Statistically, men areless likely to use health or counseling services, less likely to engage in healthy behaviors, and more likely to engage in risky behaviors. This is a result of the masculine norms placed on men throughout their lifetime - expectations to “tough it out,” “rub some dirt in it,” or “walk it off.” Sticking too closely to masculine norms can be detrimental to men's health and lead to "toxic masculinity." Toxic masculinity can end up causing what’s known as the triad of violence:
Violence against women
Toxic masculine norms encourage men to be more powerful than the women in their life. Whether it’s being told to “man up” or being told that men should be the “breadwinner,” our society tells us men should exert power. While the vast majority of men will never commit sexual violence, studies show that those who do commit sexual violence strongly believe in these attitudes.
Violence against other men
Toxic masculinity also suggests that men should act rough with other men. Examples can include hazing, or being told to be rough with athletic opponents. Suppression of empathy and affection between men, while subtle, can also have negative consequences. Social connection and emotional openness with peers can lead to better health outcomes.
Violence against self
In general, men are less likely to access health services. When they do experience health issues, they are more likely to minimize and ignore them. This is true for both physical and mental health. Men are more likely to commit suicide, binge drink, drink and drive, smoke, have unprotected sex, and engage in other unhealthy behaviors.
While some masculine norms can contribute to poor health outcomes, there are constructive and healthy expressions of masculinity. For instance, ideals of strength and self-reliance can motivate some men to pay better attention to their health.
If you identify as a man, there are things you can do:
- Humanize yourself.
Men may believe they aren't supposed to show weakness. Know that others are experiencing the same things you are - whether it’s feelings of isolation, stress, flu symptoms, or any other health issues - it’s human to feel this way.
- Educate yourself.
Research shows men are less knowledgeable about their health - and more likely to be unaware of the gaps in their knowledge. People with less knowledge about their health are more likely to engage in negative health behaviors. Seek health services, ask questions, and look at the variety of resources listed below for more information.
- Assume the worst.
Men are more likely to minimize symptoms. It’s important for men to respond to symptoms when they arise, seek help earlier, and take preventive measures to keep themselves healthy.
- Locate support.
Men on average have fewer friends, smaller support networks, and are less likely to talk about problems when they arise. Research shows that social connection and support leads to better health. Join a club, talk to a classmate, or get involved in your community. Identify the friends whom you can trust, be open with, and who will support you.
- Tailor a plan.
Men are more likely to stick to a maintenance plan for their car than their body. Meet with your doctor every year, and have them help make plans for you to maintain your health.
- Harness strengths.
Use masculine stereotypes to your advantage. Ideals of being achievement-oriented and competitive can motivate you to make healthier decisions.
Adapted from Will Courtenay’s H.E.A.L.T.H. model