Guys from my generation grew up with some mighty tough movie star male role models. Think of Lee Marvin who played rough and tumble characters on the screen. In real life, Marvin had been a sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War Two. There was Robert Mitchum who played tough anti-hero starring parts in classic films. Then we watched Sean Connery as James Bond, his character was a suave, sophisticated version of hyper-masculinity.
While these movie stars were embraced by the public as examples of manliness, the day to day men in our lives were not like them. There were exceptions, of course. The regular boys and men who reminded me of Lee Marvin came off as mean and unapproachable. Their bullying personalities seemed superficial yet they were scary. More than a few of those boys ended up in reform school or were sent to Boys Town. The toughest ones eventually ended up in the penitentiary.
Connery’s James Bond was the most appealing, socially acceptable version of hyper-masculinity. The unrealistic, in your face, rich display of conspicuous consumption and glamor doesn’t represent the real world of spycraft but it is attractive to many people. Bond is a superhero without the tights and cape. If you cannot be Superman, you can at least aspire to be James Bond because he looks like a regular man.
The other day, a BBC documentary came up in my YouTube suggested videos page. “What’s Killing America’s White Men?” covers the problem of suicide in Montana. Montana has the highest per capita suicide rate in the U.S. and it’s getting worse.
A great number of middle aged men in Montana are coming face to face with a wide variety of issues. The drop in the number of traditionally male jobs in industry and agriculture, unemployment, the high cost of medical care, and bleak prospects for retirement are some of their problems.
This situation is not true in most of the rest of the world. In fact, middle age male suicide rates have been decreasing elsewhere. The increase in middle age male suicides is a phenomenon that is largely present in the western states of the U.S.
This is a complicated problem. The documentary looked into probable causes like traditional male stoic behavior, lack of social networks, unemployment, substance abuse, and mental health. The growing problem of financial struggles due to growing income inequality paired with health issues for people living on low incomes are part of the situation. Not being the main family breadwinner is also problematic for men who grew up in very traditional families.
Suicide experts in Montana say part of the blame for the Rocky Mountain area’s high rate range from reluctance to seek medical attention, social isolation, and the prominence of gun culture. Economic issues top the list. There is the conundrum of paying for insurance yet still being unable to afford going to a doctor. Because the cost of living and obtaining health-care is greatly out pacing wages, men feel like they are failing their families’ expectations and themselves.
The ongoing situation in places like Montana highlights the cultural changes that affect not only white males, but all men in North America and the world.
The Spanish philosopher/author Miguel de Unamuno said, “A man does not die of love or his liver, or even of old age; he dies of being a man.”
Generally speaking, men are quite attached to the concept of being a male. This causes a lot of insecurity and fear about being manly and being a man. This is a root cause of some serious individual and social problems that empower political extremism and other ills. Because most of the world consists of male-dominated culture, men’s issues will greatly affect society into the foreseeable future.
People across the spectrum of humanity have their particular, poignant problems. Being a member of a minority is a big problem; being a woman presents many big problems; being a man is problematic. We’re all in this world together. This is why empathy and compassion for others are so important.
Today is National Men’s Day. If you are a man or know a man, this is an important day to celebrate.