Masculine norms built upon decades of television shows, movies, and societal expectations have conditioned young men that the virtues of men include stoicism, risk-taking, and intelligence-driven decision-making. That left-brained focus in masculinity has come at a cost: intellectualism has been wrongly contrasted with emotional intuition, and male vulnerability, especially, has been branded as the stuff of weaker men.
But science does not support the idea that men should be devoid of emotion; in fact, studies have shown that male vulnerability is an asset in terms of developing strong leadership, building healthy relationships, promoting positive mental health behaviors, and reinforcing positive fatherly relationships.
The literature around male vulnerability is compelling, but when researching positive masculinity, I found that much of this research hasn’t made it past journal articles, which are largely read exclusively within academic men’s studies and clinical psychology communities. While these studies are important, the truth about male vulnerability hasn’t made a big enough wave in mainstream media.
This article aims to help remedy that gap.
Below, I’ve listed 15 critical facts about male vulnerability that should be informing what it means to be a man in the 21st century.
1. If we got rid of the beliefs that placed pressure on men to behave within specific masculine norms, we could reduce sexual violence by at least 69% and eliminate at least 41% of traffic accidents, 40% of bullying and violence, 39% of suicides, 7% of binge drinking, and 4% of depressive symptoms among men (18-30) in the US, every year. (Source: Promundo)
2. Instructional programs featuring community outreach, mobilization, and mass media campaigns more effectively change behaviors in men than single-topic programs. (Source: Global Public Health)
3. Men who are compassionate, vulnerable, and balanced emotionally have higher senses of self-confidence than those men who are “unforgiving of their faults.” (Source: Psychology of Men & Masculinity)
How Comedy About Depression Helps Men Talk About Mental Health
4. Men who are future oriented, who act with a sense of purpose towards the future, often push back on masculine gender norms and commit to healthier behaviors. (Source: Psychology of Men & Masculinity)
5. Not all masculine norms are bad. Men who strive towards personal success (i.e. Winning) are more likely to feel accomplished and increase self-esteem, thus boosting their mental well-being. (Source: Psychology of Men & Masculinities)
6. Depression in men “often manifests as irritability; anger; hostile, aggressive, abusive behavior; risk taking; substance abuse; and escaping behavior (eg, over-involvement at work).” (Source: Canadian Family Physicians)
7. Men talk about their emotional problems in terms of stress rather than sadness, or feeling down. (Source: Canadian Family Physicians)
8. A survey revealed that 13.6% of men believe that men with depression could “snap out of it.” (Source: Community Mental Health Journal)
9. One in ten men believe depression isn’t a real medical illness. (Source: Community Mental Health Journal)
10. Gender-aware treatment plans have a significant effect on removing the stigma attached to men who seek therapy. (Source: Psychology of Men & Masculinities)
11. Sweden transformed leave into a “gender-neutral policy,” and now 80% of men in Sweden utilize family leave to the benefit of their families. (Source: Journal of Social Issues)
12. Case studies show that the key to unlocking male emotional intimacy begins with male friendship. (Source: Family Process)
The Importance of Male Friendship, Man Dates, and Vulnerability
13. Developing deeper, more intimate friendships help men become more emotionally available in their marriages. (Source: Family Process)
14. Research proves that those fathers who are more willing to push back on traditional masculine norms are also more likely to achieve the fatherhood ideal (developing a nurturing, caring relationship with child). (Source: Journal of Marriage & Family)
15. “Children who experience warm, affectionate, and concerned parenting build self-confidence, feel loved and supported, grow up in emotionally stable households, and are nurtured.” (Source: Journal of Marriage & Family)
What do you think are the best ways to help promote healthy male behaviors? Do you have any experience with male vulnerability?
Let us know in the comments what you think.