We're in a crisis of manhood

"Can’t cry, can’t show affection, can’t ask for help, can’t cope: these are recurring themes of manhood".

"Can’t cry, can’t show affection, can’t ask for help, can’t cope: these are recurring themes of manhood". Photo: Getty

If I had a dollar for each time a man in my life had expressed some sort of reticence about showing emotion or vulnerability, I would be writing this article from my solid-gold castle atop a mountain of VVS diamonds.

Can’t cry, can’t show affection, can’t ask for help, can’t cope: these are recurring themes of manhood, at least according to what I’ve seen in the men I’ve known and loved, and I’m sure you’ve heard (or said, if you are male) similar things many times.

See, while we might think that in the supposedly enlightened 21st century the pressure to Be A Man has lessened somewhat, if the struggles that men (particularly young men and boys) are going through when it comes to societal expectations of masculinity are any indication, very little has changed.  

Harry O'Brien.

Harry O'Brien. Photo: Scott Barbour

Documentarian Jennifer Siebel Newsom - who previously helmed the excellent Miss Representation - aims to explore and explode the myths of modern manhood with her feature documentary, The Mask You Live In, which she is currently raising finishing funds for on Kickstarter.


Of the catalyst for the project, she says,

“At a young age, boys learn that to express compassion or empathy is to show weakness. They hear confusing messages that force them to repress their emotions, establish hierarchies, and constantly prove their masculinity. They often feel compelled to abide by a rigid code of conduct that affects their relationships, narrows their definition of success and, in some cases, leads to acts of violence resulting in what many researchers call a ‘boy crisis’. Our society’s failure to recognize and care for the social and emotional well-being of our boys contributes to a nation of young men who navigate adversity and conflict with an incomplete emotional skill set. Whether boys and later men have chosen to resist or conform to this masculine norm, there is loneliness, anxiety, and pain.”

While the focus of The Mask You Live In is men and boys in the USA, there’s no doubt that what Siebel Newsom is exploring affects men all over the world. The film’s funding has surpassed its original goal of $80,000, and with just over a week to go, I hope the film doubles its funding target, as this is a discussion that needs to be had worldwide. 

Some armchair commentators have expressed surprise (and some, contempt) at the fact that a feminist filmmaker is making a documentary about men.

But the things being discussed in The Mask You Live In are, in fact, life or death issues.

Locally, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women and suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged between 15 and 44 [...] men are less likely to get the help they need, with other ABS data showing only 27 per cent of men seek professional help, compared to 40 per cent of women. In many cases men turn to drugs or alcohol instead of getting assistance, this is especially so with men under 25”.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but here goes once more for old time’s sake: masculinity is a feminist issue. The model of masculinity that insists that men are not allowed to feel or show emotion is a patriarchal construct. And isn’t the patriarchy what we all banded together to fight in the first place?

This problem of masculinity has been around about as long as feminism, but perhaps because of the pressure on men to grin and bear it, is only just bubbling to the surface (or rather more correctly, reaching a boiling point) now. Watching the project video for The Mask You Live In, I couldn’t help but think about how much the 1950s stuffed everything up for everyone.

As Alecia Simmonds' great piece on male affection earlier this year put it,

“Post-1950, emotional suppression became crucial to the maintenance of patriarchal power. Of course this is not in all areas of life. Men were and are still allowed to weep, hug, caress, and touch each other’s bottoms while fighting in war or playing violent sport. This may be because these are such unquestionably masculine activities from which women have been firmly excluded.”

But even within masculine activities, to show genuine vulnerability is still to find oneself an outlier; look at the shock many expressed when Collingwood AFL player Harry O’Brien revealed the depths of his mental and emotional woes last month. The most pressing issue, to some commentators, seemed to be “Yeah but when will he be back on field kicking goals again?”

Continued hysterical media coverage of “metrosexuals” or men’s beauty products; sniggering morning TV reports about famous men who cry in public; blogs that make fun of feminised or effeminate-looking men; casual dismissal of emotions - all these things, while they may seem like throwaway issues, are symptoms of a patriarchal model of masculinity that hurts pretty much everybody.

SANE Australia CEO Jack Heath told the ABC recently,

“There are notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man that prevent them from getting help. There's a belief that the very idea of being a man is that you deal with stuff and you don't reach out or connect. Untreated, the problem snowballs. The combination of that and the notion of having to deal with it alone, is the reason behind high suicide rates."

The crisis of manhood, if you like, will affect both men and women; as psychologist Dr Niobe Way says in the project video, “If we’re in a culture that doesn’t value caring, doesn’t value relationships, doesn’t value empathy, you are going to have boys and girls, men and women, go crazy.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Mensline:  1300 78 99 78

Kids helpline:  1800 55 1800 



  • "This problem of masculinity has been around about as long as feminism"
    In this case correlation = causation. For the first time in a long time the statistics quoted in a feminist article are actually correct. Suicide IS the leading cause of death for boys and men aged 15 - 44.
    And women are just as likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence, yet only men are encouraged to make pledges and 'walk in her shoes'. Men make up 38% of victims of domestic violence sustaining serious injury or death, yet there are no men's shelters or assistance programs. All the money has gone to feminist projects which doggedly insist men are the perpetrators and women are the victims. We have feminist groups like www.bethehero.com.au who take boys aside in school and 'talk' to them about respect for girls and women. But boys aren't stupid, they can see no such program exists for girls so they get the idea there is something wrong with their gender. And this is happening right when they're entering the golden age of suicide at 15.
    Yes I do have contempt for the idea of a feminist making a film about masculinity. Especially when it's feminists who are the first ones to exploit it with their 'what about teh poor menz?' mockery.

    Date and time
    July 31, 2013, 8:36AM
    • Yes absolutely! correlation = causation in this case. I applaud your comment.

      magic mike
      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 12:54PM
    • Agreed - I think a lot of contempt around a feminist making a film around masculinity is because just like feminists say men really have no say in women's issues, the reverse should apply. Also, the film will no doubt be about how masculinity is "bad" and how men must change - just another opportunity to tell young men that they are in the wrong.

      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 1:49PM
    • Excellent points. The blame game cuts both ways and feminists are long overdue for some quality blow-back. To date we poor male chumps have largely taken it all in bemused silence but life for us is clearly no better (despite spurious salary scales ever pushing the feminist agenda).

      The author correctly notes males complete suicide at 3x the female rate. Here's more: males use less than 1/3 of the health dollar, females >2/3 yet males live on average 5 years less. This is a scandal. Women just say "Oh but it's men's fault, they don't seek help." What about catering for males better?

      Ditto in schools. Feminists can't hide their joy now that girls are outstripping boys ("See, we always knew we were better"). Actually what is happening is that our schools are increasingly failing boys, wholesale, with the exception of some very good private schools (notably Catholic ones, interestingly). I don't hear much talk about how schools can better provide for boys' needs, it's more the case that there's tacit acceptance that boys are falling behind. A lack of care. Perhaps it's the legacy of two generations of (?semi- ?maliciously- )educated feminists who are now in positions of power in the bureaucracy. Some re-balancing needs to occur.

      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 2:28PM
    • A couple of points:

      - Yes, men are 3x as likely to die from suicide. However, women are 3x as likely to attempt it; they just succeed less often as they tend to use less violent methods. It's easier to succeed with a gun or rope than it is with a bottle of pills or a razor blade. Suicide/self-harm is a very serious problem for both genders. One issue that needs addressing here is rural isolation and access to firearms, which could potentially save a lot of young men's lives.

      - Men die on average 2 years younger than women, that is true. But there are a number of reasons for this that do not relate to discrimination. One is that men are more likely to drink, smoke or be overweight, and less likely to see doctors (or as quickly) when they are unwell. We need major public health campaigns to address these issues and help men access resources. It's not that these resources are not offered or available, it is that the take-up rate is lower than it should be. That partially explains the fact that more health dollars are spent on women, but another factor is that much of the spending on women is related to prenatal/postnatal care. The average healthy woman will have many tests and hospital stays more than the average man, because she'll be having babies.

      I'm really concerned by how many comments here seize upon the idea that women or femninists are evil, and entirely to blame for the problems faced by men. However, these same commenters are usually among the first to insist that men are not to blame for women's problems - even when nobody blamed them in the first place. Let's try a little perspective here.

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 3:07PM
  • And yet funding for men's health issued is a fraction of what it is for women's health issues.

    While they're at it, they might as well have a look at why girls out-perform boy at school, and increasingly out-number them in university courses.

    Agent Smith
    Date and time
    July 31, 2013, 8:37AM
    • And men outnumbering women in jail at about 10:1

      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 9:56AM
    • I think what Clem is getting at is that as a society we still have the belief that men should be strong and therefore should be able to "man up" and not need extra help.

      Therefore we place less importance on men's issues and accordingly less funding is provided vs. that provided for women's issues.

      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 9:59AM
    • "I think what Clem is getting at is that as a society we still have the belief that men should be strong and therefore should be able to "man up" and not need extra help."

      I hope the feminists enjoy the floppy, useless men that would abound if they get their way. I suspect, mostly, it will assist with the earlier aims of some feminist groups to see men exterminated. The best part for them is that the men will kill themselves while the feminists claim they're just trying to help.

      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 10:15AM
    • Or they can look at why the SNAG thing of the early 90s was an abysmal failure and a one-way ticket to the friend zone. If women (especially feminists) want men to change they need to start rewarding the behaviour they say they want with the reward men seek.

      Anyway, this topic is far too complex and a critique of the article couldn't be shortened to a 300 word comment that probably wouldn't be published because its not the gushing circle-jerk that Daily Life favours. Maybe DeBrito will touch on it

      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 10:20AM

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