Are you a guy aged between 8 and 80? Answer yes and you’ve probably been told to ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’ at some point in your life.
While the nonsensical demand might not seem like a big deal at the time, a new report asking what it means to be a modern man has revealed the terrible consequences of stereotyping masculinity – from suicide to violence by way of isolation and repression.
Sometimes it’s tough being a guy in this world. It might feel like people put you in a box marked ‘MAN’ and keep you there. Lynx, who conducted the study with the help of Promundo, calls this the ‘Man Box’: A crazy structure of expectations to ‘act tough’ and ‘man up‘ that traps guys from an early age.
Living in the so-called ‘Man Box’ can feel like you’re not really able to be who you are, without your maleness being questioned and prodded and poked.
These feelings and frustrations are shared by thousands of young men, worldwide.
The survey found that between 57 per cent and 72 per cent of guys surveyed across the UK, America and Mexico report being told that a “real man should behave a certain way” at some point in their lives.
At least 48 per cent of guys surveyed agree with the statement: “In my opinion guys should act strong even if they feel scared or nervous inside.”
This self-defeating prophecy has serious physical consequences, that stem from a society-wide myth that a man should sort out his own problems without sharing.
The mantra ‘boys don’t cry’ is instilled from childhood, and ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is not really an option extended to many young guys.
Worryingly, guys forced to conform to these archaic modes of manhood are twice as likely to take their own lives, with British men at the most risk, being 2.8 times more likely to die by suicide.
Of the 3,500 guys surveyed, 665 men report having had thoughts of committing suicide within the last two weeks – that’s a shocking high per cent of 19 – and show a significantly higher rate of depression.
The LYNX study also found that at least 38 per cent of guys surveyed believe society thinks a man who talks about his problems shouldn’t get respect. In fact, at least 49 per cent of guys think society expects them to figure out their personal problems alone.
The impact of the Man Box manifests outwardly too. American men constrained by society in this way are four times as likely to refrain from doing something they wanted for fear of appearing gay.
At least four in ten guys surveyed believe it’s hard to be successful, either professionally or romantically, if he doesn’t look the part. And it’s not just clothes and hair that count, apparently.
Guys’ self-worth is still linked with more primal features like muscle bulk, height and body shape. Personality and character tend to come in second place.
However, there’s a flip side. At least 49 per cent of guys feel that society tells them that a man who is too ‘into’ his appearance is not manly. This leaves men with a tough balancing act – looking their best but not looking like they tried too hard.
Those conflicts kind of sound like a modern day nightmare, and it begins from day dot. The box is built the moment a nurse grabs you by the foot, kicking and screaming, and announces: “It’s a boy!”
The box has many sides and corners, reports LYNX. Parents, peers, the media, the opposite sex, the culture at large all contribute. These external forces can come together to make guys feel like there’s only one way to be a ‘real man’.
LYNX research found that at least a whopping 47 per cent of parents taught their sons that a ‘real man’ must always act strong even if he’s terrified inside.
And the man box isn’t just a danger to those trapped inside. Men in the ‘Man Box’ are three to six times more likely to have perpetrated sexual harassment in the past month.
Furthermore, in the US and UK, guys in the ‘Man Box’ are six to seven times as likely to perpetrate physical bullying.
You might think society has moved on from the archaic gender stereotypes – so damaging to the natural development of each and every man, as they are – to the point where we don’t tell guys to ‘man up’.
But these shocking statistics from a survey conducted on thousands of young men from the UK, America and Mexico suggests otherwise.
Each generation thinks their predecessors have it easy and young people today are often branded in unflattering terms – but actually we all face different challenges as we grow into the people we are.
Undoubtedly, it’s tough growing up in Generation Y, whether you’re a guy or a girl. However, modern society challenges young men with these pretty unique, troubling and complex set of obstacles.
Society neatly reduces the complex idea of manhood to a few token masculine stereotypes of stoicism and strength, amid the myth of manhood and what it means to be a modern man.
Let’s be the generation that throw off the shackles of gender stereotypes that our parents had to dodge.
As one participant from Washington DC put it: “I think when people start to learn to be confident in their own selves and be part of who they are as individuals, that’s when we as a society are able to shift the whole dynamic of what you consider as a male.”
That shift can’t come quick enough.
If you need to talk about your mental health, have had suicidal feeling or know someone you’re worried about, please don’t suffer in silence. Call Samaritans on their freephone, anonymous advice line on: 116 321.
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.