The pay gap between men and women is still very much visible, I'm not denying that. However, the roles of women have changed dramatically over the last century. Women are now heads of households, providers and protectors. The roles they fill, either solely or jointly, were once deemed the roles of men. I feel that the issue we are now beginning to deal with is what role does the modern man play now that his 'masculine role' has been displaced by his female partner?
Over the last decade I've become increasingly obsessed with my body image and levels of fitness, at first I felt that I was bowing to this because of the social pressure as a gay man to be body beautiful. What I have noticed is that this is creeping over to heterosexual men. I have particularly noticed it this week whilst planking on the gym floor, several men, I assume we're heterosexual came to check that their arms, back or legs looked bigger in the mirror, with a look of fear and worry on their face. It seems, for me, that although we can no longer fulfil the patriarchal roles we once had, it is almost as important to look hyper masculine. As men's use of protein shakes, creatine and muscle enhancing drugs increases I consider whether the need to look like society's perception of an ideal man is a result of displaced masculinity.
We are profoundly aware of the impact of the constant use of size 0 women on runways and in magazines. It feels like the same is slowly happening for men. The man on the aftershave advert, or on the 20 foot poster in his underwear is the perfect V shape and has 6 very prevalent abs. The result is my newsfeed being filled with pictures of chicken and broccoli or kale on a Sunday night, normally titled 'food prep for the week done' as we diet ourselves beautiful.
Men down talk about their emotions, and we certainly don't ask for help. I've fallen out with several friends and partners because one or both of us felt we couldn't ask for what we needed. This inability to talk is linked to higher suicide rates, poor mental health and use of substances as a coping mechanism. The dichotomy is that society expects men to accept that their role has been displaced, that stay at home dads should be praised, that men should be well groomed and well dressed, whilst there is still this aftermath of the last thousand years that men should be rugged, muscular and smell of musk.
Whilst supporting male victims of domestic abuse, the struggle of displaced masculinity was very evident. I was constantly told that my clients felt like 'less of a man' because of their experiences. This had been exhorted by their partners. A frequent use of this was often around sex, based on size, ability to give pleasure or length of time lasted, but it was never linked to sexually abusive behaviour by clients. The belittling from partners of 'you're not a real man' became imbedded in their daily thought processes and affected everything they did. Their partners were right, they were no longer the protector, provider, head of the household that society was telling them to be, so what were they left with? The displaced role of the man. Growing up in a generation that taught us that boys don't cry, and men solve their own problems, we should 'man up', for myself and the many men that came before me, finding ourselves in this situation would be overwhelming. We would need help and support, but by accessing help are we pushing against what is instilled in us as to how a man copes? Will we be laughed at? Could we open up to our friends or family around this? Support is available for men around all of these issues, body image, domestic abuse, sexual violence. To me, it seems, it is a chicken and egg situation. Are men not accessing support because it is not readily promoted? Or is support not promoted because men aren't readily accessing it?
As we continue to, wrongly, associate women with the weaker sex men seem to push against anything associated with femininity or matriarchy. But what we do know is that suicide amongst women is plateauing whilst it continues to rocket amongst men. It is time to acknowledge what men need, and how they access support. We need to begin to acknowledge body shaming with men and teach children what healthy role models look like and the fluidity of gender roles, that boys can eat pink kinder eggs, and girls the blue, that masculinity is only a societal construct and therefore needs to be removed rather than displaced.