Toxic Masculinity + Normalising Men Going to Therapy.

As women, we know how important it is to talk about and share our feelings. Through intimate conversations and in sharing moments of vulnerability we learn how to resolve our emotions together and heal. Through understanding ourselves we are able to then better understand others. This makes us more empathic and capable of showing care for our peers. We are encouraged to speak about our feelings more so than our male counterparts. Most of us are aware that seeking professional help can make us feel better. However as a woman encountering relationships with men, we realise that men are still finding it difficult to express their emotions, share their feelings, or address that they may need help in the form of therapy or counselling.

It’s the year 2020. How is it that as a society we have yet to normalise men going to therapy?

Source: Ben Nicholas (@BelgianBoolean), Twitter, 2020

According to Mental Health Foundation UK, 1 in 8 men in England have a common mental health problem. However, some men feel uncomfortable or reluctant to seek support for their mental health or disclose mental health problems with their loved ones. The most common reason for this is societal expectations of men which often leads to toxic masculinity. Traditional masculine traits such as dominance, strength, control, stoicism is encouraged and seen as positive. The reliance on these traditional traits, perceived as manly, can affect men in negative ways because they impose on them a preconceived idea of what a man should look like. In the long run, this affects men’s mental health because they feel the need to conform to societal ‘norms’ instead of finding out for themselves what it is to be a man, as an individual.

Source: Dr. Jasmine Patel (@themind_doc), Instagram, 2020

While many of the same difficulties are experienced by both men and women, some difficulties and influences on mental health may be especially relevant for men.

Studies have shown that in England, men are less likely to access therapies than women, with 36% of referrals to Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) made by men. Men are also more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as alcohol and drugs in response to their mental health distress which exponentially exacerbates their condition. In 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain of these 75% were males. Suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50.

I have been engaging in several conversations on this topic of Toxic Masculinity and Men Going to Therapy with my partner, the closest man in my life. We sat down informally at the park so I could take notes of our conversation that we had particularly on the basis of providing some (rather insightful) material for this article.

I asked him a few questions on the topic and here are some things he had to say.

Q: When did you first experience toxic masculinity?

J: “School played one of the biggest parts in my experiences of toxic masculinity. You could be judged based on how you look, friends you’re associated with… If you had longer hair you could be seen as being feminine and be picked on for it. From a personal experience, I got my ear pierced and apparently it was pierced on the side that means I am gay. I was bullied for this and laughed at for this until I finally got the left one out and pierced the right one.”

Q: Why do you think men find it difficult to seek help for their mental health issues?

J: “Men do not want to be seen as vulnerable. This damages their ego. Real human emotion is distant to a lot of men… It’s the way boys have been educated.”

Q: What do you think about traditional masculine traits?

J: “I feel like there’s a lot of toxicity through advertising – that a man has to be toned, have muscles, look well dressed like a gentlemen. I think traditional masculinity should be abolished.”

Q: Why should it be abolished?

J: “We need to be equals. It needs to be abolished because the traditional roles of masculinity has created a divide between two genders. It stems from patriarchal values from the past and it no longer applies and shouldn’t apply in this era.”

Q: What can the community do to help men feel comfortable about seeking professional help?

J: “I’d like to see the community encourage individuals to speak up and maybe in schools they could educate boys on how to be more open with their emotions and help them feel comfortable in their own feelings. The biggest part we could play as a community is to stop judging each other on our differences.”

From the conversations I’ve had with my partner, my takeaway is that society has groomed boys into becoming toxic individuals by spinning this unhealthy narrative of what is “normal” behaviour for men. They are often never taught to express their emotions and voice their feelings in healthy ways, so instead they learn to internalise or ignore most of what they feel. This leads to unresolved issues and mental health problems further down the line, in worst cases it spirals into toxic masculinity and begin to affect their relationships with women. Boys are not taught to be comfortable with their feelings, instead they are often made to feel ashamed of it and at times are bullied by those closest to them. They are told that certain behaviour is unacceptable because it is not masculine, and from an early age associate effeminate behaviour as ‘weakness’ or being ‘vulnerable’.

Source: Dr. Jasmine Patel (@themind_doc), Instagram, 2020

Boys are not only conditioned to be masculine mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. They pick up physical traits that mirror strength, like muscles, getting lean, getting into fights. To appear more masculine, or more dominant. Some often pick up these traits to defend themselves from being bullied or becoming the target of small talk amongst the adults in their lives. By putting up a strong front men often conceal deeper more intimate feelings that remain repressed throughout their lives and sometimes these repressed feelings appear later on in their romantic relationships in the form of abuse. Men need to understand that going to therapy not only helps fix their relationship with themselves but also their relationship with others. As a society we need to have these conversations with the men in our lives and help them understand that we do not see them as weak or incapable, in fact quite the opposite, a man that can take responsibility by seeking the help he needs for his mental health is a man that society can rely on to solve bigger problems.

Asking for help, demonstrating caring behaviour towards themselves and others are undermined by social attitudes that encourage the concept of the alpha male
Source: Why young boys should not be told to ‘man up’ | Analysis by Vedika Sharma, 2019

Further reading:

Every man should see a therapist by Sofia Barrett-Ibarria

Normalise seeing men in therapy by BBC Three (video)

What Is Toxic Masculinity? by Maya Salam

Support Organisations (UK):

CALM – Tel: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)

Samaritans – Tel: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Men’s Health Forum

Anxiety UK – Tel: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 10pm; Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm)

Bipolar UK

Mind – Tel: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

No Panic – Tel: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am to 10pm). Calls cost 5p per minute plus your phone provider’s Access Charge

OCD UK – Tel: 0333 212 7890 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

If you have anything to add on the topic feel free to comment below as I may have missed a couple of things that are relevant to this discussion and I’m happy to also learn more about other experiences relating to this topic.

Everybody say “love”.

Misconceptions of Socialism + Communism

Before coming to London for University, growing up in Singapore where there hadn’t been much movement in politics (having had a single majority ruling party, ‘PAP’, since the conception of the country’s sovereignty) I was very much naive about political and economic theories. When I met peers in University who considered themselves socialists, immediately I assumed they were also supporters of Communism. They would try and explain the differences between the two, but for a while I remained stubborn in my beliefs. Clinging on to this flawed idea that somehow both communism and socialism were essentially the same. That one could not possibly exist without the other. I was quick to brush off these well-meaning explanations. However, as time went on and I began reading more material in my course, I learnt about socialism through my study of Literature. That during the Industrial Revolution, working class people became unhappy with the conditions that they had to put up with and so began protesting on inequality and the fact they were being exploited by wealthy business owners who were their bosses.

I started asking myself how I came up with such a negative impression of socialism. Where on earth did I gather this conclusion that both socialism and communism went hand in hand? I thought about tv and films I was exposed to as an impressionable child. How especially in Hollywood, they often portrayed angry Russians as bad commies / KGB spies who were consistently trying to topple Capitalism and democracy. I was convinced that all Russian people were KGB spies and that all Russian people hated democracy and wanted to infect the world with their socialist/communist ideals. I attached this same association with China and North Korea. Arguably, these Communist countries are seen foremost as a Dictatorship. And so it became easy for me to assume that SOCIALISM = COMMUNISM = DICTATORSHIP = BAD.

Like I said, I was naive.

I now realise just how much I had been conditioned by these mainstream stereotypes of certain individuals, groups and countries invented by the West. For so long I had built up unhealthy impressions of societies and cultures I had no real inkling about. Deconstructing these stereotypes is never easy but incredibly necessary in order to have a more forward global thinking and open minded attitude towards learning the realities of political structures, social and economic issues around us. I find that it is important to always remain open to learning, and accepting that not everything we know is the ultimate truth. We cannot completely know something until we ourselves have had firsthand experience on the matter. So with that in mind I have instructed myself to always give the benefit of the doubt on information that I receive especially if it is coming from sources that may have their own political interest and agenda at its core.

Here are some articles I have found to be rather insightful on the matter:

The Differences Between Communism and Socialism by Robert Longley

Hollywood stereotypes: Why are Russians the bad guys? by Tom Brook

The Demonization of Communists by Don J. Pagusara

Socialism by Robert Heilbroner

Watch Bernie Sanders ‘Un-Demonize’ the Word ‘Socialist’ on ‘Real Time’ by Daniel Kreps (video clip)

Post-Truth Politics: An Era of Biased Information

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
― Edward R. Murrow

In 2016, The New York Times published an opinion piece written by William Davies entitled ‘The Age of Post-Truth Politics’. In his article he mentions that ‘fact’ as we know it – the statistics, numbers and data – are no longer point of references that we can rely on as factual information. He also mentions that “the experts and agencies involved in producing facts” have grown in numbers and “many are now for hire.” This could mean that anyone with a political agenda and substantial funds can pay off an expert to “endorse a fact.” We live in a Capitalist society after all, so a theory like this one does not seem far from the truth. It would be nice if the problems of Post-Truth Politics began and ended with just the numbers. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. A simple wikipedia search can tell you the political orientation of most mass media companies in the U.K. It is important to be aware of the political stance taken by news outlets and other sectors of the media of which you receive your daily news / information.

“The combination of populist movements with social media is often held responsible for post-truth politics. Individuals have growing opportunities to shape their media consumption around their own opinions and prejudices, and populist leaders are ready to encourage them.”-William Davies

Naturally we will find that depending on our own political stance, we lean toward sources that reflect those same views. This might not be something that we are immediately conscious of, in fact some of us are often oblivious to this tendency of leaning into biased information. For example, if you support the Labour Party or position yourself as left-winged, centre-left, liberal, lib-dem, you find yourself relating to articles published in The Guardian who support the Labour Party (recently endorsing Labour for the 2019 General Elections), The Independent (Liberal, non-partisan), The Observer (Centre-left), to name a few. Similarly if you have conservative views, you find that your beliefs align with publications from The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun (all of which endorsed the Conservative Party in the 2019 General Elections).

You can see the full list here.

‘Fake news’ encompasses a big part of the post-truth era. It is used to convey populist opinions spun by politicised media to spread a political agenda and ideology amongst society. One of the greatest threats posed by ‘fake news’ is its power to “marginalise legitimate journalism.” Herman and Chomsky’s theory of the fourth media filter introduces the term flak. ‘Flak’ is explained as a negative critical response to media, tv and radio statements from the general public, be “it in the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, speeches and Bills before Congress and other modes of complaint, threat and punitive action.” The more we read into what’s on the surface, instead of trying to corroborate a story with other opposing sources to analyse both sides (left/right political leanings) either through our own fact-finding efforts, or perhaps going further to source from independent journalistic news/media outlets to get a more objective and unbiased perspective, we will continue to be part of the narrative that seeks to undermine or ‘marginalise’ legitimate journalistic efforts.

“These efforts attempt to subvert the role of investigative journalism in democracy by using the spectre of fake news as an excuse to push their own version of events, turning the public against the mainstream media in the process.” – Colin C. Barton

*I may occasionally return to update this post with new findings and/or research.

Further Reading:

Something Has Cracked: Post-Truth Politics and Richard Rorty’s Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism by Joshua Forstenzer, 2018

A philosopher explains America’s “post-truth” problem by Sean Illing, 2018

How can we teach objectivity in a post-truth era? by Simon Blackburn, 2019

Post-Truth Politics: The Symptom, the Cause and the Way Forward by Akash Raha, 2019

Why I’m starting this blog.

The current social climate has introduced a new global movement. It is not only a movement about racial inequality, systemic racism, political corruption, police brutality, a call to begin the dismantling of the system we know (and have known) is broken. This movement is also a movement of speech. Free speech and public discourse. I don’t mean the kind of ‘free speech’ you find in the comments section of your Facebook posts, now dominated by post-truth led keyboard warriors who easily believe the things mass media spoon feeds them. Like hungry sharks lured to the same pool by a single drop of blood. They congregate and swarm only to find nothing substantial in the shallow. Unlike sharks, who find nothing and swim away, post-truth warriors do not.

We are living in a significant moment of our history that calls on us to bear a heavy burden. This burden asks of us to begin having difficult but necessary conversations with each other. The reason for this is obvious, in order to move forward together as a society, we must feel comfortable to initiate dialogue and reflect on the brokenness of our society and as a collective find the solutions we need to heal. We cannot do the work alone. More than ever we need solidarity, we need empathy, we need compassion, we need community and we need love. We need to consciously fight ignorance and bigotry by challenging obstructive views that are placed there only to divide us.

The BLM movement that took the world by storm this 2020, was a wake up call to all of humanity. Not to say that the movement had not been making conscious efforts toward visibility and justice for Black people prior to this. It is shocking and horrific that it has taken this long for the cause to gain the global reception, recognition and solidarity it rightly deserves. For too long have we been led by corrupt individuals who make quick effort to distract us from the truth. Race has been and is being politicised in an effort to maintain an economic divide and to segregate us from one another. Let us pull ourselves out from the trenches of which they constructed for us to slip and fall into. What steps can we then take as a collective to make sure that human rights and equality, democracy and socialism, is constantly at the forefront of our consciousness?

I needed a space to journal my thoughts and to process the knowledge that I have gathered within these past few years. In my time at university, I learnt how to critically analyse texts and how important it is to understand history, biography and context. Context is everything. The way to navigate and understand literature, be it fiction/non-fiction, journal articles, news articles, case studies is to study its context and ask the necessary questions. Why was it written? When was it written? Who was it written for? Who wrote it? What is the underlying goal/agenda? Who/what does it serve? The way to answer these questions is to do the necessary hard work of researching key information from credible sources. Research is essential in our efforts to find the truth. We live in an age of digital information where information is easily accessible, there is no excuse for us to not do the much needed work of threading through the haystack to find the needle.

The intention of writing this blog is to raise questions on topics I feel are relevant and necessary, to share knowledge, to lament and to make some sense of the insane times we are living in. Do stay tuned if you want to read more about it.

If you want to start a healthy dialogue, share something relevant with me, or just wanting to say hello, feel free to reach out. I want to hear from you. Let’s learn from each other.