Men are expected to be strong, athletic, successful, competitive, in control, relentless, risk takers, promiscuous, able to drink a lot of alcohol, breadwinners and stoic. When men are compelled to take the impossible task of fitting into society’s socially constructed image of what a real man is, the consequences on their mental health are ignored. We all know men who partake in risky and unhealthy behaviors. But we also know men who are alone, depressed and in conflict with who they are versus what they are supposed to be. It is called the “paradox of masculinity.”
Men are the dominant beings in patriarchal societies: Most Fortune 500 CEOs are men, most federal judges are men, most representatives and senators in the United States Congress are men. So while men as a group are powerful in our society, men as individuals feel powerless in the struggle to be a hegemonic man. Like all oppressions, there are costs to those who are privileged. Institutionalized racism negatively affects whites because it prevents integration among the races. Additionally, homophobia negatively affects straight men because of the violence perpetrated by homophobic individuals onto any man whom they deem to be gay or feminine. In no way do racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc., affect dominant groups in the same way it affected marginalized groups and individuals, but the oppressor’s house was still built with the tools of oppression.
On average, men die at least five years earlier than women. Men are more likely to suffer from heart and lung disease than women. For every woman that commits suicide, four men do, and it is the second leading cause of death for college students. Men are more likely to engage in unsafe sex practices, unhealthy drinking behaviors and suffer injuries in sports and in the workplace. Men are not as likely as women to get emotional or medical support. Before and after Columbine, it has been young men who pulled the trigger.