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Men's health risks

Mortality rates for all of the 15 leading causes of death for the total population are higher for males than females in America. Men die almost seven years earlier than women. Men are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, to suffer a traumatic brain injury, and to die from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Men are less likely to exercise and are more likely to be overweight. They are also less likely to take nutritional supplements, such as vitamins, and to spend time taking care of themselves.

Some argue that this is in part because men are “allowed” to be overweight. The media may present a man who is chunky as still being very masculine and even attractive (John Belushi, etc). The behaviors and greater awareness of healthy behaviors women exhibit are due in part to the societal value of their appearance and their body. If a woman is overweight, she is considered to be less feminine. Women place greater emphasis on taking care of their bodies which leads them to exhibit healthier behaviors.

It is a debated subject but many scientists believe that behavior is the most important factor influencing health and that changes in behavior is the most effective way to prevent disease. Some behaviors associated with hegemonic masculinity include ambition and success-oriented mentality, independence and acting invulnerable, emotional stoicism, aggression, and taking risks. These are accepted behaviors and character traits for men but if they are taken to the extreme, they can be linked to behavior patterns that are unhealthy.

Independence and invulnerability

Men are significantly less likely to visit their physicians to receive preventive health care examinations. Men make 134.5 million less physician visits than American women each year - making only 40.8% of all physician visits. A quarter of the men who are 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician. Men fail to make advised annual heart checkups. Men between 25 and 65 are four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women. Men are more likely to be diagnosed in a later stage of a terminal illness because of their reluctance to go to the doctor. This may also be due to a tendency of men not to notice symptoms as quickly as women do. Jerry Kaiser, a healthcare consultant believes that, "Men… [are] still basically hunters and warriors… They tend to not pay attention to things that are invisible and internal. If there is no clear external stimulus, there's no response."

The reasons men give for not having annual physicals and not visiting their physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, and avoidance of an experience in which they are not in control. These are feelings that result from their ideas of being masculine, specifically being independent, in control, and invulnerable.

Masculine gender role stress

Some men feel stressed by societal pressure to act masculine. These men feel that they have to prevail in situations that require physical strength and fitness. To appear weak, emotional, or sexually inefficient is a major threat to their self-esteem. To be content, these men must feel that they are decisive and self-assured, and rational. Masculine gender role stress may develop if a man feels that he has acted unmanly.

In 1987, Eisler and Skidmore did studies on masculinity stress level. They found five mechanisms of masculinity that accompany masculine gender role stress. They include:

a) the emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring fitness and strength b) contact with women who have a perception of superiority, either in athletics or economic earnings c) being perceived as emotional and thereby feminine d) the need to feel conquering in regard to sexual matters and work e) the need to repress tender emotions such as showing emotions restricted according to traditional masculine customs

Coping strategies

Standards of masculinity can not only create stress in themselves for some men, they can also limit these men's abilities to relieve stress. Men and women have different ways that they appraise stressful situations and cope with them. Some men appraise situations using the schema of what is an acceptable masculine response rather than what is objectively the best response. Men are limited to a certain range of “approved” responses and coping strategies. Because of this limiting schema, men may not cope with stress as effectively as women cope with stress. Women tend to break down, let their emotions out, and discuss their stress with a friend. Afterwards, they feel better. Men have limited options for coping with stress. This can result in internalizing the stress and not dealing with it which only leads to the stress building up inside and effect health

Stoicism and emotional repression

Society has different rules with regards to the way that men and women are supposed to express themselves. Men are generally regarded as the ones who are supposed to give comfort and strength. If they break down, cry, or seek comfort they may lose face. Women and other men do not give men an option to express feeling sad, tired, weak, depressed, inadequate, needy, or lonely without sacrificing their masculinity.

Men are also four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Often, the family and friends have no idea that something was wrong. Rather than seeking the help of a professional or even talking to their friends, men often try to deal with depression on their own, many times resulting in death.

Risk-taking

Men, significantly more so than women, tend to drink and drive, not to wear a seatbelt, to be aggressive and fight, to drive fast and dangerously. Men are also more likely to be involved in a homicide, to be involved in a motor vehicle accident and other accidents. Men are in fact three times more likely to die of accidents than females. Men make up 93% of workplace deaths. While many argue that this is because dangerous jobs liking mining are dominated by men, others argue that at least part of the difference is due to masculine risk-taking behavior.

Men generally take more risks with their health than women. All these behaviors are acceptable for men and are to some extent deemed masculine. Men are twice as likely to die from cancer than women are. Men are more likely to smoke, not wear sunscreen, eat unhealthy, and not exercise.

The reasons for this willingness to take risks are widely debated. Some argue that the behavior is mostly or completely caused by social expectations and acceptance of risky behavior in males. Others believe that men, especially young men, are genetically predisposed to be less risk-averse than women because, in terms of a group's reproductive capacity, the loss of a young man is much less damaging than the loss of a young woman, which would seem to present evolutionary pressures towards men being more predisposed to risk and danger. Some also cite how widespread and culture-independent certain aspects of masculine identity are, implying that if masculinity was purely learned, different societies in different times would have completely different ideas about the masculine gender role, which has historically remained relatively consistent.

Media encouragement

According to Arran Stibbe, men's health problems and behaviors can be linked to the socialized gender role of men in our culture. In exploring magazines, he found that they promote traditional masculinity. The magazine celebrates “male” things such as liking guns, fast cars, and fast women and reading pornography regularly. In the magazine several “ideal” men are promoted. The problem: all these men have health risks. The bodybuilder image that is promoted usually has poor exercise regimens that fail to work out the whole body or do cardiovascular work. The “steak and potato” image is linked to high cholesterol. The excessive beer-drinker image can lead to alcoholism and drunk driving. The fast-food, pizza- and McDonalds-lover image promotes obesity. The sexual champion image puts men at a higher risk for STDs. Lastly, the idea of man as a sports loving, TV watcher promotes toughness and aggressiveness.

Alcohol consumption behavior

Research on beer commercials by Strate (Postman, Nystrom, Strate, And Weingartner 1987; Strate 1989, 1990) and by Wenner (1991) show some interesting results. In beer commercials, the ideas of masculinity (especially risk-taking) are presented and encouraged. The commercial focuses on a situation where a man is overcoming an obstacle in a group. The men will either be working hard or playing hard. For instance the commercial will show men who do physical labor such as cowboys, construction workers, or farm hands. The beer is shown as a reward for a job well done. The beer is also associated with the end of the day as a transition from work to leisure. Beer commercials that involve playing hard have a central theme of mastery (over nature or over each other), risk, and adventure. For instance, the men will be outdoors fishing, camping, playing sports, or hanging out in bars. There is usually an element of danger as well as a focus on movement and speed. This appeals to and emphasizes the idea that real men overcome danger and enjoy speed (i.e. fast cars/driving fast). The bar serves as a setting for test of masculinity (skills like pool, strength and drinking ability) and serves as a center for male socializing. Beer is also associated with nature. The idea that beer is natural and pure, not harmful, perhaps even healthy is strongly suggested.

Because of this media portrayal and “strong man” attitude, men consume more alcohol than females. Men drink three times as much as women. They engage in risky behavior such as binge drinking. According to a study done by Rorabaugh, college men are among the heaviest drinkers in American society. It is conceptualized that college men are seeking adventure. From early in their college experience, men are immersed in drinking. According to Green, drinking games are “an important factor in the socialization of new students into heavy use". Drinking is seen as an adventure in itself as well as for the fact that it frees men to experience sex, violence, and other adventurous behaviors. In exchange for taking the risk presented, college men receive acceptance from their peers. Not only is alcohol in itself a risk in these men’s lives, but some college rituals and traditions expect men to mix danger while they have consumed alcohol. In American colleges, young men view their manhood as developing in a moment that is socially dominated by alcohol.

References

Arrindell, Willem A., Ph.D. (2005 1 October) “Masculine Gender Role Stress” Psychiatric Times Pg. 31

Burstin, Fay “What’s Killing Men”. Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). October 15 2005.

Canada, Geoffrey “Learning to Fight” Men’s Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001

Courtenay, Will “Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men's well-being: a theory of gender and health” Social Science and Medicine, yr: 2000 vol: 50 iss: 10 pg: 1385-1401

Kaufman, Michael “The Construction of Masculinity and the Triad of Men’s Violence”. Men’s Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001

Robinson, L. (October 21 2005). Not just boys being boys: Brutal hazings are a product of a culture of masculinity defined by violence, aggression and domination. Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario).

Stibbe, Arran. (2004). “Health and the Social Construction of Masculinity in Men’s Health Magazine.” Men and Masculinities; 7 (1) July, pp. 31-51.

Strate, Lance “Beer Commercials: A Manual on Masculinity” Men’s Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001

Williamson P. “Their own worst enemy” Nursing Times: 91 (48) 29 November 95 p 24-7

Wray Herbert “Survival Skills” U.S. News & World Report Vol. 139 , No. 11; Pg. 63 September 26 2005

See also

External links

www.menshealth.com This is the site for the magazine, Men’s Health. It has information on how to take care of yourself and improve your overall well being. It covers fitness, sex, health, guy wisdom, weight loss, nutrition, and style. In the health section you can find information on illnesses and how to fight them, in addition to information about cholesterol, back pain, heart disease, and stress management.

  • Menshealth.org dedicated to promoting the health and wellness of men and boys. Their goal is to reduce preventable risks and help men and boys live longer and healthier lives. It has a health assessment program and offers services to help men and their families improve their health.
  • http://www.menweb.org/throop/health/health.html

This website provides articles on health issues and studies that provide statistics and facts. Information on self-help through diet and lifestyle changes as well as information on mental health is highlighted.

  • http://menanddepression.nimh.nih.gov/

This website talks about men and their depression and how to get help.

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