I was watching this week's episode of Dave Gorman: Modern Life Is Goodish and laughing along at a show and host, that I always find amusing, when it suddenly became a slightly uncomfortable viewing experience. The show had a central theme that there are websites where people will charge a small fee, to read testimonials for products or services that they perhaps haven't personally used. Well, we all need to make a living and some people's morals aren't in line with our own, that's fair enough. Anyway, a recurring joke kept coming back to the poor saps who would end up advertising treatment for erectile disfunction. And you know what, that doesn't sit right with me.
Everyone has a good laugh at the bloke that has been paid very little, to look into the camera and explain how one particular treatment has resolved his issues. But what is it we are laughing at here? Is it really fair game that we all laugh at a medical problem that affects a great deal of mankind at one point or another in their life? Just because it involves his penis and his presumed virility? What kind of message is this sending to people? No wonder men often don't like going to doctors to talk about their health, especially when it's deemed to be of a sensitive nature. Society labels problems like this as a weakness, something to be laughed at, an issue that makes them less of a man. The crux of that whole bit of the show, was that this was literally the most embarrassing thing that someone could be paid to talk about. And that bloke was at least getting paid to talk about an issue that he presumably didn't even have. Erectile disfunction is apparently so embarrassing that you lose 'man points' even by association.
Given that erectile dysfunction is a common side effect, not only of depression, but also sometimes the antidepressants used to treat it, are we piling on to laugh at an issue that is just a further cause of shame and embarrassment to people who are already struggling in life?
I love Dave Gorman and I know where comedy is concerned there should be few subjects that are off limits. It just feels that at a time when we are more closely assessing what it means to be a man in the modern age, perhaps we need to look at why it is we find that kind of thing, such an easy target.
To change the subject slightly, as a keen liberal, I've watched the American Election coverage over the last year or so with a growing amount of horror, and not just because of the fact we now have a Trump presidency to contend with. I've also been dismayed at the amount of body shaming Trump has had thrown at him. In fact, far too often, more coverage seems to have been given to his hair, or 'tiny hands' than his terrifying policy proposals. And yeah, let's be clear here, every time you mock his 'tiny hands' on your satirical news show, we know you are insinuating he has a tiny penis.
I've written for Huff Post before about Body Shaming and whilst I know it's an issue that happens way more to women, it doesn't mean it's not a problem that men have to contend with. I mean come on, attack Donald Trump for his misogyny, bigotry and horrible attitude to sexual assault. Attack him for his clear lack of actual policy proposals, for his ludicrous wall building plans and for his complete lack of self control when it comes to his social media presence. But every time you attack him for how he looks, you are sinking to his level. And in doing so you are feeding into the patriarchal society that says men have to look a certain way, that they can't display weakness, that they must have a massive penis and be ready for action 24/7. And when you do that, you prompt men to act in a certain way. You challenge them to buy into the bullshit Alpha Male bravado. You provoke them into proving that they can meet society's expectations. You feed the culture that stops men talking about their problems, that stops men from even admitting those problems exist and that ultimately, stops them from asking for help when they need it. And that doesn't help any of us.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
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