Brands embrace a new masculinity in which big boys do cry

  • UK rapper Professor Green's recent documentary on the scourge of male suicide made the headlines for lots of reasons. First and foremost, it shone a light on the shocking statistics: in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. And it got people thinking, let’s hope in a long-term way, about stereotypical forms of masculinity – stiff upper lips and the demands of "laddishness" – and the potential harm they can do.

    In fact, Pro Green himself came under the spotlight for crying on a Newsnight appearance to promote the show. He used the opportunity to tell people, including men of course, not to be ashamed of showing emotion like this.

    It’s not too much to say that the cultural expectations that our society places on men, and that are strongly self-policed, are literally killing them. Men are far less likely than women to admit to or seek help for depression. And even when they do, they risk not being taken seriously, told to get over it, to ‘man up’.

    The hope is that seeing mainstream role models like Professor Green speaking out will gradually start to chip away at these stereotypical expectations. Because what’s going on in culture isn’t just an interesting tangent to this debate – it’s a key driver of the appalling facts. In-culture prevention is therefore just as critical as targeted intervention, especially as cuts to mental heath services start to bite.

    All of us have a responsibility to reconsider our view of what it means to be a ‘real man’. And this includes brands, which, as we know, can be very powerful forces for shifting the cultural discourse. We’ve seen lots of female-focused brands, from Always to Sport England, taking on stereotypes of femininity. What about products and services targeted at men?

    Dove Men Care has taken the lead with its #realstrength campaign, which launched at this year’s Super Bowl. Even the famously laddy Lynx is partnering with CALM, a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, encouraging men to talk about the #biggerissues. Let’s hope this is just the start of a new wave of stereotype bashing.