In his book “Invisible Men,” Clark University Psychology Professor Michael Addis uncovers the layered and often competing perceptions of modern masculinity and questions why the notion of male vulnerability was so often rejected.
“Men make up roughly half the proportion of people on the planet, but when it comes to mental health and physical health and problems in people’s lives, there’s this tendency globally ignore men’s vulnerability,” he says.
“Culturally, we tend to hide the emotional and physical vulnerabilities of men,” Addis recently told the Christian Science Monitor. “This goes from the individual level of not wanting to talk about depression and anxiety, not wanting to talk about grief and sadness and loss and fear, all the way up to the cultural level of how the men we celebrate tend to continue to be stoic men, strong men, men who appear invincible.”
Addis notes that many men are historically reluctant to seek help because “asking for help for things like depression, or prostate cancer, or physical pain has been feminized culturally. So with anything that’s been feminized, men are going to be more anxious about engaging in those activities — and seeking help falls under that.”
Maintaining a facade of “invincibility” has created an army of invisible men who suppress their emotional suffering. “And when it’s all invisible, who knows what’s going on there,” he says.
He points to the popular, and recently politicized, debate around the question of masculinity, and whether it should be more vigorously celebrated or whether it’s “so-called toxic.” But, Addis says, masculinity is “a moving target of what we’re supposed to think, act, and feel as men” that is influenced by historical, cultural, and social forces across time.
Addis notes that the recent phenomenon of high-profile athletes speaking out about their own depression has sparked a healthy conversation among men, who may now be less hesitant to reveal their private pain.
“Athletes are probably the last individuals who are going to have their man card called out — so in some ways, they may be best prepared to say, ‘Yeah, I struggle with this. I have anxiety, I have depression. It does affect me — I don’t always feel confident and strong.’ And when they do that, it creates a spread of opportunity for all kinds of men of different backgrounds to say, ‘If he can talk about that, maybe I can, too.’ ”