THE BLOG

Boys: We Need to Talk

30/09/2015 18:04 BST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:12 BST

A male friend of mine got drunk recently and confided in me.

"Sometimes," he said sadly, "I feel like nobody else feels the things I feel."

As the man I mention is in his twenties, I found it difficult to process he could think that way. Was he really, in his mind, the first human being in the modern world to feel anxious, alienated and hopeless?

How could he possibly have believed that?

But then it dawned on me. If he never normally opened up about his emotions - or expressed himself in a healthy, sober manner - when did he have the opportunity to connect with others on an empathic level? Or to seek reassurance that his darker thought processes were normal?

Men's emotions have been a tetchy subject for centuries. Not since the Romantic Era have blokes had the luxury of publicly indulging in their innermost feelings. Alas, if the likes of Lord Byron and William Blake were teenagers today in a London state school, they would probably have 'Bender', 'Fag' and 'Pussy' cruelly scrawled across their lockers.

This is, of course, a huge problem. And as the way we treat femininity takes a resoundingly positive turn, it's becoming increasingly obvious that empowering narratives aren't just something women need - men do too.

'Go, girl'

It's an exciting, encouraging time to be a woman. National newspapers are no longer complete without 'Femail' and 'Wonder Women' sections. Social media boosts morale with #thisgirlcan, #realbeauty and #womeninscience. At the first whiff of female denigration, my sistahs rally forth with enough sassy 21st century confidence to inspire a two-disc Beyoncé album (in your face, Tim Hunt).

But as women rise higher and higher up the gender empowerment tower, men appear to be descending.

Katie Glass, in her recent Sunday Times column, delivered some eye-opening facts:

"At school, millennial boys have fallen behind their female contemporaries. Girls now significantly outperform boys in GCSEs and A-levels. This September, fewer boys will start university. At work, men face higher unemployment and earn less than women in their twenties."

This leads us to an even more alarming statistic: suicide is currently the biggest killer of men under 35 in Britain.

Instead of 'you go, girl', boys are offered critical mantras like 'man up' and 'grow a pair'. Quite clearly, it's not doing them any favours.

'Man up'

The phrase 'man up' has been flagged as a serious trigger for insecurity and shame, by inferring a rigid construct for masculinity. Jonathan Wells, in his July column for The Telegraph, suggested it could be the most destructive phrase in modern culture:

"Emotions are repressed, budding interests quashed and steps taken to set ourselves on the path to emotional illiteracy. These are the unforeseen consequences of being told to "man up". And they influence and affect us throughout our entire lives."

Unsympathetic expectations of men are likely to stem from the deep-rooted perception that they are generally better at dealing with emotions than women, or that they have a more manageable emotional range. But according to a TED talk on PMS by Robyn Stein de Luca, there is no significant distinction between male and female emotion.

"Psychologists know that the moods of men and women are more similar than different. One study followed men and women for six months and found that the number of mood swings they experienced, and the severity of those mood swings, were no different."

As similar as we are, we could be in danger of ending up on a never-ending seesaw of male/female empowerment. But liberating one gender does not mean that the other has to suffer. Toing and froing between each camp's defence is an inevitable teething stage as we create new schools of thought for how we approach gender, but the end goal should ultimately be equality.

Overall let's aim to have fewer blokes, like my friend, feeling abnormal for experiencing everyday human emotions. Because as isolated as he may feel, the worrying fact is: he is not alone.