It’s thought that women make up a measly one percent of the work force on construction sites across the UK. One part of that will no doubt be thanks to the questionable way that women are treated at the infamously wolf-whistling-prone boy’s clubs. But another huge part is the age-old trope of the big, strong male that can lift and provide. I’m arguing that this view and the complexities that surround it don’t just impact women but are extremely damaging for men too.
Now, I’m not saying that my 24-year-old male counterpart isn’t more often than not, physically more capable of heavy lifting than I am. But I will argue that throughout my life, there have been a number of times when the boy or man that I am with, regardless of age or size or unknown injury, has been expected to do the heavy lifting (or even not-really-that-heavy-lifting) rather than pawn it off to this feeble female. But it’s not their views on my capability that I take issue with. If I’m honest, it’s often suited me quite well to give a shrug and a smile and pass off my laborious jobs (because who likes taking the bins out?).
More men end up living on the streets and male suicide is one of the biggest killers in the UK.
What I do have a problem with, is the expectation placed on guys to get the job done. In the past I’ve been forced to watch old men obviously struggle with something that I could’ve easily helped them with, but they’ve refused my assistance out of pride. And all this does is exacerbate stereotypes that serve an unequal system. But it’s not just in the area of heavy lifting that men seem to have it worse.
I am in no way diminishing the inequality that threatens women, because let’s face it – identifying as a lady can be pretty tricky. In an age of #MeToo and an outpouring of third wave feminism, you only have to do a quick Google search to see why. But being a man in a patriarchal world isn’t always peaches and cream either. Psychologists have been harping on about something they call ‘toxic masculinity’ for a while now and it feels increasingly evident that we’re moving towards a crossroads in western society, where we have the opportunity to make some changes that’ll improve the lives of women AND men for the better. Of course, I can’t speak for the men of the world on how this impacts them on a personal level. But I can observe how it looks through a female lens and I certainly can’t ignore the statistics.
Men are absolutely at the top of the hierarchy here in the UK but more men end up living on the streets and male suicide is one of the biggest killers in the UK. In fact, it’s the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. You’d have to have been hiding under a rock to ignore the recent campaigns to push for greater awareness surrounding the issue of male mental health. While anyone, male or female can be struck down by depression, it’s widely believed that thanks to a cultural and social inability for men to open up about their feelings, the epidemic has hit the male gender hard. That toxic masculinity that the psychologists refer to teaches men to be stoic, unfeeling and embarrassed about their emotions – even us women have been told to ‘man up’ from time to time, and the obvious clue of this convoluted cultural catch lies in the phrase.
That toxic masculinity that the psychologists refer to teaches men to be stoic, unfeeling and embarrassed about their emotions
When I think of making friends while at university, I don’t think about that time someone pissed in a cup and I drank it to feel accepted. And yes, that’s because I didn’t join a male sports team. And while I’m sure there are those that do like the taste of urine (maybe?), I can safely bet that a fair few of those guys would have run a mile from those initiations if they thought they would still be respected by their peers. Headlines scream how ‘lad culture’ is running rife and at the extreme end of this, The Guardian recently launched an investigation into the deaths of men at Stag Do’s – apparently not an uncommon tragic occurrence.
I don’t have the answers but I do know that it isn’t just up to men to fix this. In the same way that men need to give women a platform to speak and feel safe, I need to give men the space, opportunity and encouragement to open up emotionally and to let me give them a helping hand where it’s needed physically. I’m not saying that I am going to try and stop men from opening doors for me or from helping me out if I’m struggling up the stairs with a suitcase at Euston. But I am going to make sure I open doors for others and help them if they are struggling with their suitcase.
I want to live in a world where I can expect that behaviour from anyone – male, female or non-identifying. It’s just called being a kind and decent person. But to move forward as a society, we do need to remind ourselves that no one is safe. An unequal world harms everyone that exists within it.