When students at the University of Toronto gathered to hear a talk about male suicide, they were met with screaming feminists who shouted abuse in their faces, pulled fire alarms and other wise acted like spoiled children refusing to share their toys. Another student at Durham University in the UK, attempting to cope with the suicide of his friend, was refused the opportunity to create a society for other men struggling with emotional issues, on the grounds that allowing men space to gather was ‘controversial’ and akin to promoting ‘white rights’.
All across Australia, the UK and Canada, men gather in what are known as ‘men’s sheds’, where they often engage in woodwork, bicycle and vehicle repairs, gardening, milling and furniture restoration. Men gather to engage their minds and bodies in a task, and to share some of the emotional difficulties they experience – difficulties that are often met with mocking or dismissal from the wider culture. These sheds are credited with providing men critical, life-saving emotional support in a way that men are comfortable with, and enjoy.
Men and women prefer different kinds of emotional support, and both are placed into double binds when it comes to how they express themselves. Women are encouraged to openly share their emotions, and then are accused of being too emotional. And according to author and grief counsellor Tom Golden, ‘men are shamed by women and men alike when expressing their hurts and articulating their needs, but once shamed into silence men are again shamed for their failure to communicate’. The double bind for men is often described as ‘toxic masculinity’, although ‘toxic femininity’ receives scant mention. Golden goes on to explain that there are four reasons men prefer to communicate while partaking in activities, such as those offered by men’s sheds.
Men’s pain is culturally taboo, making the expression of that pain without support very difficult. A woman crying alone in a restaurant is likely to elicit compassion, while a man crying will be more likely to elicit disgust. This powerful taboo means that men prefer a pretense (woodworking) to gather, even though the point of the gathering is to express their pain. The woodworking negates the taboo aspect of the discussion.
Men feel they have a duty to protect others, but not to expect protection for themselves. Only when men are in groups together do they have the expectation of protection. The brotherhood between soldiers, firefighters, other groups of men who protect one another creates a way out of the bind that by needing protection, men forfeit their right to protection, because real men are protectors, not the protected.