Men, Masculinity and Myth-busting

Our Commercial Director, Oliver Black busts five common ‘myths’ about men and masculinity with head of thought leadership Jennifer Liston Smith. 

‘Men aren’t emotional and don’t express their feelings’ and ‘Men don’t adopt flexible working’ are just two of the ‘myths’ surrounding men and their masculinity, Oliver takes a look at these and a few more…

5 myths surrounding men and their masculinity

Myth 1: Men aren’t emotional and don’t express their feelings

As human beings, men have always had emotions and we are increasingly speaking up and expressing them. The pandemic has moved this several notches up the agenda, whether you’re Boris Johnson or Marcus Rashford, feelings are simply part of how you talk about things now.

However, those of us who find it challenging to express how we feel might also find it encouraging to realise it’s likely a result of how we were raised – ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘be brave’ – and that those expectations are no longer serving us in the 21st century, so we can set them aside.

The tide is turning and we all need to say how we feel more routinely, to make this more and more the norm.

Myth 2: Strong men don’t have mental health issues

Even more than expressing feelings, men talking about their mental health journeys do seem to make headline news – think Prince Harry, Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson or Ryan Reynolds – so if it’s newsworthy when it happens, maybe it’s true that successful men are not often experiencing mental health issues? 

Wrong! It just used to happen in silence, with the help of a ‘stiff upper lip’. Again, this is so out-dated.

According to the Samaritans, men are three times more likely than women to end their own lives and the biggest increase in suicide is among men in mid-life. Their report “Out of sight, Out of mind’ in April this year points to the importance of talking and mentoring each other in overcoming this.

Myth 3: Men don’t appreciate what it means to be a carer

We provide backup care for adult dependants and it is men who are providing detailed briefings for this care as often as women.  

In parenting terms, our sessions on how to take shared parental leave or on Raising Smart Kids rapidly fill a room with enthusiastic dads, who really are fully involved carers. 

In our own survey of 1,500 working parents during lockdown in May and June, among the many comments, there was a lot of evidence of a shared domestic load (although the media backdrop has also emphasised the heavy impact on women where this is not shared).

Our survey participants often had experiences like this father, who said: “We take turns working two hours at a time while the other person does childcare. It’s quite stressful as we can only do 50% of our jobs, and we have to avoid our work meetings clashing.”

The upside of this terrible pandemic is heard in comments like this other participant: “It’s thankfully got me to be a lot more hands-on than I might have been otherwise, so it’s given me more confidence as a new father.”

Myth 4: Men don’t adopt flexible working

In last year’s Modern Families Index, which Bright Horizons ran with charity Working Families, the data showed an equal proportion of mothers and fathers (33%) said that they were thinking about moving into a job that gave a better work-life fit within the next two years. This rose to 38% millennial parents. And that was before COVID showed what’s actually possible.

Personally, I can’t imagine my life and the productivity I achieve without having the flexibility to decide when and how I deliver. The key, as many of our client employers know, is being clear what the deliverables are then giving people the choices and the support to deliver those in their own way. The pandemic has driven a huge truck through many of the old assumptions about how work needs to get done and men are as vocal as women about wanting a hybrid working pattern in the future.

Myth 5: Men will discourage women from joining a male-dominated industry

Men are much more likely to try and change the culture these days. Since 2011, we’ve had the intriguing insight through research in Denmark that when male CEOs become fathers to daughters, women’s wages rise in their companies relative to men’s, reducing the gender pay gap. Daughters who were also the firstborn child of a CEO decreased the gap by almost 3%.

So, for some men, the first time they start campaigning about gender balance and the gender pay gap is when they have daughters, and they realise that those daughters’ ambitions, and of course capabilities, are extremely similar to those of their sons.

Far from discouraging the women from entering workplaces, they get motivated to break down the barriers. But we all need to take responsibility for changing it sooner though, rather than waiting for fatherhood!

Overall, attitudes are changing and have shifted hugely in the last few decades and exponentially in some areas such as flexible working during the recent pandemic. Now it’s down to all of us to keep up that progress, to come together to create an inclusive culture that puts these myths ‘to bed’ once and for all.

This article was written as part of a video created in conjunction with BAE Systems.

Jennifer Liston-Smith was a Commissioner in the recent Fawcett Society Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood, working to reduce the expectations we put on children from the start. The Commission reviewed research and found that that toys have become more gendered since the 1980s - Boy builders and pink princesses – making it harder for men – as well as women - to bust out of these expectations.

Research quoted:

  • Elizabeth Sweet (2013) Boy builders and pink princesses: Gender, toys, and inequality over the twentieth century. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of California, Davis, CA.
  • Samaritans (April 2020): Out of sight, out of mind: Why less-well off, middle-aged men don’t get the support they need.
  • Bright Horizons (June, 2020) Engaging working parents in your new normal Survey Report and Insights from 1,500 working parents.
  • Egon Zehnder (2017-2020) Leaders & Daughters
  • Michael S. Dahl, Cristian L. Dezső, David Gaddis Ross (2012). Fatherhood and Managerial Style How a Male CEO’s Children Affect the Wages of His Employees. Administrative Science Quarterly 57(4):669-693

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