Say it quietly, but it might be getting less risky to talk about gender issues. After decades of lad culture, cold masculinity, and centuries of patriarchy, it looks like our society is making a little bit of headway towards more mature conversations around gender and equality.
The female side of this has been very prominent, and with good reason. Social media, newspapers, stages, and bookshelves are rightly full of talented writers and inspiring activists such as Caitlin Moran, Laura Bates, Lucy-Anne Holmes, and Bridget Christie.
But less widely publicised have been the exciting developments on the male side of the equation. This year saw the first Being A Man Festival on London’s Southbank, which explored a range of difficult issues related to modern masculinity. Overriding the event, attended by journalists, MPs, poets, and rappers, was the conviction that our culture has a fixed idea of masculinity that often confuses and alienates those who don’t conform.
Male mental health has never been an attractive cause, largely because our culture has for so long suppressed the idea that men can have emotional vulnerabilities. What is a stiff upper lip if not a denial of weakness? But it’s tentatively becoming acceptable to challenge this. We at Men Get Eating Disorders Too are working to open up the conversation about male mental health – in particular, how a set of problems that has always been considered an exclusively feminine one also affects men and boys. We are campaigning for more widespread recognition that eating disorders are indiscriminate; that they affect people regardless of their age, race, sexuality, religion, or gender.
If we can make that fact more widely known, we hope we can help alleviate the stigma and alienation that many men experience, because it’s heartbreaking how many men have come to us with an intense sense of shame.
This is why diversity matters to us. For the good of sufferers and their loved ones we need to recognise that (a) people affected by mental illnesses are diverse, and (b) men are diverse. Just as groundbreaking BAME and LGBTQ organisations have worked to challenge stereotypes of the people they represent, we want to demolish the stereotypes of the female with an eating disorder and the strong and silent man because the people we meet fit neither.
We thank the National Diversity Awards for celebrating those who work to break down stereotypes and promote values of acceptance, inclusion, and community.
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