By Guest Editor Joe O’Brien
I’m a Trainee Health Psychologist based in Dublin, Ireland where I also run the Instagram page @headfirst0, to promote evidence-based health information. I primarily work with people on improving their relationship with food and addressing the mental health side of nutrition and physical health. I’ve previously posted about mental health issues in relation to feminism and masculinity, and I believe that it’s vital to understand inequality in order to be the best health professional I can be.
As a Trainee Psychologist, we learn a lot about how the society we live in impacts our health. I have always been intrigued by how much of a toll modern life takes – how things like our diets, our excessively busy lives and our social media use impacts us. Ironically, this is what brought The Female Lead to my attention, when they published research on how diversifying social media feeds with positive role models could improve our mental wellbeing. It’s well known in the psychological community that social factors such as inequality, are one of the most significant contributors to mental health difficulties. Speaking as a privileged, white, middle-class man, I will sadly admit that I was acutely unaware of the extent of these inequalities until my early 20s. I’m also glad to say that my eyes have been very much opened to these issues, but unfortunately, many men haven’t experienced the same insight.
It’s important for men to understand feminism
I’m someone who’s really taken a lot of interest in the topic of feminism, for multiple reasons. Firstly, the people I speak with in my job are often women, so in order to be the best health professional I can be, it’s important to understand the world from their perspective. I sometimes see similarities through the example of how ignorant the fitness industry can be. We have insta-famous personal trainers telling us in order to lose weight, we just need to “eat-less, move more”. The problem with this narrative is that every person has their own difficulties making it harder to eat less and move more. Some people have financial issues, work commitments, parenting, socioeconomic status and genetics to contend with. The list could go on. Some of the fitness industry undermine and trivialise the difficulties people have in life, the same way as many men undermine and trivialise the difficulties women have in today’s world.
Living in a patriarchal society can make being a woman a barrier to things like equal pay and job opportunities and failure to understand the world that women live in trivialises and undermines their potential difficulties, because women don’t experience the world the same way men do. Without understanding some of the issues that women experience, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. But even more importantly, I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the role of a supportive brother, a son, a partner or friend, to the women in my life. I wouldn’t fully understand the difficulties that face my sister, my mother, my partner or my friends. Without learning, I wouldn’t be able to understand the feeling of being unsafe walking home alone. I wouldn’t be able to understand the feeling of being treated as a subordinate at work. I wouldn’t know the feeling of my appearance taking the focus away from my achievements. And I still don’t know that feeling, nor will I ever truly know that feeling. But I try to recognise that it exists, and I try to appreciate, behave and advocate for women, in a way that reduces these inequalities. Unfortunately, not all men do the same.
Toxic Masculinity Perpetuates Inequality
One of the topics I hear a lot about online is that of toxic masculinity – where men adhere strictly to the traditional gender stereotypes, to the point where it’s damaging to both themselves and women. As a man, I wanted to speak on this, because I’ve experienced it first hand, and continue to experience it. I’m not going to speak from my high horse and pretend like I was never a part of it – I was. Unfortunately, it’s the society we grow up in (which is certainly not an excuse), but thankfully through the incredible women in my life, and people fighting for equality, I happily call myself a feminist. Unfortunately, toxic masculinity is still rampant and one of the many negative by-products of this is inequality. I posted about this a while ago on my Instagram. The main take-home points of the post were the results from “The Man Box Survey”, which was a study conducted on young men in Australia. Some of the quite terrifying results found that 24% of respondents believed that a real man would never say no to sex, and that 1 in 5 men should use violence to get respect if necessary. I think we can all agree these are terrifying statistics, especially considering the proportion of domestic and sexual violence that occurs against women. If that wasn’t enough, one of the comments under my post read “beta”, which is a term used to describe a “subordinate” man. If being a subordinate man means being one who can stand up against toxic masculinity, one who can stand up for women’s rights, one who can see people as equals, one who can express emotions, then I’m all for being “beta”. Some of these beliefs are so ingrained that it’s subconscious, blissfully unaware of their male privilege and misogyny. In fact, another comment read “…still waiting for my male privilege to kick in”, and I think that says a lot about where we stand as a male community. (These are real comments, you can go and read them right now on my page, they have not been deleted).