Being ‘macho’ has long been part and parcel of what it means to be a man in modern society. This masculine norm encourages men to be overly assertive and aggressive, and bottle up their emotions during times of hardship.
But this ideal of manliness is dying out. Men all over the world – as well as the women in their lives who care for them – are seeing the serious harm that this causes. This recognition is leading to a different conception of masculinity. As there is less pressure to be macho, men feel more comfortable living an authentic life, true to themselves and their feelings. And, it’s making their lives better.
The harm caused by macho masculinity
The failure of macho masculinity is clear. For example, one study found that the more men identify with the norm of self-reliance, the more likely they are to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts. Rather than reaching out for help and talking about their struggles, men are deciding to keep it to themselves, adamant in the belief that ‘real men’ can ‘just deal with it’. This whole approach of ‘manning up’ and being tough isn’t harmless. Because of the need to feel macho, for example, many men are unlikely to accept mental health treatment. As a result, in most countries, the male suicide rate is higher than that of females.
Many men feel they have to keep a stiff upper lip and be dominant if they want to lead a fulfilling life, whether that involves finding a partner or succeeding in one’s career. The sad irony of the situation is that repressing one’s emotions has the opposite effect: it can actually leave you feeling unfulfilled. It’s worth keeping in mind the saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Keeping a problem – especially a mental health issue - to yourself for too long can result in the problem festering and growing into something much worse.
When it comes to living a fulfilling life, being macho and keeping depressive and anxious thoughts bottled up is counter-productive. But there is a growing trend of men who are rejecting this ill-fitting mould of masculinity. For example, University College London (UCL) recently published a study show that men are far more likely to value qualities such as reliability, loyalty, dependability and honesty than being macho. It takes bravery to challenge the status quo like this. Yet the rewards of going against the grain are worth it, especially if one’s mental wellness is at stake.
Trying to live an authentic life is a universal struggle. We can all feel at times that we’re too much of this or not enough of that. Even when men decide that they are sick and tired of cultural expectations dictating their self-worth, there will still be constant hurdles to jump over.
Every man benefits from this trend, and can support it by practicing and learning to be more sincere with their emotions, especially with the other men in their lives. It may be an upward struggle towards wellness, but growing as a man is about finding the courage to face all obstacles that life offers up.
About Sam Woolfe
I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.
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