“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One”- Marcus Aurelius
The discourse surrounding issues of gender and development is often imbalanced, resulting in the concerns of men and boys being kicked to the curb. The traditional cultural philosophy of men being self-sufficient and in control of their emotions, tends to nurture this disparity in our society.
It is a practice which should be deterred at all cost if we are to effect the change in how men and boys see themselves and value their existence. It is important that as men, we are given the space and time necessary to share our concerns, stories and achievements.
It is also critical that as men, we help to raise awareness of issues surrounding men’s rights in addition to engaging women in a meaningful way in order for societies to have harmonious gender relations and sustainable development. Men should be afforded the means to challenge their emotional energies other than through sports.
Last Saturday, November 19, 2016, the global community observed International Men’s Day (IMD) with the aim of bringing to the fore issues of importance to men. The theme was “Stop Male Suicide”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), male life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 69 years while for females it was 74 years. Unfortunately, the suicide rate for men is three times that of women. Suicide in men has been described as a silent epidemic. Regrettably, it is a major contributor to men’s mortality.
The issue of male health as a public health concern has been on the back burner for quite some time despite some attempt to change this narrative. The resources needed and the support services required are not readily invested in male health care, resulting in many preventable diseases going untreated in men.
The objectives of International Men’s Day included a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality and highlighting positive male role models.
The construction of masculinity needs some amount of deconstruction to strip away the hegemonic notions of what it is to be a man in order to fit in a modern progressive culture of egalitarianism. Society teaches boys not to cry and/or show their emotions. The feeling of pain and discomfort is encouraged and the male success in hiding his emotions becomes a measurement of his masculinity.
This ideal of manhood suppress one’s emotional energy and is often a dangerous practice which oftentimes manifests itself in violence or some other destructive behaviour. Society then reacts with surprise when some men lose their cool and act in an irrational manner.
We cannot escape problems; it’s a part of the human experience, whether of a social or behavioural nature. Problems are often viewed along gendered lines and, as such, we must realize that men react differently to crisis than women. The role that gender plays as a risk factor for suicide has been studied extensively.
According to Trevor Forbes, MD, Board Certified psychiatrist, “in most cultures men are not socialized to express their inner feelings”. Dr Forbes added that a man who seeks professional help for mental health issues runs the risk of being branded a sissy.
A man, therefore, is expected to be a tower of strength. When he fails to live up to those expectations, suicide is considered as the only way out. While females, according to some research, show a higher rate of non-fatal suicide behaviour, males, on the other hand, record a higher success rate of completed suicide.
Increasingly, we have been witnessing a hard core strand of masculinity which has facilitated a growing trend of male under-achievement at all levels of the education system. This is compounded by the media and pop culture which give a false view of masculinity and manhood in this techno-industrial age which many men are unable to ascribe to.
Sadly, positive male role models are far and in between in the society, resulting in a vacuum in mentoring which is required to bridge the boy to manhood rite of passage. There must be a greater push towards increasing mentoring programmes for our boys.
Additionally, we need to expand the funding of those programmes which have been a success to so many of our troubled males, especially teenage boys. Through regulatory mentorship, boys can be taught how to be men of character and made to understand their social responsibilities not only to themselves but also to the wider society. Their self-worth and self-acceptance would also be paramount in stemming the suicide rate among males.
Government, civil society, religious organizations and the private sector must join forces to fight the stigma associated with mental health. Promoting gender equality must include examining those specific issues affecting and impacting men separate and apart from those of women.
We need to expand our minds and view development in a broader context. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), development is a process of enlarging people’s choices, increasing their opportunities for education, healthcare, income and employment.
Unless we view development along this holistic approach, gender equality will always lag behind. Against this backdrop, we call on the United Nations to give International Men’s Day the official UN observance which it deserves to help highlight the plight, concerns, and achievements of men in this gendered world in which we live.
In the words of George S. Patton, duty is the essence of manhood.
(Wayne Campbell is a Jamaican educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Kurt Hickling, also based in Jamaica, is an educator and cultural studies advocate with an interest in the cultural dimensions affecting males.)