Tag Archives: Jeff Perera

PTSD and gendered mental health

30 Oct

Throughout this post-traumatic stress disorder series, we have seen massive misunderstandings about the illness and mental health in general, lack of funding yin yangfor proper support and care for those suffering, and alternative methods of treatment. But no matter what angle I look at PTSD and the way it affects men, it seems to boil down to a concept that is, as far as I’m concerned, the root of many social problems: disregard of the feminine and the reluctance of men to ask for help when they need it.

When I interviewed Kent Laidlaw, 25-year police force veteran, we had a fascinating discussion about PTSD, and he came out with a bomb. He said that while he was on the force during the 1990s, the popular and accepted view of PTSD was understood to be a “man’s” disorder, while women suffered from depression.

This is of course as ridiculous as it is untrue. Anyone can have PTSD and anyone can suffer from depression. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a gender-related mental illness, but there are certainly gender-related beliefs around mental health.

“We assign a gender to human traits like emotional intelligence, and then “feminize” the act of asking for help, stigmatizing men who express they are hurting and need support,” says Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager for White Ribbon Campaign.

With associations like this, is it any wonder that men are terrified to show anything remotely suggesting that they are anything less than what is expected?

Socialized masculine stereotypes dictate that men are expected to know, to be in control of any situation, and to be self-reliant. With all of that real or imagined expectation, there is little room for their true selves. Constructed gender beliefs rob men of their authenticity and their naturalness, and this is alarming to me. I think it’s clear that men aren’t women, so it seems very strange to me that men insist on fighting tooth and nail to prove to the world that they aren’t women, even if it means sacrificing their quality of life and their health.

Bullsh*t gender expectations

Logic says that when we experience physical trouble, we seek medical help. Researchers now see PTSD as brain damage and this should warrant medical attention. Between the heart and the brain, the human body cannot function, so why wouldn’t someone seek medical help for a damaged brain, and how is it different from say, a broken leg or a malignant tumour?

In Why Men Won’t Ask For Help, Peter Griffiths says that “men can fall too easily into the “willpower” trap, and ignore available help at their peril. The wards and hospitals are full of men who refuse to go to the doctor when they have physical symptoms and who seem to prefer to pay the price rather than go for help.” How many of you can come up with an example of a man putting himself at risk because of this masculine code? I know a man who waited until he peed blood before going to a doctor after an excruciatingly painful sports injury.

As a society, we’re not going to get very far if we frown upon men going for help when they need it. It’s ridiculous and I believe, abusive towards men.

Masculine emotion and why men have trouble asking for help

Socially, we look through masculine eyes and make masculine judgements about the world around us. This distorted view not only disregards the feminine but promotes anxiety and violence in men who constantly try to prove themselves as men, and not women. Humans have dual nature and the feminine, like the masculine, exists within us all, but many men insist on fighting the impossible fight against this part of themselves.

While girls are socialized to be emotional and nurturing, it’s fine when they ask for help when it’s needed. However, boys are taught that emotions aren’t becoming to their gender to the degree that they may not even be able to recognize their feelings and thus, they cannot identify or understand them, let alone express them in a healthy manner. But whether or not the emotions are understood, they still exist, and attempting to deny them and take on the world can be devastating to a man and other people in his life.

“In many men’s minds,” Griffiths says, “if a man can’t handle everything, then he must be a failure. And if that’s the case, he feels embarrassed and afraid about others, especially other men, finding out he is “not a man”.”

The “grave” admittance of vulnerability and of relinquishing control is, for some men, an uncomfortable, if not, terrifying idea. Take the innocuous act of  asking for directions, for example. In Nick Collins’ Telegraph article, Men refuse to ask for directions out of “blind panic”,  he says that “while women are more happy to use all available resources to help them reach a goal, men will rigidly stick to their original “system”… even though it has clearly led them astray.”

He says that when confronting the idea that their system doesn’t work, it makes men flustered and causes them to do sometimes reckless things to avoid the reality of the situation/failure. Griffiths agrees, and says that men don’t like to admit or even recognize when they feel helpless, and can feel lessened at the thought of going to someone else who is better equipped to help solve their problem.

The social negativity around PTSD and mental illness in general keeps men away from getting help, an this is can be painful, devastating, and extremely damaging. Emma Watson, during her United Nations address this fall, drew attention to this idea as she summarized social problems that stem from society’s treatment of men: “We don’t often talk about men and gender stereotypes… but I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 49… I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success.”

Permission to be vulnerable

Why has the gender that gave us the Sistine Chapel brought us to the edge of cosmocide? Why have the best and the brightest exercised their intelligence, imagination, and energy and managed only to create a world where starvation and warfare are more common than they were in Neolithic times? Why has the history of what we dare to call “progress” been marked by an increase in human suffering?

-Sam Keene, Fire In the Belly

Emma Watson says “When [men are] are free, things will change for women out of natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive…[and] strong.

“It is time when we all perceive gender as a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining ourselves by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer… Men should have permission to be vulnerable and human, to reclaim those parts of themselves they’ve abandoned, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

We must do a collective about-face around our beliefs of men and allow them to ask for help when they need it, receive it, and heal. Women are not outside of social conditioning and are just as much a part of this equation as men are. Women have to give men the space and the respect to reach out for help, support men as they strive to be better people, and allow them to be vulnerable. I for one, feel a great privilege when a man cries in front of me because this is the man at his most honest.

When we stop propagating a violent and angry culture and let go of  masculine expectations, when we stop expecting men to be something they are naturally not, when we get over the idea of believing that anything feminine is weak, then change will occur. If we change our perspective about asking for help and consider it a strength and a strategy to utilize everything at our disposal to reach our goal, change will occur. We do this every day in business, so why not for ourselves?

To be concerned with what other people think is one thing, but to sacrifice our health for someone else’s sake is quite another. The traditional masculine stereotype exists simply because we let it, but the stereotype doesn’t serve anyone; it is an idea that we allow to exist in our minds, perhaps because we are afraid of change, or that we don’t have the imagination to think outside of the traditional box.

To make things different around mental illness and general life, all we have to do is simply change our minds.

Thinking outside of the masculine box

17 Apr

Media dictates gender roles.Last fall, I attended SkyWorks’ Real Change Boys Filmmaking Project to watch short documentaries about gender and identity by young men between the ages of 14 and 21. The films depicted issues around masculine identity, stereotypes, expectations, and the images of boys and men in media and popular culture.

One film spoke louder than the rest to me. In his film, Boxed In, Brandyn Pereira describes his realization that media portrays men and boys as one of a few narrow stereotypes. Brandyn was only 14 when he questioned gender portrayal and made his film. This outstanding young mind recognized the unnaturalness of gender stereotypes in media and started a conversation about it. I’m writing to continue that conversation.

Boxed In

Brandyn had a moment of recognition while watching television one day and noticed the stereotypical gender roles presented on TV.

“Almost every guy on these TV shows liked beer and sports, or they were the family man or the hero of the situation. Boys always liked video games, sports, and they rarely showed any emotion with their friends,” he says, “I’m wondering why the media depicts young men or boys like that.”

Media is enormously influential to us whether we like it or not; it tells us what to wear, how to smell, what music to listen to, what lifestyle to lead, and it doubles as an inadvertent guidebook to life. People—especially young people—look to television and the media to try to understand who they’re supposed to be. I remember looking to the TV for cues on how to be when I was a kid and sometimes I took on fabricated affectations because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and hey, if they did it on TV there must be some kind of truth to it, right?

Wrong.

Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager at the White Ribbon Campaign says in the film, “To be human is to be yourself; society is about trying to put you in a box.” It’s that gender box that Jeff is referring to and what Brandyn’s film is about.

When I met with Brandyn recently, we talked about the limitations of living in a gender-stereotyped box. “TV shows show only a few specific types of men: a) genius/smart guy, b) dim-witted, c) strong, or d) a wimp,” Brandyn says, “I noticed how the stereotypes don’t allow men and boys to be anything else.”

The men and boys in Brandyn’s film discuss the unreal masculine ideal presented in media, where males are always slim, fit, emotionless, macho, in control, and tough; good-looking, sports-obsessed, beer-drinking, video game-playing slices of the masculine ideal, out of touch with reality and their natural emotions.

These media stereotypes have the power to take us hostage and hold the dagger of social expectation to our throats. For some people like Brandyn, the media-generated masculine stereotype is not only confusing, “it is depressing for young people when they recognize they don’t fit the role and image of what is presented in the media.”

Contradiction, shame, insult

As a young person, Brandyn is quick to call out the media’s mixed messages. “I don’t know how I should act,” he says, “the message aimed at young people is to be yourself, but the next second we’re being told to conform. It’s confusing.”

Not only confusing but potentially damaging. We’ve had gender ideals pushed on us since birth, and some people believe so strongly in prescribed gender roles that they will cause trouble for people who fail to embody these expectations.

Calling someone “gay” as the go-to insult of childhood is sadly still holding its ground and it’s been around for a very long time. Brandyn told me about a time when one of his friends (a girl who has her own suite of gender expectations to deal with) accused him of being gay because he didn’t like all of the stereotypical masculine pastimes she learned about via media.

I’m quite sure that a child calling someone “gay” doesn’t understand what “gay” really means, though they do pick up on the term as an insult. Accusing someone of being “gay” really means that there is something “wrong” with that person because he doesn’t conform to the (white, str8, patriarchal) media-generated and socially sustained gender stereotype.

Brandyn says products “make kids cool” and explained that a few grades ago, he and his friends picked up on and adopted the gender stereotypes and products associated with it out of fear of not fitting in and the shame attached to that. Fear plays a strong role in motivation and retailers and marketers work this to their advantage.

Gender-differentiated products means more profit for retailers. Gendered colour is manufactured and nothing more than manipulation by the retail industry to get you to spend more money. Gender-specific products and marketing drive profits, and sexism in media sustains gendered ideals that are best left in the dark ages.

Deep down we know that no matter how much we shop and try to adopt these perfect lifestyles presented by the media, we never will truly become what we see and so we must settle on being ourselves. Jeff Perera believes that we need examples of diversity in media, to see men from different racial backgrounds, different sizes, shapes, tastes, and talents, to offer people more options to relate to.

Instead of ridiculous and unnatural gender codes, let’s celebrate and appreciate men and boys as wonderful unique creatures who can enjoy sports and video games if they want to, but may also like to sing, cook, and write short stories.

Guys like Brandyn.

 

Christie Blatchford: Born in the 50s

15 Dec

You may have heard about the sensation writer Christie Blatchford caused in her recent National Post piece, “Toronto, City of Sissies” over the last week. It is a strong opinion piece that has drawn much ire from many people, especially – and obviously – those that live in Toronto.

Ms Blatchford writes that men and boys need to “toughen up” and take on an antiquated gender role, destined to die by the next generation. Her article seems to look at the world through the eyes of the controlling class that was in place during her youth – the days when uptight white men controlled everything from religious views to industry to social practices, and of course, women and women’s sexuality.

It was a time when women, who competently operated everything when men were away at war, were expected to settle into the gender role of the happy, obedient housewife and mother, when the men, returning from the war brave and stoic, got back into the driver’s seat and took over with military sharpness.

The post WWII period was a time of rebuilding countries and social systems, when men and women were segregated into gender roles in order to regenerate the population. Even clothing reflected this – Christian Dior’s “New Look” of the late 1940s sculpted women into hourglass figures, and according to my costume professor in university, symbolized the regeneration properties of women – the rounded puffy skirts of Dior’s line represented and exaggerated women’s hips, thus drawing men to them and thus begetting an increased population – hello baby boom generation.

It seems to me that Ms Blatchford chooses to remain living in an old school world where women were thought of as girls  and both sexes lived under strict gender expectations, and they were not allowed to cross the line. As the 50s mentality dictated, acting anything remotely feminine was a boy’s ultimate sin (for reasons that I still can’t put my finger on).

Ms Blatchford proclaims she is tired of men being in touch with their feminine sides because they have lost their handle on masculinity. She is “mortified and appalled” at the sight of school-aged boys greeting each other with hugs, instead of having a switchblade rumble, I guess.

Humans showing their humanity evidently makes Ms Blatchford uncomfortable, so please stop it, you’re causing the black and white gender lines to blur!

Behaviour expectation is about controlling the masses so the masses conform to the wishes of the ruling class. The most effective way to control people is to keep them in fear – fear of punishment, fear of ex-communication, fear of pain, fear of shame, and so on. Fear is a very potent behaviour modifier. We are controlled by threats of fear and consequences communicated to us in various ways, one of them being language.

“Toronto, City of Sissies”

Each generation has its own language that defines it and every generation has its own arsenal of derogatory language to keep people in line with the ways of the ruling class and generally keep them feeling bad about themselves. Queer, stupid, fag, lezbo, dork, geek, and fairy are the ones my Gen X friends and I remember, for example. None of them are cool; all of them hurt.

In keeping with her era, Ms Blatchford chooses “sissy” as her insulting term. “Sissy” (American, 1840-50) is one of those generational terms that we don’t hear much these days, but it has several meanings. It started out as a term of endearment towards one’s sister, or a diminutive of Cecelia, Frances, or Priscilla, but turned to something derogatory to describe an effeminate man, a man who does not conform to the traditional masculine role, a man who is interested in feminine pastimes or clothing, a man who is afraid, or a man who cries. “Sissy” is used in subversive sexual cultures involving erotic humiliation and bondage. Interestingly, the term sissyphobia is thought to be a combination of prejudice of women and homosexual males.

Knowing this, “Toronto, City of Sissies” seems rather an odd title because Ms Blatchford practically falls over herself  gushing about how much she loves gay men (…”as a downtowner, I live surrounded by gay men, who, like most women, I adore as a group”).

So if this is true, how is it that Ms Blatchford, a solid representative for the generation that demanded strong, silent men’s men, betrays her 50s mentality not just liking but adoring gay men? Surely gay men are sissies too, Ms Blatchford!

Violence as communication

I agree with Blatchford when she says, “the onus for stopping bullies lies not with the people being bullied, but with those who see it happen.” However, I don’t agree with her idea that “taking the bully out for a short pounding” is a solution.

“This has been true for centuries,” she insists, “and it is still true, and it works equally well in the locker room, the office, a bar, and on the factory floor or street.”

Pain, like fear, is another good motivator. A punch in the chops (or “assault” as it’s known nowadays) is a good way to get someone to see your way. Corporal punishment kept people in line during these darker days of modern masculinity when men and boys were not allowed to talk about their feelings (only girls do that!); they talked with their fists instead, in the hopes of teaching wordless lessons, symbolic of the ridiculous masculine stoicism of the generation.

What I think Ms Blatchford overlooks here is that “short poundings” don’t do well helping people understand why they’re getting pounded, and I expect that arbitrary poundings are painful, possibly maiming, and surely confusing, producing anger and/or depression in the pounded. Doesn’t she know how this works? Hasn’t she read Bukowski’s Ham On Rye? Humans are reasonable when they’re treated reasonably,  I find.

Action!

In her generational wisdom, Christie Blatchford understands the way boys and men are “supposed” to be. She offers us “a few reminders of the way it was once upon a time and really always should be,” recommending that boys engage in  “killing”, “whacking”, “shooting”, “kissing”, “farting” (on cue, no less), and “making the sound of a train in a tunnel” (hello Dr. Freud). “Hugging is not” on this list.

I’m just plain sick of hugs, giving and getting, from just about anyone, but particularly man-to-man hugs.

Not sure why this bothers her, or why she’s letting it get to her. She could simply turn her head away from the sight of a man expressing his warmth, fellowship, and affection to his friends.

Ms Blatchford says, “I know men have feelings too. I just don’t need to know much more than that.” This makes me think of emotionally immature males who are squeamish hearing about the inner workings of the female reproductive system – they just don’t want to know about it.

The people of Toronto have got into a bit of an uproar about Blatchford’s article, so much so that someone started a Facebook group, Christie Blatchford Needs A Hug. One member wrote, “…our whole society could definitely use more hugs. Affection makes us stronger, isolation only weakens society.”

In response to Blatchford’s “Sissies” article, Jeff Perera, of The Good Man Project, wrote The Invisible Gun of Manhood, saying,

Every one of us was meant to embrace our whole, full humanity. Yet, enforced ideas of what being a man is leaves every boy and man wrestling to suppress themselves. We are raised to value an unattainable standard and devalue anything “less than,” which is any aspect of our humanity labelled “feminine.”

Men are left feeling that they are not given permission (from others or from our own self) to discover our handcuffed array of emotions. Denying or being forced to deny sides of our selves, we are the walking dead, numb and emotionally illiterate. This leaves us numb to the very fact of the gun pressing on our soul. The sound of the resulting trauma inflected on the world is muted by a silencer, but the impact resonates like an endless echo of gunfire on women and men worldwide.

I’m not getting too excited about the Blatchford article because it originates from a place of obsolete thinking, and the world has changed too much to return to such a rigid existence. Toronto, next time you see Christie Blatchford walking her bull terrier around Rosedale, stop, embrace her, tell her you love her, and bring her up to speed about the modern world. Tell her about the internet and digital communication, about newly discovered species and advances in medicine, and don’t forget to break the news that Elvis Presley died 35 years ago.