Males are taught from a very early age to not be in touch with their emotions.
From a very young age, boys are told that crying and being sensitive are not okay. When they do show such emotions they are labelled as “gay”, “unmanly” and other labels meant to discourage them from being in touch with their inner selves.
This breeds men who feel insecure about showing their emotions out of fear they will be judged by not just men, but women too.
A World Health Organisation report published by Business Live in September 2019 said South African men are four times more likely to die by suicide than their female counterparts. The report, Preventing Suicide: A Resource For Pesticide Registrars and Regulators, said of the 6 476 suicides recorded in 2016, men accounted for 5 138, or 79.34% of the total.
Speaking to Business Live, South African Anxiety and Depression Group operations director Cassey Chambers said, “The majority of our [calls] are from females; however, some of our more acute or emergency cases are from male callers, especially since men use more aggressive methods of suicide.”
She said more aggressive methods included hanging or the use of a firearm, whereas women were more likely to use pills or poison.
According to Chambers, South African men are brought up with a “cowboys don’t cry” culture, which often means men do not seek help for depression before it is too late.
This resonates with me, because showing any sign of weakness is something I have struggled with. Growing up participating in sports meant I was always in situations where levels of testosterone were quite high. One bad performance would be amplified in my head, but there would be no room for feeling bad, because the coach or teammates would be spitting out things such as “Grow up!”, “Be a man!” and “Do you want to play for the girls’ team?”
There is a lot of pressure on men to act according to a standard considered masculine and strong. For example, men have to pretend they are not affected by an injury or a death, even when they feel like crying. This is supposed to make men believe they are in charge of their emotions and are the dominant figures in society.
“Because of the perceived mantle of leadership that men have been socialised into believing should be theirs alone, women are often seen as too empowered and not to be trusted,” according to an article published in saferspaces.org.za and titled Toxic Masculinity and Violence in South Africa.
The article links issues such as domestic violence and rape to men who feel they have to get their way all of the time. This attitude is rooted in how they have been taught that they should be in charge of every situation they find themselves in.
I believe that we, men and women, need to consciously stop judging men who express their feelings, whether it be by crying after failing a test or due to grief over the loss of a loved one. We should create a space where men can feel safe and comfortable showing their emotions.
Perhaps in that way men will feel free to talk about their anxieties and depression without the fear that there is no solution other than suicide.
FEATURED IMAGE: Dylan Bettencourt, Student Journalist at Wits Vuvuzela