Written by Volker Ballueder
‘Man up’ I heard him saying to his little boy. ‘Don’t be a sissy’. ‘Don’t cry like a girl’.
Those and similar phrases used to be all too common, and for some people they still are. I believe that my generation is what I call an ‘in between generation’. I was born in 1977 and when I look at the generation that is about 5 years older, I discover that they accepted the so-called 'must-follow rules’ from the older generation much more. And when I say older generation, then I am talking about the generation that grew up just after the war which was taught by their parents respectively.
Those rules were from a time when women weren’t allowed to vote, didn’t work and stayed at home to look after the children. The man was the breadwinner, the ‘man in the house’ and the ‘boy had to look after his mother and siblings’ whilst dad was away for work. The pressure was on the man to perform, the woman was serving him and the family. Part of this might have come from the war too, with men dying at the front, and sons growing up quickly to replace their dad.
You might remember those ads in the 50's of the woman making the man comfortable after a hard day’s work, bringing him a beer and slippers so he could watch TV whilst she put the kids to bed and cooks him dinner.
I am going off on a tangent here but it is important to stress that those roles only changed in recent history, and not in all countries around the world. For many generations men weren’t allowed to speak up about their feelings. There were gay men stuck in family situations, having a wife and children to fulfil a norm build on made up rules, as they didn’t know better. To see a gay couple, or coming out of the closet, wasn’t a thing to do. Even today I too often hear men making fun of gay men, as, to my opinion, they cannot cope with the reality of life.
From there stems a stigma of what we can or cannot be. And I am delighted to see that society is changing, and is accepting people for who they are. The individual who has the right to speak about their feelings, about the pressure that work puts on them, and that it is ok to cry as a man.
Being from that in-between generation I am still learning, making sure my kids know that it is ok to cry and show feelings. I had to shake off a lot of those rules I followed for rule sake. It is my responsibility to ensure that my children form a society where it is normal to speak out, share the chores and treat a woman with respect. I don’t have a problem with cleaning the toilet or doing the dishes and setting an example for a new generation. And I want my children to question the rules I put up as a parent.
What does this have to do with mental health stigma for men?
It is ok to not be ok. Whether you are a man, a woman or consider yourself neither. It is ok to share those feelings and talk about them. We are all just humans, and gender shouldn’t make a difference. We have to rid ourselves of the old rules which were considered the norm, and understand that men and women are equal, and that every individual has their right to express their own individual style. Being able to be who you are, with all your faults. Gender doesn’t matter, they are just stereotypes from a time long gone.