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Article • Man Overboard

18 November 2016
Guillaume Perrault, stagiaire en sexologie au Centre de Ressources pour Hommes de Montréal

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 ☛ Cette chronique est aussi disponible en français [➦].

Translated by Vincent Chartier

What is a man?

A legitimate question. The distinction between men and women seems to be more blurry than in the previous century. As such, the definition of masculinity has varied greatly from one culture and time to another. This is due to the fact that the differences between men and women do not stop at genes anymore, but now includes a particular social context (Castelain Meunier, 2013; Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). Therefore, there is a distinction to be made between biological sex and gender, which means not only are we born with male genitalia, but we must also ‘‘learn’’ how to be a man. This is called gendered socialization (McCusker and Galupo, 2011). Just like the male models in our entourage, the media presents models that teach us what it means to be a man in modern society through movies, television, ads, and magazines (Giaccardi et al., 2016). The question we should be asking is therefore not ‘‘what is a man?’’ but rather…

‘‘What is a man in modern Quebecois society?’’

The answer can be found simply by looking around us. Imagine a typical elementary schoolyard, where a little boy is crying because he scratched his knee. What do his friends, parents, and supervisors say? It is not uncommon to hear phrases like ‘‘Be a man!’’, ‘‘Don’t be a baby!’’, ‘‘Boys don’t cry,’’ or even words like, ‘‘faggot,’’ ‘‘sissy,’’ or ‘‘wuss,’’ which remind the young boy that expressing emotions is for girls, children and homosexuals, not ‘‘real’’ men (McCusker and Galupo, 2011). This discourse is typical of the traditional vision of masculinity, in which men are strong, independent, stoic, heterosexual, and see seeking help as a sign of weakness (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005; Galdas et al., 2005).

Most men tend to add nuance to this discourse. Each individual expresses his masculinity with some measure of fluidity, but it is difficult to fully dissociate ourselves from gender stereotypes, since gendered socialization is present in all aspects of our lives. Hypermasculine models are always present in both the media and our daily interactions (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005; Giaccardi, 2016). Yet, they are not always appropriate when learning to deal with life’s hardships.

Staying Afloat

Feeling vulnerable at some point in life is normal. We all have to face our problems, whether it be losing a job, mental or physical health issues, a breakup, or any other problem.

Feeling vulnerable can feel like drowning.

For a time, and with a lot of stamina, you can keep your head above the water. Sometimes, our situation improves by a fluke—a lifebuoy. Other times, we have to swim for a long time without any respite. But even the best swimmer in the world cannot stay in the middle of the ocean alone indefinitely.

The best way to get out of the water is to seek the necessary help. Men can find this more difficult than women (Bass et al., 2016; Galdas et al., 2005; Yousaf et al., 2015). This divergence is more present in men who have a traditional view of masculinity (Bass et al., 2016; Galdas et al., 2005).

They have adopted the idea that a man must be able to fend for himself, that he has to be strong for his family, and that if others can manage the same hardships, he should too.

Thus, the masculine models they have always known will forge their attitude towards seeking help (Yousaf et al., 2015). Trying to solve our own problems can mean letting things go unchecked for a while, or using inadequate strategies to mitigate feelings of distress (Audet, 2008; Lajeunesse et al., 2013). Going back to the drowning man analogy, imagine that the lifebuoy is pierced and that he is waiting until he is exhausted before calling for help. Odds are that the rescue operation might become perilous or that the boat may not even arrive in time.

Similarly, a man at the end of his rope asking for help by expressing his anger (no matter how justified) may not be well received by many services (Lajeunesse et al., 2013). Seeking support can then become tedious and discouraging.

Here are a few factors to assist men seeking help:

1) Accept life’s difficulties;
2) Be open to receiving help;
3) Maintain a calm and positive attitude;
4) Do your research about organisations and institutions that could provide help;
5) Clearly express your needs and expectations;
6) Seek help before things get worse;
7) Maintain your social network and avoid isolation.

Despite these things, there is still a possibility that the healthcare system will present certain hurdles that make seeking help difficult and frustrating, such as trouble seeing a doctor, the cost of the service, and significant delays (Lajeunesse ., 2013). As professionals, we have to take men’s perspective into account during interventions. Our approach must aim to help them maintain their motivation, focus on solution-finding and skill-building, and give them space to express their feelings without fear of being judged. This training therefore adds value to any professional that intervenes with adult men. However, it is crucial that this training with counsellors comes with changes to the very organisation of institutions, so that they are more welcoming and receptive to the needs of men. We must develop new services dedicated to helping those men that don’t fit the traditional notions of masculinity


To cite this article:

Perrault, G. (2016, November 18). Man overboard. Les 3 sex*https://les3sex.com/en/news/247/man-overboard- 

man, masculinity, culture, attitude, seeking help, resource, problem, difficulty, hypermasculinity, Guillaume Perrault


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