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What it means to be a man today

Macho. Tough. Strong. Brave. We all know the traditional masculine stereotypes.

Strong and silent. Never showing our feelings. Leaving the toilet seat up. But things are slowly changing – look around and you can see that masculinity today can take on many shapes and sizes. What ‘makes a man’ today means lots of different things to different people. And that’s a really good thing. But the problem is that some of those old stereotypes refuse to shift. Why is this such a problem? Because those feelings can lead us to think we have no worth if we don’t match them, and puts us under so much pressure it can make us think there’s no way out. We know that, because 94 men take their own life in the UK each week – that’s 75% of the total. That urgently needs to change. 

Together with our mates at UM, we spoke to thousands of men to get a better understanding. The results help paint a picture of what it is to be a man in the UK today and show how toxic stereotyping in the media is taking an especially heavy toll on our collective mental health. And it shows us how important it is that we normalise talking about our struggles. 

Let’s break that down a bit: 63% of men agreed that the stereotype being ‘unemotional’ was harmful and offensive. And lots of these lazy stereotypes play out like a bad 90s sitcom. ‘Being a player’ and ‘sex obsessed’? And 44% of young men found the stereotype of ‘being a lad’ detrimental and dangerous. Men aren’t Inbetweeners characters (Or Men Behaving Badly characters for the, er, more discerning reader here) – we’re real, 3-Dimensional people (but yes, OK, a lot of us watch Inbetweeners)  and these cliches about what men are interested in can do real harm. 

Your ethnicity and sexual orientation will also lead to you being lazily and offensively stereotyped. Men of colour face specific stereotypes about being angry, lazy and rude, while gay, bi and queer men face stigma around being ‘perverted’, promiscuous or camp. Which, and we’re stating the very obvious here, is complete rubbish. 

The way we get our information these days isn’t helping: 70% of men said that social media is making it harder to be psychologically healthy – doomscrolling through hundreds of pictures of airbrushed versions of reality can be overwhelming and dangerous. 

It’s clear all of this is doing damage and putting pressure on a lot of us, leading to insecurities and self-doubt and is causing real psychological damage. But there is hope – and things are (slowly) changing…

Our survey shows that men, especially those under 35, respond best to stuff that breaks through the stereotypes. We want – and we need to – see realistic depictions of men. Men who are good at what they do and good dads and also open, vulnerable and emotional. And that opening up about how you’re feeling is important. Real men basically – not real men that we get from bad adverts.

From the men we spoke to there was a definite generational divide on how they deal differently with their mental health – and highlighted a promising shift for younger men. It showed that men aged 18-34 want to normalise getting help – and 44% think men should be shown that it’s okay to fail.

And that’s the key – normalising being lost sometimes. Normalising not feeling great. And normalising talking about all of this and getting help when you need it. It seems we’re moving in the right direction. Young men are open about opening up to each other, being there for each other. 

At CALM we know that this is so important.  ‘Strong’ doesn’t mean being silent but it’s a decades old issue and we’re working every day to try to tackle it. By simply allowing men to show vulnerability we will go a long way to improve the situation for so many.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

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