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International Men’s Day: What does it take to be a man in 2019?

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Published on 19 November 2019

International Men's Day
International Men's Day

Among all the talk of toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s been a difficult few years for men.

So to mark International Men’s Day, we asked a selection of men from the University of Sunderland just what being a male in 2019 really means.

 

David Wilkinson: The Performance Coach

As a man, what does International Men’s Day mean to you?

International Men's Day is a huge positive step for our society to accept men and understand that we bleed as well, as in we have our stress, pain and challenges that we struggle to deal with. It's also massively important for other men to see events/days like this and understand it’s ok to share how you feel.

The world is quickly changing - for the better in many cases - but I can't help but feel that men are struggling and getting pushed out. However this day gives men a space to be open, to share and to accept that being honest about their emotions is a liberating feeling. That ability to drop their mask and be themselves without ego.

Why did you become a performance coach and how has it changed your life?

I became a performance coaching and got into this because for two years I spent feeling lost and unsure of myself in life. I walked away from my own gym business in 2016 and in that moment I felt I lost a sense of who I was.

I'd always wore the label of being a personal trainer and a business owner, as they defined me. In that moment I didn't have that and I felt I'd lost a sense of me.

I used coaching as a way to discover my true self and get to know who I am and what I want as a man.

Why do men often find it difficult to communicate their feelings – and is this changing?

In my opinion it inherently comes from our up-bringing and society. The whole thing around men must be strong, men mustn't show weaknesses. Men must go out and provide. We as men see being vulnerable as being weak and talking about our emotions and feelings is weakness.

However this isn't working. We are bottling up our emotions and not recognising how we feel. Yes it is changing, but very slowly.

Who has been the most significant man in your life?

My grandad was the most significant man in my life. He passed away earlier this year at the grand age of 94. He took care of me for most of my childhood when I spent many weekends with him. He was a strong father like figure to me. A great man, a great role model and in my opinion a modern man for his generation. He worked hard as a miner but always accepted people for who they really are without prejudice. 

Do you ever question what it means to be a man?

Yes, all the time. And I don't think there's a definite answer for that. What it means to be a man is what it means to be a human being and how these relate to your own personal values as a human.

Being a man is something you are born into the world as, it doesn't have to be worn as a title or something that defines you.

 If you could describe a man in five words, what would they be?

Drop your mask and be real (I know that's six, but this is my message).

 

Alex Costin: The Graduate, born female and currently in the transitioning process

What does International Men’s Day mean to you?

I've never really been included in IMD because I've never been seen as a real man, so previously it's not meant an awful lot to me. More than ever though, it's a day to get the men in our lives who are struggling with mental health to speak up. It’s a day to tear down this idea that men aren't meant to have feelings or cry and to tell them that it’s ok to struggle, it's ok to get help in your own time and way.

Describe how your choices in life have led you to where you are today

I'm a very open book (possibly too open) and my choices have led me to, quite frankly, be alive today. I've made very specific choices through my life and now I think it's time for me to spend even more time advocating that everyone does the same.

 Why do you think men often find it difficult to communicate their feelings – and is this changing?

Men find it difficult to communicate feelings because the old ideology of masculinity is toxic. Men are told they have to be the bread winner and they get told to ‘man up’ if they cry. This just isn’t fair and shuts down the chance of healthy expressing emotions, which unfortunately leads to a high suicide rate in men. I do believe it is changing, especially in younger generations.

Who has been the most significant man in your life?

So many men have been very significant in my life, from my dad, who supports me no matter what, to almost every man who's just out there being themselves and not giving a damn about what the social norms are.

Do you ever question what it means to be a man?

I don’t. I honestly just think being a man is saying "I am a man" and no one can change my mind about that

If you could describe a man in five words, what would they be?

Not afraid to be themselves

Jordan Kyle Robertson: The student, husband, and father

What does International Men’s Day mean to you?

A day that anyone can step back and look at the men in their lives and appreciate what they have contributed to their lives.

Also, highlighting male role models and raising awareness of men’s mental health by encouraging men to talk.

Describe how your choices in life have led you to where you are today?

The choices I made from being medically discharged from the Army and moving back into education, are all based on my family and wanting to become a role model to my daughters and be able to spend time with them and my wife.

Why do you think men often find it difficult to communicate their feelings - and is this changing?

The idea of men having to be the hunter, provider, the pillar of strength and not looking weak.

I think the embarrassment of being seen as weak or soft, not being able to be ‘man enough’ and not being able to handle every situation that arises, is a contributor.

I do think it’s becoming more natural and normal for men to talk about problems and open up, but we’re still a very long way off before the stigma clears. The problem is with men just bottling stuff up, hiding things, and not talking which causes mental health issues.

Who has been the most significant man in your life?

To be honest, no one. My dad left when I was younger, aged two I think, and it was just me, my little brother and mother. I have seen good male role models in my uncle and although I never actually had a father figure, I knew when I was old enough what sort of partner I wanted to be, husband, father figure and male role model within myself.

Do you ever question what it means to be a man?

I did during my last few months after leaving the Army and up until the present day. I became severely overweight, lost my active social life, playing football was taken away from me.

My mental state was in bits and I was questioning myself daily if I wanted to carry on, be the husband to my wife, and father to my children. I wasn’t a man, a husband or a father in the situation I was in. I didn’t think I was good enough and it was all about wearing a mask through the day in front of people.

I hated being out, I didn’t want to socialise, I couldn’t do things I thought a man had to do and I was totally reliant on my wife. I did think constantly on a daily basis for a long time that I would be better off dead, and my wife and children having someone else be there.

If you could describe a man in five words, what would they be?

Respectful, ambitious, open-minded, hardworking, kind.

 

Yusuf Meah: The Chaplain

What does International Men’s Day mean to you?

It's a day of opportunity to focus on men's health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality and highlighting male role models.

How has being a man helped/hindered you in your life and your life choices?

Being a male has not hindered me in any way but nor has it really given me any key advantages. We live in an equal society which advocates equality.

Why do you think men often find it difficult to communicate their feelings – and is this changing?

I think it's part of masculinity and not a negative. We have our own ways of expressing feeling and emotions and will be quite different to women. We are usually a closed book which needs exploring.

We can be quite open and expressive but that is usually with someone who is close.

 Who has been the most significant man in your life?

My dad, he has been an exemplar role model of a hard working family man with clear ethical boundaries. He has helped shape how I view the world around me including interacting with people. 

Do you ever question what it means to be a man?

I think with the experiences of life this has become much clearer. As a Chaplain, people rely on me to support them spiritually, mentally and morally and help them decide on make or break situations. As I go my way supporting who ever reaches out, the solutions help me recognise the meaning of my role as a man who is a trusted chaplain

 If you could describe a man in five words, what would they be?

Straight-forward, insular, in control, indecisive, passionate

 

Arran Coram: The Student

What does International Men’s Day mean to you?

International men’s day is massive, it brings awareness to everyone all over the world for the people who are suffering on a daily basis.

Describe how your choices in life have led you to where you are today

My choices have led me to where I am today because of past experiences, they have helped guide me to be the person I am, and ultimately the person I want to be.

Why do you think men often find it difficult to communicate their feelings – and is this changing?

Men often find it hard to communicate their feelings because of how men are stereotypically viewed and because of previous generations making comments such as “man up”. This is definitely starting change, men are starting to break through and talk about their mental health. The likes of Tyson Fury being an advocate of this. 

Who has been the most significant man in your life?

My dad, he’s always been there for me, he’s helped me through the good and bad times. Without him keeping me grounded and giving me guidance and being a huge part of my support system I don’t know where I’d be. 

Do you ever question what it means to be a man?

Yes, being a man is tough. You are expected to be a strong individual who can take on anything put in front of you. But sometimes you can’t. 

If you could describe a man in five words, what would they be?

More than meets the eye.

 

Joel Manning: The international student

What does International Men’s Day mean to you?

It means celebrating the achievements of men both young and old.  Those who have gone before and laid a foundation, and those who are now coming up and standing on that foundation but also challenging what exists and creating new paths for future generations of men to follow.

How has being a man helped/hindered you in your life and your life choices?

I would say being a man allowed me more time to figure life out.  I believe society places less pressure on males to have their life structured and figured out by a certain age and this has certainly helped me. As a younger man I had no real clue of the specific direction I wanted to take my life in.  

Why do you think men often find it difficult to communicate their feelings – and is this changing?

The appearance of coming across as weak or less masculine is what I would say poses the greatest challenge to men communicating their feelings.  The notion of having to be strong 24/7 or the protector for the most part stops several men from going deep within and just saying what they feel or want.  

With discussions surrounding mental health becoming more popular I would say that there has been a slight shift over time and men are beginning to communicate those once inner thoughts.  

Who has been the most significant man in your life?

The most significant man in my life has been my uncle.  He has invested in me and mentored me from both a personal and business perspective.  Provided invaluable opportunities for experience and development and has truly gone beyond the call of duty. I can honestly attribute a lot of who I am today to him simply having given of his time to me.   

Do you ever question what it means to be a man?

Funnily enough I have often questioned it and not sure if I have come up with definitive answers.  

When I was younger I thought it meant that you were daring, optimistic and assertive.  Then after a long-term relationship I added being understanding to that definition.  

Then as I got into my profession I took it to mean being an example for other young men to aspire towards.

If you could describe a man in five words, what would they be?

Representation of resilience and optimism

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