Is masculinity redundant? What it means to be a modern man

Traditional views of masculinity could be harming men’s health, experts say. Here’s why it’s time to challenge outdated stereotypes.

What it means to be a modern-day man is forever evolving.

However, many men still view masculinity through a traditional lens, conforming to the “strong male” stereotype, which means keeping things to themselves and adopting an invincible mindset.

What’s the harm in male stereotyping?

The adherence to male stereotypes, according to Healthy Male chief executive Simon von Saldern, can affect men’s willingness to look after their health.

“Many men feel pressure to behave in ways that match traditional or outdated masculine stereotypes and hide parts of themselves that don’t fit the mould,” Simon says.

“This can negatively impact their health in a variety of ways — affecting everything from sunscreen use to waiting too long to go to the doctor when you have a concerning symptom.”

While traditional masculine traits are positive in many scenarios, they can cause issues if applied inflexibly, Simon notes.

“Stoicism, strength, independence and self-reliance are positive traits in many parts of life but become a problem or ‘toxic’ when they’re practised rigidly in all contexts, particularly when it comes to looking after your wellbeing,” he says.

“You don’t always need to be self-reliant and stoic, it’s OK to ask for help and talk to someone when you’re struggling.”

Re-frame the way you talk about masculinity

The language we use can shape the way boys and men see themselves in the world.

Some of the phrases we have been brought up with deserve a rethink, despite not being said with an intention to harm, psychiatrist Dr Kieran Kennedy says.

Dr Kennedy, who wrote The Manual: A Practical Guide to Life, Health and Happiness, says “big boys don’t cry” might be a means of trying to comfort a young boy when he’s upset, but on a deeper level it’s contributing to messages all around him that feeling upset, struggling or showing emotion isn’t OK for boys or men.

“It’s important we stop and think about some of the underlying meaning and pressure these sayings convey,” he notes.

“And moving away from terms that blanket certain behaviours as being for men or women is a good way of removing some of those barriers and pressures overall.”

Starting the conversation

So, what can men do to improve their health and reinforce a fresh perspective among their friends
and family?

Dr Kennedy says don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing — the important part is starting the conversation.

“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who often worry about how best to chat to their mates about health worries, concerns around mental health or things they’re worried about for their mates or family members,” he says.

“Talking about these types of things doesn’t have to come with a set script or pressure on outcome; if the question is there, that’s the time to ask it and reach out.”

Taking the initiative in speaking with others can also boost other people’s confidence to follow your lead.

Simon says boys and men need healthier role models to break free from harmful masculine stereotypes.

“Be the one to express vulnerability, ask for help or support a friend and you’ll encourage those around you to do the same,” Simon adds.

Don’t put off important health checks

For many men, embarrassment about discussing certain health concerns is a barrier to going to the doctor, Dr Joanna Sharp says.

“Some health issues are more difficult to talk about than others, particularly when those issues are tied to traditional markers of masculinity, such as hair loss, sexual health and mental health,” Dr Sharp, Mosh telehealth platform director, says.

“Most men don’t even have a regular GP — 37 per cent of blokes just pick whichever doctor is available.”

Dr Sharp adds the “she’ll be right” mentality persists, with many men ignoring a health issue as they figure it will get better over time.

It can be tempting to brush symptoms under the carpet rather than commit yourself to an uncomfortable face-to-face appointment with a doctor, but telehealth bookings can be an easier alternative.

“Many guys feel more comfortable opening up online, with nearly a quarter of men seeing telehealth as a more comfortable way to speak to a doctor,” Dr Sharp says.

For mental health support, visit, or phone Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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Written by Rebecca Douglas.