Every man has their own experiences and beliefs about what it means to be a man. Gender is a significant part of personal identity, along with a range of other things that ‘make up’ our sense of who we are: cultural background, physical ability/disability, sexual preferences, religion, family, where we live…the list goes on.
While every man is unique, men face some common social pressures about how they should behave, feel and think. These pressures can influence how men respond to different situations at different times. Men can feel under pressure to:
- Deal with problems alone.
- Always be in control.
- Express only a limited range of emotions.
- Never admit any vulnerability.
There are times when these qualities can be helpful. In a crisis or emergency, and some kinds of work, the ability to ‘keep a level head’ or ‘hold it together’ are highly valued and sought after (such as ambulance officers, in the armed services, or business executives).
However, a difficulty with these expectations ‘to be a man’ is that they can become quite restrictive. They can lead to men isolating themselves, becoming reluctant to talk about what is going on for them. These expectations can lead to men becoming overly self critical. These judgments might come from people around them, too.
Unfortunately, these pressures can have men evaluating and judging themselves in unhelpful ways. They can lead to men being down on themselves for ‘being tricked’, for ‘not fighting hard enough’, for ‘not being able to cope’, for ‘not measuring up’, when they would benefit most from understanding and encouragement.
Unrealistic expectations to ‘man up’, to ‘push through’ and ‘just get on with it’ can lead to men feeling they have to work through problems alone. It can have men believing it is a sign of weakness to ask for help with personal problems, difficult thoughts or feelings. Yet in other areas of their life, men will routinely gather all the information and support they can. If you have a problem with your car you can’t fix, you take it to a mechanic or friend who knows about cars.
A challenge we face as men is to be aware of these expectations, whilst making sure they don’t restrict our choices and willingness to access support that helps build happier, healthier lives and relationships.
Some questions to consider:
- Do you sometimes find yourself wondering about these expectations men live with and whether they are working for you or those around you?
- Have there been times when you’ve done what’s best, even though it has gone against ideas about how a man ‘should’ act?
- Consider how, as a man, you can expand options for yourself and those around you by speaking up about unhelpful expectations.