According to a recent study out of the UCSF School of Medicine, the average American female now lives 5.8 years longer than the average American male. The gap hasn’t been this big since 1996.
Speaking to The New York Times, Dr. Brandon Yan, the lead author of the study, called the findings “unsettling.”
“We need to understand which groups are particularly losing out on years of life expectancy,” he noted, “so interventions can be at least partially focused on these groups."
When discussing the causes of the life expectancy gap between men and women in the United States, Dr. Yan responded:
“All of these point to a picture of worsening mental health across the board, but particularly among men.”
Which brings us to the demonization of masculinity.
In recent years, it has become frighteningly common to hear the word "toxic" followed by the word "masculinity." According to another recent study, published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, men who view masculinity in a negative light are more likely to have lower mental well-being than men who view it in a positive light,
The aptly titled study, “The belief that masculinity has a negative influence on one’s behavior is related to reduced mental well-being," analyzed the beliefs and behaviors of 4,000 men. The findings clearly demonstrate the relationship between widespread misconceptions surrounding masculinity and how these misconceptions affect men's mental health. The findings also show that masculine attitudes are something to be preserved and promoted, not demonized.
There was a time, not that long ago, when masculine traits—strength, courage, and assertiveness—were celebrated by all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or political affiliations. When did things change? In the 1980s, it seems.
Commenting on the comprehensive study, Eric W. Dolan, the founder and editor of PsyPost, suggests that in the 1980s, “there was a notable shift” in how masculinity was viewed. Specifically, the lens through which it was viewed became more critical in nature. Masculinity, he notes, became synonymous “with negative traits like misogyny and homophobia, and linked to issues such as poor mental health and aggressive behavior.” This unnecessary and entirely destructive transition, adds Mr. Dolan, “was partly fueled by sociological theories, leading to what some call a 'deficit model' of masculinity—focusing primarily on its negative aspects.”
Mr. Dolan is right. However, he misses the bigger picture. The #MeToo Movement, I suggest, was the final nail in the coffin of masculinity. In 2017, the year Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct became public knowledge, the social expectations of being a man changed—dramatically so. Masculinity went from being "problematic" to being "toxic," a "virus" in need of a cure. As is clear to see, males who subscribe to this virulent, deeply flawed theory are more likely to suffer than those who rightly reject it.
John Barry, the author of the abovementioned study and the co-founder of the Centre for Male Psychology, found that males who held a positive view of masculinity reported considerably higher levels of overall positivity than the naysayers. Those who dismissed the statement, “Masculinity prevents me from talking about how I feel about my problems,” had better mental health than those who embraced it.
Interestingly, Mr. Barry found that men with a positive view of masculinity were more likely to feel the need to protect women than those who viewed it more negatively.
When society demonizes masculinity, Mr. Barry told me, “it’s not just men who suffer.” He believes “that women are indirectly hurt by this in many ways.” For example, he added, “If a mother sees her son struggle to feel ok being male, his pain will impact her too. A mother might see her son's self-esteem slowly crushed as he grows older, feeling that as a man he has nothing positive to offer anyone, including potential girlfriends.”
Mr. Barry's point is a valid one. Women find masculine men attractive. This is an incontrovertible fact. There's a reason why, for decades, girls have had posters of James Dean, Paul Newman, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt on their walls. It's not rocket science. It's evolutionary science.
Men who view masculinity in a negative light may have a hard time attracting a partner. This is especially true if, as Mr. Barry noted, “they become underachievers, reclusive, and abandon any sense of being a protector of women and their community.”
Daughters, he added, “might believe the negative narrative about men and see their father in a negative light, but deeply regret this decades later when it is too late to make up for years of a soured father-daughter relationship.”
Barry’s message is clear: “If people are all connected as members of a society—and I believe that we are—then if men are being poisoned, then society is being poisoned.”
Again, he's right.
Men and women complement each other. More importantly, we need each other.