Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Feminism Doesn't Need Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris Needs Feminism

When we think of men’s health issues, we frequently put mental health issues as an afterthought or overlook them altogether. We think of prostate health, gym and muscle issues, track-and-field issues, and, predominantly, American football injuries. We are more likely to associate concussions with men’s health than therapy.
The modern American myth of masculinity doesn’t allow for the kind of soft, fungible weakness that mental health conveys, and to say that one’s feelings are hurt or that one’s sense of belonging is damaged is tantamount to emasculation. In America, men aren’t supposed to have tender feelings or belongingness needs. I’m reminded of the Chuck Norris NRA ad that reads, “Chuck Norris doesn’t join associations; associations join Chuck Norris.” I have even joined in the fun, making up my own Chuck Norris joke and playing along.[1] It’s lighthearted and amusing until we unpack it just the tiniest bit and see that all these Chuck Norris jokes [2] are one of the many ways in which we bring out the cult and code of masculinity.
Think of any of the Chuck Norris memes you have heard. One of my favorites in this vein is Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer; it’s a pity he never cries, but there’s also the tried-and-true statement that Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas, and that the universe is expanding because everything is trying to get away from Chuck Norris. The code of masculinity appears at the core of these ideas: No Sissy Stuff,  Be a Big Wheel, Be a Sturdy Oak, Give ‘em Hell: [3]none of these elements includes asking for help because all of these elements deny that a real man would ever need help.
But how isolating and sad is that?
All of us, as humans, are built as social creatures. We have belongingness needs at the core of who and what we are, and to act contrary to those is to inflict harm on ourselves and on others. We are all complicit in this, not only the men who deny themselves help or the needs that they are ignoring, but also the women who uphold this strong-but-silent-oak measure of masculinity, who impart it to their sons and brothers, their husbands and friends.
This is everyone’s problem to fix. Thankfully we don’t have to fix it alone, because it simply cannot be done in isolation. We need to fix this at the community level, with therapy and men’s resource groups, with voices and essays and posters. We need to have every man woman and child be aware of the problem, and it needs to be highlighted in every profession.
And we need to do it now, because there isn’t a moment to waste. Every day 117 Americans die by suicide; the overwhelming number are white men (seventy percent), with the largest group being middle aged white men (45-64). And for every successful suicide, there are twenty-five attempts. Silence about this matter is active violence for everyone, especially the men who are too ashamed and afraid to ask for help, or, worse, who think they don’t deserve it or that help is something for women and children, but never for them. We must bring mental health access to those who deny the need the most. Chuck Norris is counting on us.

1. Chuck Norris knows who John Gault is.
2. Both of them. Only two are jokes; all the other sayings are simply fact.
3. Robert Brannon & Deborah S. David, The Forty Nine Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role, (Random House: 1976).