By Shefa Ali
November is men’s health month. A few years ago that wouldn't have meant too much to me, I didn’t grow up with brothers, I never had many male friends and I only got married a few years ago. I started to pay attention to this subject when my sister had her first son in 2012. The more time I spent around my sister and her boys, I thought wow, she’s actually raising someone’s husband and that’s a huge responsibility. Everything we say and do around them, everything we teach them, may get played out one day and that might either be someone’s dream or it might someone’s nightmare.
This week on my weekly Instagram show Swalif, we talked about men, vulnerability and what it means to be a man in today’s pressurised world. We talked about my co-hosts
experiences of inheriting and getting taught what it means to be a man, how boys from very tender ages are taught to stop crying and “man up”; like what does that even mean?
Listening to my co-host’s stories and the stories of people that they know, it sounded like feeling that you don’t measure up as a man is one of the most painful things that a male can experience. Being raised to compare and compete and being fed lies about what masculinity is has resulted in some horrifying statistics relating to suicide among men, depression, anxiety and men living shorter lives.
I would like to remind any man who is reading this, who is suffering with their mental health, with no one to turn to, because society has taught you to mask your emotions, that there is no shame in what you are feeling. It’s ok to struggle, it’s ok to feel scared, it’s ok to lack confidence. You are not alone.
I encourage you to speak up, talk to someone you trust or to an anonymous help line, but please speak up. Talking, sharing and seeking support saves lives.
If you were taught to be a man means to separate your heart from your head, that was a lie, that’s the very thing that makes you human. I think to be masculine is really simple, it’s the same for us women, because it’s really about our common humanity.
I think we need to work backwards, let’s fast forward to the end of our lives, when we get to our 80s and you want to measure if you were a good man. What would it come down to? It’s all about people, it’s about relationships, it’s about the capacity to love and be loved. What kind of son was I? What kind of husband was I? What kind friend was I? What legacy will I leave behind? What will continue after I am no longer living? Whose life did I touch? What imprint did I leave? What cause did I fight for?
If you grew up with an impossible definition of masculinity, you don’t have to carry on living with it. You get to define it for yourself, it’s never too late to connect your head to your heart.
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