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Study Shows Men Still Feel Judged When They Talk About Their Feelings

October 16, 2019

We've come a long way when it comes to breaking down norms around gender. Women are climbing workplace ladders, men are expected to be fully involved in childcare duties, and the next generation is overwhelmingly queer.

But it's important not to count our eggs before they hatch. Case in point: A newly released study found many men today still feel like they can't open up about their feelings without being judged.

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Men are still pressured not to show emotions.

Commissioned by men's health charity Movember and conducted by research firm Ipsos MORI, the study surveyed 4,000 men across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia about their perceptions of masculinity and expressing emotions.

What they found is most men know expressing their emotions is important—but they still feel like they're punished for doing it. A whole 77% of men say they see talking as an effective way to deal with their problems, and 76% know it's good for their mental health.

Even so, 58% of men feel like they're expected to be "emotionally strong and to show no weakness," and 38% of men have avoided talking to others about their feelings to avoid appearing "unmanly." Over half (53%) of American men between ages 18 and 34 say they feel pressure to be "manly," and 22% of those in this age group say they're always or frequently mocked for "not being manly enough." 

These pressures come with real consequences: 39% of men say they at times change their behavior to appear more masculine, with 10% saying they do it "frequently." More than a quarter of men (29%) say they've purposefully not shown emotion or held back from crying in front of others in order to preserve their masculinity, and 22% say they're "unlikely" to talk to someone even if they're dealing with a problem they're having trouble coping with.

One in five men (21%) don't have anyone they can talk to about their problems or say they don't like talking about their problems. 

What needs to change.

Talking about your feelings is crucial to your well-being, no matter your gender. It allows you to process your experiences, release stress, and receive support from others when needed. Bottling up your emotions, on the other hand, can lead to a buildup of stress in the mind and body—and substantial consequences for both. Emotional suppression has been linked to cardiovascular health issues, memory loss1, lower immunity to illness, and (if all that's not convincing enough) lower productivity and faster burnout.

It's a classic example of how traditional gender stereotypes end up restricting and even hurting us. Many people struggle with expressing themselves, but men, in particular, are often specifically taught not to show their emotions.

Those lessons are clearly hard to shake, but all it means is there's more work to be done. Emotional intelligence can be learned, as can better communication skills. Moreover, we can start to raise boys who can question masculinity stereotypes, and we can work on unlearning some of them ourselves. 

"Every time we are frustrated, disgusted, or uncomfortable with a man appearing 'weak' or 'sensitive,' we contribute to the problem," board-certified clinical psychologist Kristina Hallett, Ph.D., ABPP, writes at mbg. "We need to champion vulnerability. That means allowing men to have feelings, cry, and screw up without calling into question their 'manliness.' It's time to redefine manhood to celebrate emotionality and softness—and it's up to all of us to uphold this new ideal."

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Kelly Gonsalves
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter