TW: Mental Health and Patriachal Oppression.
Recently there's has been a lot of controversy at the University of York where I did my undergraduate degree around celebrations of an International Mens' Day. I am not going to even begin to engage in the arguments about what should, and should not have happened because I am exhausted already. The issues around male mental health have been floating around this discourse and I feel this is something I can speak of.
In the title I have paraphrased the quote: "Men do not naturally not love. They learn not to." from The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. To start with I don't believe in calling humankind "man" so I'm not declaring my support for that but I think the quote is important. We are born loving, We are not born hating. We are born with empathy for others.
I personally have always had a strong emotional reaction to the suffering of others. As a young gay male in a small town I grew up around a rhetoric of homophobia from my peers and from society at large. Growing up in this, I had very few allies. I hadn't publically identified to anyone, my teachers would hear these remarks in the playground and I iamgine some chose not to stop students saying "that's so gay" and some were simply so overworked they did not have the energy to find everyone. While growing up a fundamental part of who I am was being subject to systematic oppression everyday, whether it was through direct homophobia or because I was surrounded by the rhetoric of "beocming a man" and hyper-masculinity. Obviously this was tough, it led to internalised homophobia and identity problems I am just now (at 21) beginning to unravel and overcome, but it also allowed me to maintain my empathy for people who are systematically oppressed by similar power structures.
I maintained my empathy for people who were subject to systematic oppression at the hands of patriachy. I felt the suffering of women told they should "be seen and not heard", for other men who were berated and often attacked for not being masculine enough, for those that did not identify in the gender binary who were neither aligning themselves with male patriachy nor sitting in binary opposition by identifying as a woman. Patriachal structures such as hyper-masculinity oppress all of these groups, they oppress the entirety of society and feminism is an ideology which in a broad sense is fighting against this systematic oppression. Improving the position of women by taking apart patriachal structures, stops other genders suffering from the structures.
As a man who has never lost this empathy for suffering, for people who are subjects to systematic oppression at the hands of white privelege, patriachy, heternormativity and so many other power sturctures, I can say that my mental health has been afected.
This is not something I've often discussed in such a public forum but I feel like it it a truth I should now contribute. I have developed social anxiety, in public I am sensitive to the social currents around me to the point where the examples of patriachy make me feel helpless because as one human I am helpless to stop everything I witness. I am unable as one human being to help all the humans I empathise with in public and this has lead to vast feelings of helplessness and loneliness even when I now live in one of the most populated cities in the world.
Patriachal strutures have told me that I should be masculine, that I should be heterosexual and that being homosexual is a choice away from the norm, that I should like the things that society tells me men should like. When these structures weigh down on you for 21 years then it begins to take its toll, as it does on a lot of men like me. Meny men suffer from mental health problems at the hands of patriachal structures, at the hands of socio-economic oppression, at the hands of racial oppression, at the hands of ableist oppression, at the hands of being made to feel alone and helpless in a world which is not offering them help.
My experience of this is that I have often only ever felt safe in feminist spaces, in spaces where I can feel support from people trying to combat the structures which oppress us, where I do not feel alone. It is wider than this, I aslo feel safer in those spaces where we have a shared understanding of how we have suffered because of socio-economic disadvantage etc. but I do not have room in this one blog post to expand into the complexities of intersectionality. I feel safe around feminism because it is doing work that everyone will benefit from, including me as a man.
I thank other feminists for all they have done.
I was unsure of whether to even write this post at all, as a man, I do not need to take attention away from women and those people who do not identify in our false gender binary who often suffer much more than I do (allowing for intersectional considerations). However, the fact that this article, written by a man will probably be listened to by mainstream society more because of my male privelege (somethign I can never escape and should not deny), is something I can use to the advantage of feminism.
The thought I would like to leave you on now is this: in terms of mens mental health I find it true to say that feminism has helped me more than bodies that assert the rhetoric of hyper-masculinity and patriachy. I have empathy for those who suffer for systematic oppression like I have, if other people have empathy for me and other feminists then maybe mental health problems for men and women wouldn't be as severe.
To those people who have felt even a shred of truth in this, I extend my hand towards you and I will say that you are not alone.
Maybe if we just loved, and did not systematically teach people not to love certain people, then we would not feel so alone. Maybe children will begin to grow up in a world where they are not made to feel alone because they are different.
I leave you with a quote from a human being I have immense respect for:
"That's what careless words do. They make people love you a little less" -Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.
[This sections is somewhere I will post links to sites where you can explore certain ideas further. I am in no way going to be held accountable for the content. I have (at the time of posting) found some of what each of these sites was putting into the world very useful for me personally and it may be useful to you]
I am still investigating ways to hold online written platforms in something like Open Space technology, until I do this, any comments that I feel are exploiting systematic oppression instead of engaging in healthy discussion will be deleted. This is in the name of trying to offer something like protection to those people who might be reading this.