This is a story about intolerable pressure...
I have to start this piece with a lengthy preamble. To write about the difficulties faced by men in modern society could be misconstrued as sexist, chauvinistic, misogynistic and unsympathetic towards the suffering and struggles of women. To breathe a word about the struggles that men face, could be seen as a slap in the face to women who receive unequal pay, or suffer sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and far greater rates of rape, murder and assault perpetrated against them by men, than by women. In short: I am not writing in any way to perpetuate the inequality and suffering that women have to deal with every day. My piece is simply about the pressures that modern men are dealing with.
Further to my list of caveats, I write from the point of view of the experiences and knowledge I've been able to gather up to this point in my life. I accept that I will never know the agony of childbirth. I'll never know what it's like to be pregnant. I'll never know what it's like to be a woman. This isn't a piece about women. I'm not seeking to address ANY of the difficulties faced by women. I know nothing about being a woman, and I'm not going to write about it. I'm not depriving anybody - man or woman - of their opportunity to share THEIR story and have equal airtime and consideration. I'm not shouting anybody down. I'm not shutting anybody up. I'm not offering a viewpoint that says that what I think is more valid than what anybody else thinks. These are my thoughts and my thoughts alone, shaped by my experiences as a white, middle-class, hetero man, in no way intended to compete with the experiences of any non-white, poor, LGBTQ+ women, who are obviously going to have a remarkably different set of views from me.
I am sympathetic to the plight of women. I'm unlikely to be equally sympathetic, because I have an inbuilt bias towards being able to empathise with those who've had broadly similar experiences to me, because they're also white, middle-class hetero men. I don't choose to feel less gut-wrenching sympathy when I hear about - for example - unequal pay in the workplace... it's just not as emotive for me, because perhaps I haven't been affected by it. If I'm not part of the solution, I must be part of the problem, but my writing is not about how guilty I feel for the circumstances I was born into; my writing is about things I can directly relate to. I do not seek to discredit, devalue or otherwise detract from some very real issues faced by women. I mean only to comment in an area in which I feel qualified to do so.
So, 500 words of preamble. Now I can write with a little more precision on the topic that concerns me.
I decided that I wanted to write a bullet-pointed list of all the things that a guy - someone like me - faces during their life, presenting significant problems. I'm trying to add up all the little things that whirr away in a man's psyche, driving his behaviour and causing him distress. I'm just going to write these things down in the most succinct way, because I want to explore everything I can possibly think of.
Here we go:
- "Boys don't cry" / "man up"
- Inheriting the family name. Following in your father's footsteps
- Mummy's boy / suffocating
- "You're the man of the house" - expectation of maturity
- Boys develop more slowly than girls, both physically and academically
- Oldest & biggest boys in school year bully and physically dominate
- Societal obsession with sports and sporting achievement
- "Get married and start a family" is not a career choice
- Provide for the family
- Boys can't hit girls, even in self defence / retaliation
- Encouragement of violence - bullying, boxing, fighting, sport
- Discouragement of sensitivity - "soft", "wimpy", "homosexual", "effeminate"
- Hypocrisy and contradiction - violence is both heroic (e.g. war) and vilified
- Hooligans / vandals / gangs - provide fraternity, but demonised
- Lack of sporting ability = social exclusion
- Interest in sport a necessity for social bonding
- "Make the first move" - guys do the chasing - "ask her out"
- Knock-backs / rejection / misread signals
- Assertiveness, persistence - important to "pull" a girl
- Sexual conquest is seen as adversarial - a game
- Impotence concerns - "can I get hard?" / "will I stay hard?"
- Premature ejaculation concerns - "can I last long enough?"
- Bedroom performance concerns - "can I make her cum?"
- "Treat 'em mean" - appearing aloof and unattainable
- Neediness and vulnerability - insecurity and need for security
- Peer approval - bragging and bravado
- Status symbols - the car, the house, the job
- Professional identity - coveted job titles, doctor/lawyer etc.
- Fear of failure - bankruptcy, homelessness, joblessness, redundancy
- Fear of rejection - loneliness
- Doing stupid things to show off / impressing others
- "All men are rapists"
- Suspicion / trial by media / allegations
- "Men are violent"
- "Men are dangerous"
- "Men are paedophiles"
- Get rich, or die trying
- Risk of homelessness
- Low-priority for help - considered not vulnerable
- Identity issues; body dysmorphia - use of steroids, huge muscles
- Need to look masculine, avoid gender ambiguity
- Weight of expectation. Assumption that advantages will lead to great success
- "It's a long way down" - falling from grace; loss of status
- Hide pain. Don't talk about problems
- Self reliance
- Isolation - man is an island
- Most idolised and revered men are athletes - worship of physique
- "Loser" - no job, no money, no career, no skills
- Thief / junkie / criminal / bankrupt / dosser / tramp - always a man
- "It's all your own fault" / personal responsibility; accountability
- Passivity = homosexuality
- House-husband = not an option
- Succeed or kill yourself
That's all I can think of for now. The list is all over the place, but I wanted to cover as many different things as I could think of in a short space of time. To see it written down like that is somewhat alarming, because it doesn't seem to convey the struggle that I believe men face, and that causes so many men to end their own lives. It's strange that I can write a single word like "provider" and that succinctly sums up a whole heap of pressures and responsibilities that a man shoulders, but it's just one word.
So, I'm going to leave it there. Half words of caveat and half words that are powerfully charged for me, as a man. I leave it to you, dear reader, to expand each bullet point and decide whether it's all a lot of fuss about nothing. I had to write this today, because of an event today that I can't write about. It's complicated.