The kindness of women and the sadness of men

Emily Todd VanDerWerff is a critic at large for Vox, and she’s reviewed an interesting video by PhilosophyTube that addresses the issue of men’s mental health.

I thought this bit of her review was particularly interesting.

Thorn suggests that one project worth undertaking, should you have a platform like his to do it, is to increase the number of emotional colors that men feel free to paint with, so they’re not forced to work with such a limited palette. By making a video like this one, he says, other men might be able to recognize themselves in his story and find sustenance and help with the process of navigating their own emotions.

(A personal sidebar: This is deeply true. Since coming out as a trans woman, I’ve found a staggering number of emotional support systems open to women compared to those for men, because women in our culture are expected to be emotional, whereas men are expected to be buttoned-down. If I’m having a hard day or quietly crying at a restaurant, I almost always receive a quick, “Are you okay?” from other women who might be around. This never happened to me when I lived my life as a man…

That’s been my experience too. The conversations I have with women are very different from the conversations I used to have, and still have, with men. It’s not just evident in conversations with close friends; it’s there with people I didn’t know an hour previously too. It’s hard to put into words, but I think the difference is what’s meant by the question “how are you?” from someone you know outside of a professional context.

Having played for both teams, I think there is a difference in the way men and women ask it and answer it. The women I know ask it with meaning and answer honestly. Whereas the men ask it and really hope they don’t get an honest answer – which is handy, because the man being asked has no intention of providing one. He’s fine. He’s always fine.

I think things are getting better – for example the stigma around talking about mental illness seems to be fading – but I think among men of my age and older there’s still that boys-don’t-cry, stiff-upper-lip thing going on. Which is perhaps partly why my friends and I have lost two men to suicide in the last three months: while women are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, men are more likely to kill themselves. In 2017 in the UK, 5,821 people killed themselves. 4,382 of them were men.

This is what we mean when we talk about tackling toxic masculinity. It’s not about tackling all masculinity, changing what it means to be a man or diminishing men in any way. It’s about increasing the number of emotional colours that men feel free to paint with.