The Decision All Men Have to Make that’s Killing Them
Why men are often stuck between being a dude and being good dude.
So I’m at a bachelor party. Everybody’s chatting up some ladies and there’s this moment where a beautiful woman flirting with my buddy suggests they “get intimate” at his place. Other guys in the group are stoked for him, saying things like, “There you go! Get it!” My buddy declines her suggestion and takes a ton of heat from the group: “C’mon man … why not?” He offers some valid reasons and eventually everyone backs off. But in that moment, he had to make a decision: do the thing he wanted and thought was best or do the thing that would make him “more of a man” in front of his bros.
Here’s why that sucks.
What we know from research is that endorsing or conforming to “norms” of masculinity that psychologists have identified (like guys restricting emotions, acting tough, taking risks, etc.) is related to whole host of crap. The more guys believe or conform to these stereotypes the more likely they are to: abuse substances, be aggressive and violent, have psychological stress, be sexist/have negative attitudes towards women and sexual minorities, take dangerous risks with health issues and not seek help, have higher blood pressure levels, have low self-esteem, be more anxious and depressed, and have more relationship and family problems.
Now let’s go opposite here. Let’s take the opposite of these so-called “masculine norms.”
Masculine norm = restrict emotions / Opposite = feel and express emotions.
Norm = default to anger, aggression, violence / Opposite = stay calm, resolve conflict without violence.
Norm = “take charge,” act tough / Opposite = be collaborative and don’t put up a front.
Norm = sex is priority / Opposite = healthy relationships are way more than sex.
Norm = avoid seeking help / Opposite = use resources to be better.
So here’s the thing. Research shows us that all those opposites are way better for men’s health and relationships. It’s obvious that utilizing resources (like healthcare treatment) leads to better outcomes than not. We know healthy intimacy includes more than just sex. The most effective teams and organizations rely on authentic role players more than fake leaders. Violence resolving conflict usually leads to more violence and conflict. Staying calm is better than blowing up. Expressing and regulating emotions in healthy ways is a huge part of a bunch of empirically supported health treatments.
Conclusion: a lot of masculine norms are related to worse outcomes than their opposites.
This means men are often left with a lose-lose dead end: choose the thing that will be better for them or choose the thing that makes them look and feel more like a man.
That’s the choice my buddy had to make when he turned down that woman. That’s what most guys have to choose between in a lot of situations. Take Kid Cuddy. It took a spiral down before he was able to reach out for emotional support and health treatment. What if he had an option when he started feeling depressed and started using again that was both best for his health and boosted his masculine identity. How about an option that’s something like, “You gotta man up and share how you’re doing with your bros,” or, “Quit being weak sauce and get yourself into some treatment.” These seem counterintuitive to our default norms but they’re the third options we must somehow necessarily embrace.
We can’t keep guys at the dead end of choosing to do what’s best or doing the thing that’ll throw a blow to his masculine front. There has to be a third option.
For healthy masculinity to be a thing, we’ve got to quit making guys choose between what’s good for them and what it takes to man up. What is good and what is masculine need to be the same thing. At the fork in the road, we have to figure out how to walk straight ahead.
*Why Minds & Men: Men are taught a lot about what it means to be a man. Psychological research provides a bunch of evidence for what aspects of “masculinity” can be harmful and helpful. Here we aim to shed light on some of these findings and provide ways for men to become better men (without being intellectual pricks about it).