Project Report: Gender Roles And Male Experience Of Depression

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According to the World Health Organisation, men worldwide are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women. At least 6 people commit suicide each day in Australia, 5 of which are male. Men are developed under an expectation to be strong, unemotional and always maintaining a tough exterior. This is also known as gender role socialisation, and the burden on men to live up to this impossible ‘strong-man’ stereotype has been linked to severe mental distress.

A need exists to increase awareness of the problematic restrictive socialisation in men. Out of Sight, Out of Mind, the creative piece component of my Honours project, is a 2-minute animation short exploring the male experience of depression and how it is influenced by gender role socialisation. The animation will raise awareness of the impact gender role socialisation and subsequent stigmatisation can have on the psychological well-being of men. Informed by the findings from this paper regarding the impact stereotyped masculinity has on men’s mental health, Out of Sight, Out of Mind will demonstrate the consequences of gender role conflict, and the ways people unwittingly reinforce these restrictive stereotypes, exacerbating mental health issues in men.

2 Key Definitions

There will be several key concepts used throughout that must be understood to provide context behind the psychological and physical impacts. The most integral component of this research is in gender role socialisation. To understand the concept, it is important to differentiate the terms ‘gender role’, ‘gender role socialisation’ and ‘gender role conflict’.

  1. Gender roles are the behaviours, expectations and role sets defined by society as masculine or feminine, which are culturally expected for men and women
  2. Gender role socialisation is the process of acquiring and internalising the values, attitudes and behaviours of a gender role
  3. Gender role conflict is the psychological state resulting from internalised gender roles.

This can manifest in many ways. The ones of focus in this paper will be the negative consequences whereby individuals feel restricted by their gender role, and the restriction felt as a result from external expectation to conform to gender rolesClosely related to the concept of gender roles is the stigmatisation surrounding mental illnesses. There are several types of stigma associated which are defined by BeyondBlue, a non-profit organisation engaging with mental health issues including depression. Each type of stigmatisation will be directly or indirectly referenced throughout this paper and are pertinent for understanding how stigmatisation and gender role conflict are intrinsically linked. They are both outcomes as well as a contributing factors of one another.

  1. Personal stigma is a person’s stigmatising attitudes and beliefs about other people who have mental illnesses
  2. Perceived stigma is a person’s belief about the negative and stigmatising views other people
  3. Self-stigma is the result of the stigmatising views that individuals hold about themselves
  4. Structural stigma encompasses the policies of private and governmental institutions and cultural norms that restrict the opportunities of people with depression and anxiety

Finally, the following key ideas and term definitions relate to subjective experiences in the context of this paper:

  1. Lived experience describe first-hand accounts and impressions of living or a specific experience
  2. Subjective experiences are the product of an individual’s mind.

In the context of this paper, it refers to different individuals viewing in the same physical space, facing the same series of events, who perceive it differently and have varying emotional responses.

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3 IntroductionOut of Sight, Out of Mind, follows Dan, a middle-aged stockbroker battling depression in silence. The fear of losing face and being seen as weak and unmasculine keeps him from disclosing his mental health issues or from seeking help. This compounds into feelings of shame and self-stigma. His journey and emotions are contrasted to Stephanie and Paul who are in similar situations with similar mental states. The attitudes and behaviours and resulting lived experiences of all characters directly reflect the findings in this research paper regarding gender roles, stigmatisation surrounding mental illness and the subjective and lived experiences of depression by men.

4 Gender Role Socialisation

The male gender role has historically been one of strength, superiority and dominance. The concept of the “alpha male” is prominent in most cultures. Men are socialised to prove that they are not afraid and not vulnerable. This social pressure can reach an extreme whereby men are expected, or feel they are expected, to reject all traits associated with the opposite: the weak and emotional feminine. These behaviours and attitudes are enforced for all regardless of how they align with an individual’s personal values and feelings. It is postulated that an internal conflict, known as gender role conflict, occurs in males due to the contradictory and unrealistic messages male role socialisation provides. It has also been hypothesised that the way male societal values are positioned as in direct conflict with those for women has caused many men to fear being associated as feminine. This section will focus on the two negative manifestations of gender role socialisation: the gender role conflict that arises from discrepancy between the real self and ideal self as defined by society, and the devaluation of feminine attitudes and behaviours due to the learned fear of femininity.

4a Male Gender Role Conflict

The values and beliefs learned during early socialisation shape the way individuals develop their behaviours from childhood to adulthood. The rigid stereotypes born from gender role socialisation affect gender identity and personal beliefs about the nature of masculinity and femininity. From these stereotypes emerge assumptions, expectancies and attitudes of what manhood really means. These imprint restrictive attitudes and behaviours which may result in an internal conflict due to the inability to express emotions, conflicts balancing work and home demands, issues relating to success, power and competition, and an inability to express affection towards other men. Accumulating evidence supports male gender role socialisation can have a profoundly negative impact on an individual’s mental health. There are two facets to gender role conflict: restriction related, and achievement related. Restriction related results from the limit of male friendships and emotional expressiveness primarily reflecting things that “real men” are not supposed to feel or do. Achievement related reflects a drive for accomplishment and dominance which is then evaluated as categorically success or failure. Studies have indicated either forms of conflict are associated with low self-esteem, high anxiety, and higher levels of psychological distress. The expectation to be the strong, dominant and provider of the family may lead to lower self-esteem and higher anxiety, resulting in higher levels of anger and substance of abuse.

In Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Dan refuses to disclose his mental state, despite his colleagues Stephanie and Paul doing so, in order to establish his masculinity. In the opening, an evidently distressed Dan is seen hiding his mental state and actively attempting to convey his proficiency in order to establish his competency, to his boss.

4b Fear of Femininity

Gender role conflict has caused men and women to devalue one another’s traits in order to solidify their own gender identities. The socialisation of men to prove that he is not a “beta-male” has been closely linked to men devaluing feminine attitudes and behaviors in order to prove his own masculinity.

The fear of being ostracised for exhibiting the opposite gender-specific behaviours manifests into the fear of those traits themselves becomes a guiding force concerning what is appropriate behaviour. Vulnerabilities, feelings, and emotions in men become a sign of femininity and become avoided which can reduce intimate behaviour, cutting off potential to form meaningful relationships. The obligation towards succeeding in the workplace, driven by the fear of not providing for their family, may cause family neglect, a further detriment in personal lives causing further isolation. The restriction of their femininity denies important parts of one’s self and one’s human nature. O’Neil claims the fear of femininity produces six patterns of gender role conflict. The ones of importance to this paper are a) restrictive emotionality, b) restrictive affectionate behaviour, c) socialised control, power and competition issues, and d) obsession with achievement and success. While the detrimental effects for men themselves are clear, these internalised values become further dangerous when these attitudes are expressed into actions and behaviours.

To further establish masculinity, feminine values in others are devalued. Patterns of controlling behaviour and unhealthy competition for power emerges as men shy away from sensitivity and compassion. These internalised values interact with personal and institutional aspects of sexism and produce a cycle of unhealthy attitudes and actions that will be covered in the next section on stigmatisation. The animation explores both the internalised and external ramifications of fear of femininity in Dan’s character and the way he responds to his boss. The fear of appearing incompetent and incapable of controlling his emotions prevents Dan from disclosing his depression with his colleagues, even when prompted with Paul’s similar situation and having overheard a similar conversation between his two female colleagues. Following the degrading comments John makes about Paul seeing a therapist for his depression, Dan does not defend Paul, instead choosing to tear down competition to become the “alpha male” of the workplace.

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