn't my job. It was handled by someone else, but they worked in another office, so I thought I'd be helpful. My former boss then became super demanding and inquisitive about why I was "handling" this issue, stating I was too busy with my work to... send out an email? Be at the office where the thing was to be turned in? It's a weird dichotomy where the company encourages being proactive about addressing things, but specific people get negative when you do so.


I really appreciated in the EL thread how women were allowed to just state their experiences and have others listen and empathize, because there weren't really other spaces for doing so. Having to stop and respond to critiques, doubt, and demands for context ruins that. It's fine to have criticism when arguing ideas or platforms. But I'm hoping that the experiences in this thread, told because of internal worries, are treated respectfully.
posted by halifix at 11:14 AM on August 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Sangermaine

Yeah, tbh, I completely agree with you re: it's way too early to tell for millennials; fwiw, I'm on the very bleeding edge (low 30s), and I know I am in a very odd grouping because my social groups tend towards being either queer or v. queer-friendly.

But, for once, maybe this might help? I don't hold out too much hope, but it's got to maybe be better than what was there before.
posted by qcubed at 11:22 AM on August 18, 2015


I pretty much just hid all my feelings, and complied with everything, regardless of my personal feelings. Anger was actually taught to be anathema, because anger prevented you from achieving your goal. All emotions were bad.

The following to be implemented from birth in any child posessing a penis:

Tears are only tolerable when someone (or a pet of more than 3 years) dies, and even then not in excess... that is the first unspoken, except when it isn't, rule of manhood. Other rules follow, please note that this list is non-inclusive...

Any and all other strong emotions of the non-stereotypical male type are to be expressed via grunts, shoulder shrugs, and/or eyebrow raises. Hugs are to be reluctantly accepted and rarely reciprocated, handshakes are better (only pump once or thrice, be firm).

Remember that body language should default towards the aggressive when possible, doubly so when the situation or path ahead is questionable.

Being confrontational should be the go to choice when conversation lulls between men or during family gatherings. This is also known as the "assault/insult the son-in-law when he declines to have a mimosa at breakfast or a cigar after dinner" rule.

Raise or deepen your voice at times, it shows the validity of what you're saying.

When it comes to cars or guns, bigger and more is better. References to the dire necessity of the same, not only for yourself but for others, is also helpful, nay required. Bonus points for also proclaiming your proficiency with gambling odds and knowing how bell curves help you beat the house in casinos (?).

Sorry for the rant, I'm on vacation and my step-father-in-law is like an overweight, aged, aggressive bundle of all these things that are wrong with men wrapped into one tightly-strung conservative wrapper.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:38 AM on August 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I read a lot of the emotional labour thread, though I didn't chime in, mostly because I felt I had nothing to contribute. I've always been reluctant to stick my neck out. I comment pretty infrequently and generally keep my opinions to myself in real life too. But I learned a lot from it, and I feel it changed my perspective for the better, so thank you all for that.

But it wasn't until reading this thread that I realise how I also took the wrong message away, albeit subconsciously. I was never particularly masculine, and in fact have spent a lot of my life feeling ashamed to be male. I think because I never felt I lived up to the male stereotypes, I was a bit more aware of typical "male" behaviour, and all the more ashamed of it as a result. Hell, the gender descriptor on my profile page is "a sad excuse for a man". (I meant it as a joke, but as with many jokes, it is made of truth).

My best friend growing up was the girl next door. She was often referred to as a "tomboy", and I was a wimp, so perhaps that's why we got on. We moved to a new town when I was 10 or so. The other kids at the new school had all known each other for years, and I hated football by this point, so I had a hard time making friends. I spent most of year five playing with the girls.

Fast forward a couple of years, to another school, the onset of puberty, and all my friends are male - albeit the geekier males who didn't excel in sport. I remember one time, in the changing rooms after a PE lesson, the teacher handing back people their jewellery, watches, etc. "Who's is the girls watch?" he yells when he gets to mine (it had a smaller face, the other kids had absurdly oversized adult male watches). Cue humiliation and laughter. I must have taken it pretty hard, because I remember the teacher getting dragged into the (female) head of years' office, and made to apologise to me. It was a happy ending, but it doesn't end, not really. If it's not coming from your parents, it's the teachers. If it's not the teachers, it's other boys, and the girls too.

Fast forward some more. I escape the suburbs and go to University in a city far away. I go out of my way to make friends, even though the other guys are all the same Rugby-playing twats. I cringe my way through the casual misogyny and homophobia long enough to find some like-minded people, and there's not a day goes by I'm not thankful that I found them. They come from all over the country, and they all tell similar stories. Incidentally, many of the girls that I befriend are similarly gender non-conforming, and they also share memories of being disowned by their gender. What we have in common is: we stopped caring, a long time ago. Gender is meaningless to us; worse than useless.

But it's always there, in the background, in the real world. It's harder to defend against when you don't have that support. As I grow up, I spend less time with those like-minded people, and more with (shudder) "other people". And yeah, it wears you down. Like I say, I don't stick my neck out. I play along in public. I joke about it. "Sure, I'll fix your stapler for you, maybe it'll make me feel more masculine." And I read MetaFilter, to remind myself that those like-minded people are out there.

And I read the threads that touch on feminism, and I learn more, and I call myself out for mansplaining more often. But all the time, I'm accumulating shame, and guilt. And though I tell myself it's only right, that I should be aware of these things, it still weighs something. And added to job woes, and loneliness, and politics, and climate change, and a tendency to despair... well, it all adds up.

But it turns out a lot of people have had it so, so much worse (as is often the case). My heart goes out to you all. But like they say, everyone's fighting their own personal struggle, and each is equally valid. You can't understand it fully unless you've lived it, but you can try.

Good on those who try. I'll leave it there and quote another like-minded struggler, Charlie Kaufman:

"Failure is a badge of honour. It means you risked failure."

And this, from the same amazing talk, a quote from e e cummings:

"To be nobody but yourself, in a world which - night and day - is trying to turn you into everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight, and never stop fighting..."
posted by Acey at 12:35 PM on August 18, 2015 [21 favorites]


Oh my. I just searched Facebook for my childhood best friend, mentioned above, who I've not seen in twenty years, to learn that she passed away suddenly not two months ago. Let me tell you: boys do cry.
posted by Acey at 2:11 PM on August 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


Wow. I hadn't been back to this thread for a day or so, and there's so much catching up to do. This has been a marvelous read. For one of the very few times in my life, I feel like I'm really not alone.

One reason I'm dropping in now is to relate a little thing that I experienced back when I was descending down into the bleakness I described in my earlier post...

Once I determined that I really needed to get my butt back into therapy, I thought maybe a group would be a good idea. I don't live in a large city, but it has a state university, a regional hospital and stuff, so of course somewhere there should be a group for middle-aged, unemployed men, facing an uncertain future and self-esteem issues. Or some combination of those. Right?

I could find all manner of groups for women, families, teens, etc. Dozens of counseling centers offering myriad programs for those groups to help them through a wide array of life issues. But, the only groups I could find directed specifically to men? Substance abuse and domestic violence. It was as if no one cares until after we've snapped.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2015 [23 favorites]


Like Kathryn t I am a mother to a very sensitive loving boy and I worry that his lovely sensitivity will be maintained. The messaging given to boys from the youngest ages is still so devoid of expression. I mean it has been many years since i was a kid and i wore pants, dresses, shorts, whatever. Boys clothing options still don't include dresses or skirts or even glitter or sparkles. To me that's just indicative of the much larger idea of boys being trained not to show emotion. I am so grateful for all the stories shared here and give you all virtual hugs. I'm going to go kiss my two boys now...
posted by biggreenplant at 8:33 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I still remember going to my uni's health center for a checkup on my depression and upon having my doctor jokingly say she thought my girlfriend (now wife) might dump me. It was like being slapped in the face.

Wow, a doctor being joking about a patient’s depression is already a level of professional and ethical wrongness that’s difficult to forgive, but a female doctor being joking about a male patient’s depression, with a joke about his girlfriend (congrats on the "now wife" part!) is triple level of fucked up.

Would she have done the same if you’d been a female patient? Would she have found another way to be a dismissive jerk? Who knows? It’s horrible though. It is more difficult for men to even take the first step of seeking treatment for depression, we all know that, a doctor should know that even better.
posted by bitteschoen at 5:12 AM on August 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just wanted to note that I'm reading and listening, and thank you to the men sharing their stories.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:58 AM on August 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


A couple of weeks ago my partner and I took our kids to see Inside Out. It's a really good movie for kids - the main character Riley is an 11 year old girl whose family moves across the country for work reasons, and the focus is on how she handles it emotionally, using cute little anthropomorphised Emotions to convey complex ideas to kids. Given that we have a 5 year old son who is about to have to cope with the same problem, it seemed super-timely, and he got a lot out of it. I really love it as a cute story and a teaching tool.

But there's this one jarring scene that sticks out at me. The family is sitting around the dinner table. Riley is sad and angry and refusing to engage. The scene is first shown from Riley's perspective, and you see her rich inner life with the various Emotions arguing over how to respond (or not) to her Mum. Then it cuts to Mum's inner world, and the audience sees that she's intensely worried about Riley, and her Emotions are arguing over how to handle the situation. They decide they need to involve Dad in the conversation, and look to him for help. We then cut to Dad, whose Emotions are ... watching a soccer game.

Throughout the film, the Dad is shown to be pretty clueless and oblivious to Riley. He cares deeply about her, and that comes across in the external shots of him interacting with his daughter, but when his inner world is portrayed at all he is either uninvolved (watching soccer) or incompetent (ineptly authoritarian). The mismatch is staggering.

It clearly serves a narrative role. The movie is really intense for kids (I spent a lot of time hugging my son throughout), and playing Dad for laughs is an important way of reducing the tension. But much of it comes across as a cheap joke for the parents. The kids don't really understand the stereotypes being invoked here, so the laughter in that scene mostly comes from the parents. So, apart from making a cheap joke about men being shitty parents, what's the point of it?

What's even more annoying is that it would have been trivially easy to repair the scene while leaving the joke in place. Earlier in the film the Dad is established as being super stressed about the new job, and his distraction is actually quite understandable. All they would have needed to do is have a moment later in the film where the parents are having a background conversation. In the foreground you'd see Riley doing her thing, but maybe in the background you'd hear the Dad apologising to Mum and explaining that he'd been so stressed over work that he'd switched off at the dinner table and was feeling bad about having mishandled the situation. It would have made sense of the fact that it was actually the Dad who went to talk to Riley after the dinner table scene.

But the movie doesn't do that. In a movie that tries to explain the complicated emotional landscape that we all have to traverse, the emotional lives of men are depicted to kids as being empty and vacuous. And that's not considered a problem for some reason.
posted by langtonsant at 4:01 PM on August 19, 2015 [35 favorites]


I agree about that 100%, and it's the major failing of the movie for me. Har har, men (even this seemingly very sweet and devoted dad?) are insensitive clods. Har har, the tween boy at the end is a one-note joke about how scary girls are (even though we've spent two hours seeing how nuanced a tween's emotional life can be). They dropped the ball bigtime on these two characters, and there was no reason for them to.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yes! I hated hated hated that about that otherwise great movie.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:52 PM on August 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


This thread reminded me of the huge success of the Norwegian book Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning, which was a huge success because it offered an avenue of talking about life and feelings while ostensibly discussing firewood. And it's not that this thread reminded me of only that book, specifically, but about how often men's feelings are shared by proxy.

I have a very old, dear friend I've known since middle school. We both live in completely different parts of the country now, and he recently texted me to ask how everything was going. I miss him quite a lot, but our conversation thus far has been concerned with how we like the cities we live in, how life and work and girlfriends are. In a way it's like we'll talk about whatever we can talk about, just for the opportunity to reach out.

In contrast, I have another close friend, a woman I've known since high school. We use hearts when we text and she'll sign things "xoxo," as she has done for many years with me. We talk about love, in a platonic sense, over the phone.

Both friends are people I've known for ages, and they're both people I deeply love, but the way we approach that love is fundamentally different. Male friends don't know I talk to my female friends the way I do, and I don't want them to know because it feels like the sort of thing you can really only get away with if you're gay, or metro, or otherwise not capital-M Masculine. It's not that I think they'd judge me, it's that it's embarrassing, and it's embarrassing because it means having to acknowledge boundaries I don't want to talk about. The vocabulary that I have for talking about my friendships this way "old, dear," "deeply loving," is all vocabulary I've adopted from the women in my life, and it feels like an appropriation of womens' socialization.

The masculine way seems to be to chat about rent prices in Denver. It's better than nothing.
posted by teponaztli at 6:04 PM on August 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


And I should clarify that by "capital-M Masculine," I mean that kind of hetero thing. I know some very, very masculine gay men, so I apologize if mentioning sexuality came across the wrong way. Everyone thought I was gay for many years because I always wanted to call people "sweetheart," and give hugs and behave in a way that wasn't typically hetero. I liked the way my female friends interacted with each other, and I wanted to do that too. That got squeezed out of me as I got older because it became an obstacle, something to laugh at.

I can't personally speak to how gay men approach masculinity with each other, so I don't want to say there's more flexibility of behavior when there may not be. And there is enormous violence directed towards gay men; in a way, I think I consciously tried to avoid that kind of violence by realigning myself by trying to assert a kind of masculinity. I mean, I want to call people sweetheart when I think they're sweet, but it's not something you can do as a heterosexual man, unless you're way more brave than I am.
posted by teponaztli at 6:20 PM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


teponaztli: " I mean, I want to call people sweetheart when I think they're sweet, but it's not something you can do as a heterosexual man, unless you're way more brave than I am."

Me too, but I almost never do except in reference to kids, where it seems to be okay. I don't think it's even a matter of bravery, it's more that I think everyone will misread my intentions if I do. The word "sweetheart" when said by a woman doesn't carry sexual connotations unless there are other signifiers that accompany it, but from a heterosexual man it almost always is read that way (or at least it feels that way to me) unless you add additional signifiers to remove the sexual implications. If I say it to a woman who is not my partner then it sounds like I'm hitting on her. If I say it to a man then I'll likely be read as gay, which is false advertising. Even in the best case where I avoid those traps, no-one expects to hear it so it'll make other people uncomfortable. No matter what, there are negative consequences that I want to avoid. Unless I get the phrasing just perfect and I read the room just right, this is not a word I can use without causing social friction of some kind. As a consequence I feel like I can't safely refer to anyone outside my family as a "sweetheart", "love", "dear", "honey", "darling" or "cutie" without coming off as creepy, so I simply don't use those words. It's not the worst of things to have to live with, but it's yet another example of restricted emotional range, and it makes it hard to maintain close friendships. Ultimately it's pretty isolating.

(Okay, I should stop talking so much in this thread. Back to lurking)
posted by langtonsant at 7:41 PM on August 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just posted an askme about parenting boys inspired by this thread. Thanks for everyone who shared for motivating me to look harder at what my boys need.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:50 PM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because I remembered reading a series of articles about this last year when the topic came up in the media in the UK (and Europe), I think about the time studies were published showing that increase in suicide rates for men, I’d like to recommend to those interested a good article from last year with interviews and info about this new charity in the UK with the best name ever, CALM, "Campaign Against Living Miserably", aimed specifically at men at risk of suicide. The #mandictionary is one of their campaigns.
posted by bitteschoen at 3:23 AM on August 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


(As this thread has drifted far from suicide and into discussions of masculinity, I will offer a personal reflection)

KathrynT: not only is your worth as a man judged by how much other people need you -- how essentially useful you can be to other people -- but if you want to hold onto your manhood, you must never, ever, ever seek to be desired

Grangousier: The people who were doing most of that to my generation were our mothers and other women who were standing in for them in schools and so forth. The really weird thing about being brought up like that is that one ends up expending rather too much energy trying to win the approval of women

zeri: coming of age in a particular corner of 1980s California where feminism was equated with open misandry. Constantly hearing (from my mother and her feminist-in-this-sense friends) how men are violent oppressors / incapable of empathy / the cause of all wars / bozos who can't even be trusted to pee straight, at a time when you're becoming conscious that you're shortly going to be turning into one of these creatures yourself, was, shall we say, not the best recipe for adolescent psychic health

These points resonate with me, so I'll echo / expand on them slightly.

I'm male. I grew up convinced that, by nature of being male, I was both morally and ethically flawed and, specifically, also not desirable. Not an object to be desired. The residual avenue for finding any self-worth was matters of competence, ability, utility-to-others. Especially that which met with approval from women. Approval that was very tenuous, very utilitarian and contingent, and very much based on not being found out / passing as "good" or "useful" while knowing I was bad/gross/awful.

It took a good 30 years for that type of self-perception to even start breaking up, and the somewhat surprising experience and feeling that did the most to disrupt the mental status quo, for me, was a set of new relationships with women when I began casually dating, relatively late in life (I was married early). The casualness was key: for once I started to have the experience of being desired in contexts that I couldn't subconsciously explain-away as related to being approved-of for my competence, providerliness, or other "good male person" reasons. I was being desired aesthetically. I couldn't ... comprehend it. It didn't fit my mental models.

This was a profoundly novel and alien emotional experience and it restructured my inner life, sense of self, how I interact with the world, with gender, with other men as much as with women. I don't know how to describe it except that it gave me pause, made me revisit my assumptions about self-worth (and worthlessness) and how tight a feedback loop there is between how we think we are, how we present to people, how people respond to that, and how we selectively perceive those responses to reinforce our own beliefs. A new perception like "someone thinks you're desirable and doesn't care if you're good" was a wrench thrown into an existing system, for me.

I offer this anecdote as raw material without a clear interpretation or conclusion. It might be useful for thinking about the feedback loops around self-perception.
posted by ead at 9:46 AM on August 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


I learned growing up that sharing my emotions/feelings with people in my family led exclusively to them being used as weapons, either directly against me or by one person to hurt someone else. Confidentiality was a lie. I don't trust anyone with my feelings, I just shove them down into my inner metal trash can and crush them down until I can get the lid on. I find no joy in life and very little pleasure. And I wasn't even raised in a masculist household - to this day people assume I'm gay by default. My mom thinks I'm gay.

Wrt emotional labor, I know it's supposed to be a women's thing and we're not supposed to appropriate it, but I was an emotional slave to the very emotionally needy people in my family and only complete estrangement has ended that toil.

I've never felt like I belong in the world because I despise the toxic patriarchy that I'm part of and yet it's obvious how necessary it is to participate in those behaviors to get anything in life other than crumbs.

So yeah, if I ever decide to off myself you can bet I will finish the job. It will not be a cry for help.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:20 PM on August 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


So we spent the weekend at a friend's farm, and we took the chance to go to the town farmer's market. While we were waiting in line to buy breakfast, we saw this ~6 year old boy lovingly kissing this slightly older girl and hugging her. The girl was smiling and hugging him back.

His mom turned around to us super embarrassed and explained that he hadn't seen his cousin in a while, and then proceeded to abruptly grab him by the arm, pull him away very harshly, and tell him that he didn't need to lick the girl's face. He wasn't licking her though. It was just hugs and kisses and both kids seemed really happy.

We were kind of perplexed because up to then we had been thinking how sweet those kids were, and I get that parents are perpetually judged and mom may have felt that we would disapprove, but it was really sad. I couldn't help but thinking about this thread and wondering whether the boy will learn to repress his affections until he conforms to our stupid expectations.
posted by Tarumba at 5:22 AM on August 24, 2015 [18 favorites]


Tarumba that is one of the saddest things i've read
posted by biggreenplant at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


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