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Stigma is like a big, nasty, scarlet letter that makes someone feel rejected or less than. It’s a negative label that can mess with a person’s sense of who they are, especially when it comes to topics like masculinity.

Stigma often gets attached to certain conditions or characteristics, like mental illness, physical disabilities, or being part of a marginalized group. When a person gets slapped with a stigma, they’re seen as different, maybe even odd, compared to what’s considered ‘normal.’ This can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and being left out.

There are a few different types of stigma we should talk about:

  • Social Stigma: It’s when society gives the side-eye or treats a group or individual unfairly because of things like their mental health status, race, or religion.
  • Self-Stigma: This is when people start to buy into the social stigma. They begin to see themselves through these negative stereotypes, and it can really knock their self-esteem.
  • Structural Stigma: This type of stigma is built into the system. It often shows up as biased policies or unequal access to resources, services, or opportunities for certain groups. It’s like an invisible barrier that makes life tougher for some folks.

Take Schizophrenia in Japan, for instance. It used to be called Seishin-Bunretsu-Byo, which translates to Mind-Split-Disease. The name carried a connation that even suggested that the illness gets worse over time and can’t be treated. So, many people who thought they might have it avoided getting help. Even doctors who diagnosed patients often didn’t tell them. They had to change the name of the disease to get people to seek help.

Man sitting thoughtfully on a couch, symbolizing the complexities of modern masculinity.

The Stigma of Masculinity

Richard Grinker’s book Nobody’s Normal takes a deep look into the history of stigmas and their impact on people over time. One of the stigmas he sheds light on is the concept of masculinity, of what it means to be a man. A potent quote from the book reads, “fear, tenderness – these emotions were so despised that they could be admitted into consciousness only at the cost of redefining what it meant to be a man.”

The book goes on to discuss how cultural expectations of manhood often prevent men from seeking help for critical issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning from war. It’s a clear illustration of how our gender stereotypes regarding masculinity can limit our potential.

We’ve confined the concept of ‘being a man’ to such a narrow frame that those who don’t fit are stigmatized. These stereotypes can prevent men from achieving a lot of good things. Society puts up hurdles, making it difficult for men to be open about their feelings and needs. Instead, they’re nudged to behave in ways that stifle their growth and prevent them from becoming the best they can be.

Let’s take a closer look at how these societal pressures can mess with a man’s wellbeing.

Hiding Feelings: Boys are often told from a young age that showing “weak” emotions like sadness or fear is a no-no. You’ve heard the saying, “boys don’t cry,” right? But when guys bottle up these feelings, it’s like shaking a soda can – it’s bound to burst. This pressure can lead to all sorts of problems, like stress, anxiety, and even depression. Letting out feelings isn’t just healthy, it’s human. We need to start teaching our boys that.

Need to be Tough: There’s this expectation that “real men” don’t show pain, whether it’s a physical pain like a sprained ankle or emotional pain like a broken heart. This macho image can stop men from getting help when they really need it. It’s like they’re lugging around a heavy backpack and refuse to set it down, even when others are ready and willing to help. It’s not a good way to live, and it often leaves men dealing with their struggles alone and in silence.

Win at All Costs: Many guys grow up believing their value is tied to their success, especially in competitive areas. It’s the old ‘win at all costs’ way of thinking. This mindset can drive men to overwork themselves, leading to burnout, and feelings of failure if they don’t hit sky-high goals. It fosters an environment where teamwork is looked down upon, and guys feel like they’re fighting battles alone.

Always be in Control: There’s this harmful idea that to be a man, you have to be aggressive, always the winner, and in control of everything. It’s like trying to steer a boat in a storm – it’s exhausting, unrealistic, and a recipe for disaster. This pressure can encourage violent behavior, make compromise difficult, and cause problems in relationships.

Ignoring Self-Care: Some folks have this strange idea that taking care of yourself – things like skincare, mindfulness, or eating healthily – is something only women should do. This misunderstanding can keep men from adopting habits that are crucial for their physical and mental health. It’s like refusing to use an umbrella in the rain because you think it’s not ‘manly.’

Hegemonic Masculinity: This is a big term, but it’s crucial. It’s about the belief that men are superior, and that women and people of other sexualities are less important. This kind of thinking can lead to unfair behavior, discrimination, and overlooks the beautiful fact that everyone is unique and valuable in their own way.

By questioning these damaging stereotypes and expanding our idea of what it means to be a man, we can help men have better mental health, emotional strength, and overall wellbeing. Society should cheer for a version of masculinity that respects all genders, is open about feelings, discourages violence, and values self-care.

Remember, it’s totally okay for guys to show vulnerability, talk about their feelings, and ask for help when they need it. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of being human. That’s the key here: being a healthy, balanced person isn’t about sticking to strict gender roles, it’s about being true to yourself and embracing healthier attitudes about who you are.

Nicholas Cardot

The transformation begins with you. Develop the leader inside you and become the driving influence your community is looking for.

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