Male anxiety is getting so bad, it should make men cry
It’s no surprise that more men than women commit suicide
We know about the agonies of girls, but what about the boys, and the men they will become, and the anxieties they face?
Next week it will be reported that half of British men worry about their fertility, while this week, adverts acknowledging male anxiety about sexual performance are plastered all over the London Underground.
Who knew that Tinder, poor nutrition and a glut of pornography would bring us here?
We are used to the bullying of girls. Silly frilly dresses (might they combust?), fake pearls (might they choke?) and warnings against climbing trees (might they snap?) warn girls toward prettiness and away from risk.
Your identity comes from your family, but Paw Patrol has only one female puppy on patrol, and she is useless.
It’s the same in Thomas the Tank Engine, in which the female engine creates chaos and the male engines sort it out.
Disney princesses – I know there apparently is a feminist one, but I’d argue against it – are always playing with their skirts and lying down.
But Action Man is equally thwarted. When a (male) friend and I made Sindy, the plastic avatar for bourgeois children, and Action Man into a couple in 1981, they seemed sad.
If I had been imaginative, I would have sent them to a doll version of a TV show where people pour their hearts out, with Barbie presiding, and they would have told Barbie they felt trapped in their gender stereotypes, and were prone to depression.
And nothing has really changed.
If anything, girls are more feminine these days, and boys are dependent on superheroes.
When my sister’s son was five, I asked her: How has motherhood changed you? She said: “I like men more. I see them all as five years old.”
My only child is a boy – he is five now – and so the children I know well are all boys, his friends.
He has learnt, already, the security that comes with shunning girls, his natural antagonists. He runs away from them screaming. “I’m scared of girls,” he said once. “You should be,” I replied.
I find these boys infinitely touching. I see the pressures they face, and they seem as awful as the agonies of girls, because they require the same contortion into something lazily accepted as normal, and the same repression of soul.
Being a Disney princess may be dreadful, but I am sure that being required to be a Disney prince is just as bad, for while she played with her skirts or slept, he had to slay the monster.
What if he doesn’t want to? What if he is afraid?
Gender stereotyping is a system in which both sides depend on one another.
If the princess is lost, the prince must find her. If she is weak, he must be strong.
I watch young boys, and I see particularly how they change before adolescence.
They see that they are expected to be strong and not to cry, and to repress their more vulnerable feelings, and all of this is accelerated by the awful cult of the superhero. (Batman lost his parents, and spent a lifetime hitting people. What else does a man do? I would let him express his feelings.)
This is why more men than women commit suicide. They can’t talk the pain away, because they were never taught – or allowed – to do so.
The other day, I heard a mother on the train threaten to put her son on the platform for crying over a dropped ice cream. An ice cream, at five, is treasure: why couldn’t she console him, or just let him feel loss? Why did she have to shame him?
I wonder if these boys make a conscious choice that it’s easier to act “manly” – although to be manly is, really, to do everything a man does – than to face the possible exclusion of being different.
It is good that rates of anxiety in men – over fertility and sexual performance – are finally being truthfully reported, because they are very high.
Men aren’t as confident as they seem, we’re told. Men suffer in silence. Really? While some men are psychopaths – as are some women – I am sure that gender stereotyping fuelled the culture that led, at last, to MeToo.
That is close to heresy in some circles, but it is obviously true: if men are not allowed to be vulnerable, they will not learn to talk to women, or how to ask, appropriately, for love from women, and that way lies horror.
I am a recovering alcoholic, and I know a lot of recovering alcoholics: men who are filled with spirit, who are gentle and considerate and have spent a lifetime looking for permission to feel.
We should encourage it, and you can’t start young enough.
Let Thomas the Tank Engine fail, and cry, and learn, in his tears, that he will survive.
– © The Daily Telegraph