GENDER ROLES BEING REDEFINED AS PERCEPTIONS CHANGE
By Janine S White: Culture Editor
Wearing a suit of red and gold armour that can withstand anything, from intense heat to atomic blasts, Iron Man is an iconic image representing superhuman speed, strength, flight and fire power. Anything that Iron Man faces, he overcomes, he becomes stronger, swifter, adored and desired.
Beneath the suit, encompassing the palladium Arc Reactor, is a man. A man who is the ideal example of masculinity, a rough edged, highly intelligent genius. Not only is Tony Stark a billionaire who owns his own businesses, but a lady’s man, an owner of fourteen cars and holder several occupations. In traditional terms, a bread winner, handsome, yet risky and successful. A protector of loved ones, citizens and of course his assistant Peppa, who follows him everywhere, waiting for his attention. Tony Stark is simply put, the epitome of a male stereotype.
Iron Man does not cry, he is tough. Self-reliance is cemented to enable him to bankroll anyone or anything he chooses. State benefits do not exist in this man’s consciousness. His excess finances satisfy his car addictions or other hobbies as craved. Taking charge when something upsets him; he responds with aggression, an untamed, savage inner strength. This is the way boys are encouraged to be. Cultural traditions put high values on being manly. For those who do not possess such brutality they are met with bullying, teasing and repugnance.
Research determines that there are essential expectations placed on men to be the financial provider, instrumental, assertive, responsible for their family and interpersonal. With COVID-19, things are changing, and these characteristics are no longer achievable, leaving men in an unknown abyss of confusion about who they are and what they should or can do. Businesses face bankruptcy, jobs are being cut and Universal Credits have become the only way of surviving for many families. For the first time, women are the essential personnel, who are employed in most key working jobs. Men are staying at home to raise the children, cook the family meals and clean the home while partners become the breadwinners, the providers, the hunters and food gatherers. This does not correlate with Iron Man. This does not correspond with what is expected, valued and permissible for a man.
In 2018, The Samaritans released statistics showing that middle aged men were the most likely group to die by suicide, with three times as many men as women succeeding in taking their lives.
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Participants of this research stated that they did not feel that they could discuss their mental health issues because of pride, stating that they did not feel like a man could admit when they were struggling. Depression is simply not considered an acceptable feeling for a strong, male protector. Due to these beliefs, it is not until crisis point is reached that men will begin to be open about how they are feeling, seek support and allow themselves to show vulnerability.
Although slowly returning to some form of normality, the lockdown and social distance enforcement within the United Kingdom, removed a major part of the male function; work. With a lack of workplace banter and sixty percent of the people living alone in the UK being men, isolation is adding to a feeling of failure as a man.
Several campaigners are trying to get the word out to men that they no longer need to hide, that they are still a man, even if they have feelings. That they do not always have to wear their mask. Is it possible to change a cultural norm which is so ingrained in society?
Suicide is the greatest killer of men under 50 within the UK. 84 men die from this illness per week, equating to 12 per day.
To reduce these statistics, it is vital that the population begin to look at masculinity in new ways. Following the Derridean philosophy, it is possible for sensitivity and vulnerability to coexist within masculinity, in fact, they are already bound together. Jacques Derrida viewed binary categorisations such as Iron Man non-existent without an antithesis. Therefore, a tough, strong, self-reliant man is unable to exist without the presence of a sensitive, caring man. There are in effect two categories required to create one. Iron man would not exist without someone to compare himself to. He would not be strong if there was not someone who was weaker than him. He would not be rich if there were not people who were poor. He would not be a genius if there were not people whose talents laid in different areas.
On the flip side of this concept, a man would not be classed as sensitive, if there were not people who were unable to feel strong emotions. A man would not be classed as appreciative, if there were not people who happily abandoned things. In effect, without the men who do not meet the traditional gender roles, there would be no ideal man. It is the people who do not fit the roles that give masculine expectations power.
There are many campaigns in the modern world that are attempting to change the views of what makes a man. More men are beginning to talk about their feelings and seek support. If there was a way to remind the men who are struggling with their mental health, of the power they hold, could the discourses, expectations and values of manhood change faster?