Being a Man in a Patriarchal Society
Remember Tyler Durden?
You know, Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Yeah, that Brad Pitt.
The alpha of all alpha males. A dangerously bold, edgy personality with a body that could rival Adonis. A leader, creator, and commander of the pack. He made his woman scream in bed, smoked cigarettes like he could cure cancer tomorrow, and lived life on his own terms.
Tyler Durden was the ultimate sex symbol. The ultimate man. And the rest of us felt it.
If you are like me, you consider Tyler Durden the sexiest man in the film. Sure, he was played by Brad Pitt in his 30s when he was in his physical prime, but it wasn’t just the six-pack abs that made many of us drool. It was also his dominant personality that screamed of overflowing testosterone. It was his attitude that said, “I do and get what I want.”
I’m not the first man to admit that I had a huge crush on Tyler Durden. No, I worshiped him. I wanted those abs – the six-pack with the V. I wanted his wild personality. I wanted to be him.
Social Conditioning That Kills Men
This character was the epitome of conventional masculinity, otherwise known as hegemonic masculinity. He provided a target for men to strive toward: never cry, be strong, don’t show your feelings, play through pain, suck it up, win at all costs, don’t lose, be aggressive, get rich, and get laid. We are taught to believe that the life Tyler Durden modeled represents the pinnacle of conventional masculinity.
But when a man’s reality doesn’t live up to his “ideal” masculine life, he experiences a sense of defeat, a low sense of self-worth, and loneliness. This can turn into what therapists call “covert depression,” where men refuse to discuss their issues with professionals. Instead, they try to deal with them on their own; admitting emotional pain clashes with expectations of self-reliance and strength. Hegemonic Masculinity and Men’s Mental Health has been a subject of mental health researchers all over the world. According to family therapist Terrence Real, “many men would rather place themselves at risk than acknowledge distress, either physical or emotional.” Margaret Atwood, a novelist who is famous for work such as The Handmaid’s Tale, was once quoted saying: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
In an attempt to escape such mental illness, many men turn to substances such as alcohol, sometimes augmented by drugs or violence. I turned to alcohol. The time I most wanted to be like Tyler Durden, I drank more alcohol than I can remember to numb the pain of the gap between my ideal life and reality. Instead of seeking help, I used alcohol to numb my fears that my life was out of my hands. When I felt insecure about my masculinity, I unconsciously self-sabotaged.
On the night before my 27th birthday, I drank so much that I blacked out on my way home. I woke up on the street. I didn’t remember how I got there. In hindsight, I’m surprised I wasn’t killed, beaten up, or at least mugged. Needless to say, I had a dreadful birthday puking my guts out the next day, but it could have been much worse.
At the extremes of toxic masculinity, men who don’t meet the masculine expectations they create for themselves may embark on mass-shooting rampages. In 2014, Elliot Rodger, a twenty-two-year-old student, killed seven people at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A few hours before the massacre, Rodger posted a video online in which he vowed to “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see,” describing his intention to murder women as a form of retribution for his inability to attract them. “I don’t know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime,” he said. “I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true Alpha Male.”
This man clearly suffered emotional disturbances, but he used his masculinity to justify his actions. The quest for the status of alpha male can be deadly.
In recent times, masculinity has become a trending topic, and there is an ongoing debate over what it should be. Yet, masculinity is something we men rarely talk about, because conventional masculinity tells us that talking about masculinity disqualifies us from becoming the alpha male. We are expected to express our masculinity through how we handle our life, which includes being independent, competitive, unemotional, and exercising dominance.
And this is the product of patriarchy.
Yes, patriarchy is killing men, too.