Here’s why “real men” should talk about their feelings

The stereotype of how men should act is passed down from generation to generation. “Real men” must not cry, must be tough, and like fast cars, big trucks, and any aggressive sports. Talk about their health? You’ll need a crowbar to pry it out.

The practice of gender stereotypes originates from childhood. Back then, parents believed that for men to succeed in life, “they need to toughen up.” They chose to teach young boys not to show their emotions or share their feelings. Aggression is seen as assertiveness and determination is viewed as ambition.

But raising “real men” has downsides.

According to Promundo and the Kering Foundation, young men who hold stereotypical views about their gender are more unhappy, depressed, and anxious. They are also more likely to binge drink, harass, and bully others. And when it comes to health issues, they tend to keep it to themselves.

Promundo and the Kering Foundation recently released results of a study as part of a series of new research from Global Boyhood Initiative. The study found that while parents think it’s important for boys to show self-confidence, two-thirds say their sons don’t feel comfortable sharing their emotions, especially when they feel scared or lonely. This insight can be traced back to raising boys through the gender stereotype lens.

The good news is, times are changing. A growing number of young men today are more likely to say that it’s easier to talk about their emotions. To confirm these suspicions, the editors for IBS Life reached out to John* a junior in college majoring in political science. He was diagnosed with IBS-D about five years ago.

When asked if he finds it easy to talk about his IBS, John said yes, especially when it’s with family and close friends. In fact, John mentioned that he recently had a long conversation about IBS and its symptoms with his great aunt over dinner. It turns out she was very supportive.

“I would say, in general, there isn’t a significant difference on how men and women handle emotions today,” noted John. “It’s not seen as taboo.”

That may be good news since psychologists say that the path to improving one’s health, decreasing stressors, and developing a better sense of wellbeing, all of which are intrinsically linked to expressing positive emotions.

Granted, most men are not as confident as John. Data points to the fact that there are still men who are being raised to conform to gender stereotypes. Promundo and the Kering Foundation’s study confirms that.

John believes that what needs to happen — greater acceptance of men showing their emotions — begins with baby steps. Sharing how they feel and being able to talk about their health with family and close friends are good first steps. Not having to worry about how they’re perceived, supporting others, and encouraging young boys to cry once in a while are additional positive moves forward. And perhaps the next time IBS Life talks with John, there will be more young men like him.

* Not his real name