Some Thoughts on Men’s Health

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It seems that this year’s International Men’s Day is being celebrated with a little more enthusiasm than that of other years. It certainly helps when the discrimination against a well known male movie actor eclipses this day, but I believe that the focus on men is part of a growing movement that is responding feminism of the past few years. This men’s movement is not so much celebrating men, but rather focusing on men’s psychological health.

Perhaps because of the “Me Too” movement, along with society’s expectations of men (and in turn, men’s expectations of themselves) to be strong, solution-oriented and to provide in these trying times, that a reevaluation of men is, quite literally, needed. Many men in the past have shied away from analyzing their role in society, because we thought we knew that it was tied to financial gain: Staying at home, cooking, cleaning, was not an option that was respectable. Now, all of a sudden, we are almost forced to do so, so there is understandable confusion as to who men have become.

An interesting recent result proved a neurological basis for transgenderism as well. So in honest conversation, we cannot ignore the analysis of the male gender any longer, especially with the understand that gender is a spectrum: We might just all be transgender to an extent, and just not know it. Maybe some men enjoy staying at home with their families enough, that they will continue to do so. Who knows.

Anyway. That’s for later. Right now, men’s health is on display, and there are only a few more minutes before the day is over, so let’s get going.

You’ve seen many stats on men I hope, so I’m not going to go through these. What I doubt you heard much about however, is the idea of madness in men, which I would like to use as a starting point for a wider discussion.

It is known that men tend to suffer from schizophrenia at higher rates and severity than women, though medically, it is unclear why. It’s a complex disease, because there are so many disparate symptoms: hallucinations, flattened emotions, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, among others. Any explanation of the disease will need to somehow take these things into one framework, if one seeks to understand what the disease really does. Back in 1973, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari did just that, and published, what in my opinion, is a mind-bending exploration of this topic which seems to have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but no scientific one as of yet.

One of the takeaways of Anti-Oedipus is that their version of madness/schizophrenia stems from a deep engagement with wider society. Continual interaction with society runs a notorious process in the brain, whereby people change in such a way, that the demands and standards of a society become worth more than what a small tribe or family provide. Schizophrenia occurs then, when the process is either interrupted or broken down, whereby the brain cannot adapt to these big changes of priority. Thus, any environment in which wider society’s influence is not strongly felt, so the thinking goes, is a place where one is less susceptible to schizophrenia, an idea supported by the fact that cities have higher incidence rates of the illness.

This is unfortunate for men: Early on, boys’ futures tend to be framed in close relation to society’s expectations of what the economy demands, cities being on of the resulting structures of this. One decade, soldiers might be in demand. Later, astronauts were glorified, and now, the programming skill set seems to be most widespread (everyone can program these days, no?). Boy’s ties to society are more intense than that of women because it is expected more of boys that they will be working jobs. This means that their dependence on societal virtues, rather than familial ones take precedence in their minds, or become debilitatingly ill.

Because most of western society is built on the idea of capitalism, a process that only ends when there is nothing left to produce capital with, men’s worth is tied to unquenchable desire. The introduction of new family members, while deeply satisfying to women, is an event more peripheral to men, which perhaps explains why they tend to be more absent-minded regarding family matters and relationships. Children in contrast, (in my opinion), are an end in themselves, meaning that when one has them at their focal point, nothing more is required to feel worthy. This is perhaps why women tend to live happier lives.

Over time, men and boys go through young adulthood, and either buy into the capitalist system, or suffer the horrible disease. But if men do integrate the capitalist complex within him, the primary source of worth comes from wider society, and not from within, or from family. At this point, the capitalist machine demands more and more of men and tricks them into feeling they have more responsibility for companies’ well-being than they do over family matters and themselves. The opposite seems to be true for women.

It is easy then to see which parent is to blame, when a family structure crumbles. As a result, women tend to win custody over children, while men need to pay alimony, which means they are left with no one more at home and less sense of worth than before, as well as newly invigorated self-loathing. Sadly, all he can do is continue going to work, for a job that does not care for him, before the loneliness of his family gone, should push him into despair. Loneliness in fact, has been shown to have adverse health effects that steal several years of life from one’s self.

What’s unfair about the whole thing, is that the male gender is not to blame for this. Once boys come into this world, they tryto be responsible from the beginning, and do what society and their parents expect of them, only for the end result to lead them down a spiral. First attempts at being direct, at seeming strong, at seeming to be talented at something, have no solid foundations. Confidence is the expectation, so men tend to hide their true feelings about their inabilities, which leads to an interesting result: Men need to unintuitively teach themselves (rather than being taught), that it’s okay to not be a dictated-as-man, lest they give up on more things that they are not good at, and never improve. Grit, then, seems to be more of a feminine characteristic.

Which is fitting, because it’s this grit that allows one to excel at school. Women have good reason to overtake men in the number of university degrees. With jobs becoming ever more specialized, even the capitalist system may see less need for men. It seems that being a man, as is traditionally understood, seems to be on the way out. Except…

Except, well, that many of us still use the old model, while half of all people born are male. If we don’t change the model of a man, tomorrow’s boys will fall into the same trap as many other men have in the past of becoming a worker drone, working for nothing of true value. How do we avoid this?

One method in which feminism redefined the image of a woman, was by intentionally hiring more women in companies, at first for the sake of quota in order to fill respectable positions formerly held by men. While perhaps a bad business decision at times, the real value of this move comes from inspiring girls who are still evaluating their options: If this woman has become an astronaut, then so can I.

The same flexibility has not been done for men. There was, and continues to be a large focus on woman empowerment in the job market, but there is next to zero empowerment for men being stay-at-home dads and caring for their families. And why should there be? The idea of men empowerment was contra to the goal at hand, in addition to it not being a priority.

And here is where the problem lies: It isn’t. More men being dads, being nurses, taking care of their parents when they get old, avoiding being sucked into the capitalist machine etc. not only eliminates competition for women careerists and fills up the gap left behind by them, but at the same time, laxes the pressure on men who may not feel like they fit into society as a whole, or choose not to.

Thus, the best thing we can do to eliminate some of the biggest problems facing men, is to teach boys, by example, that they can be traditional women. It may seem bizarre, blasphemous, revolutionary. But really, all you are doing is allowing them a bigger pool of options to choose from, to build the life that they may prefer, and to lead a life that will make them humbler, kinder, stronger, and more resilient. This is what real empowerment is and we are all worthy of it.


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