Famous former basketball player Michael Jordan was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Sept. 11, 2009. The speech he gave to commemorate the momentous occasion will forever be ingrained in time — not for the things he said, but rather, for how he reacted. Being inducted into the hall of fame for anything is a high honor, especially when one has dedicated a majority of their life to it. This holds true with Jordan, who was so overcome with emotion that he began to cry. The public saw photos of him crying and began using this to describe any sort of inconvenience. The trend soon went viral, even receiving its own Wikipedia page. A meme was born.
This is just one instance of the effects toxic masculinity has on society. Toxic masculinity is defined by researchers as a “set of behaviors and beliefs that include the following — suppressing emotions or masking distress, maintaining an appearance of hardness and violence as an indicator of power.” The American Psychological Association released its first-ever guidelines for practice with men and boys in 2019 aimed to show that traditional masculinity is “psychologically harmful” and “causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.”
While it is easy to place blame on men for entertaining such harmful ideologies, it is important to understand why they are inclined to do so in the first place. Karen Harvey outlines the origins of the perception of men in “The History of Masculinity, circa 1650-1800.” In this journal article, she explains how 17th-century male protagonists were created to be “the household patriarch” — making them a symbol of honor, power and sexual dominance. So while the term toxic masculinity is fairly new, the ideas it refers to are not. It has existed under the world’s nose for almost four centuries.
Jordan’s photo has been circulated so many times merely because the idea of a man crying is seen as outlandish to the point that it translates to humor. In television, it is evident that mental health issues are discussed primarily by women — “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Red Table Talk” being central examples. Yet about 10 to 17 percent of men will develop major depression in their lives, with six million suffering from depression each year. Alarmingly, more than four times as many men as women die by suicide — the highest suicide rates being found in white men over the age of 85. Why is it then, that men’s mental health is rarely considered a topic of conversation in the face of the public, let alone by men themselves?
Toxic masculinity is just one of the ways men get restricted to the confines of mental health standards. Along with social norms, Mental Health America notes the reluctance to talk — this and downplaying symptoms are reasons that men are less likely to seek mental health help than women. This is not a new phenomenon though. One study conducted in 2013 examined the emotional states of crying men and women in different social settings. The study suggested that social role theory encourages women to be emotionally expressive in the workplace setting in order to support their domestic caregiver role. Consequently, when men cry in the same setting, they receive greater infractions.
Justin Baldoni is an American actor and director attempting to shift the narrative surrounding men’s mental health. His book “Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity” discusses his personal experience with mental health including body image and vulnerability. Baldoni is a testament to what happens when one turns away from the toxicity of gender norms, instead embracing their ailments and seeking help. This is how men’s mental health should be viewed — not as some forbidden taboo subject, but one that should be embraced and talked about openly.
It’s quite silly to think that such outdated gender norms that are unfortunately still practiced today are responsible for deciding who gets to cry and who does not. For a country founded on the notion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it appears that there is very little room left to live, let alone express oneself. Changing the perception of men is a feat that will take collective effort and action. It is not enough for men to begin sharing their emotions at the drop of a hat but rather a call for every member of society to cultivate an environment that welcomes them when they do.
Grace Duregger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.