Twitter had a conversation on Monday, and was it a doozy. Then again, what conversations on Twitter aren't? When Ben Shapiro gets involved, you know fireworks are going to fly, and topics are going to trend.
The conversation centered on the concept of "manly men," with popular conservative author Candace Owens writing, "There is no society that can survive without strong men. The east knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men."
She tweeted this in response to some photos from Vogue of singer Harry Styles wearing a dress. What the conservative writer was searching for in Vogue is a mystery, but her words sparked a debate on the concept of "manly men."
In 2020, gender roles and norms aren't quite what they were in 1950. So what's manly? Is it a lumberjack in the forest working with a chainsaw all day? Perhaps it's a business executive on Wall Street wearing a power suit. Or maybe it's a father who stays at home and cares for the kids while his wife works at a law firm.
What if all three of those examples are manly? And many more.
After establishing that there are multiple ways to be a masculine individual, one might wonder if there's one thing that is universally manly. And one of the manliest things we can think of is taking care of your mental health.
Last year, the BBC published an article titled "Why more men than women die by suicide." Turns out it's a complicated issue, though far from an irrelevant one. In 2016, the World Health Organization reported an estimated 793,000 suicide deaths worldwide. Most of them were men.
That's more than the entire population of Wyoming killing itself in 365 days. And the fact that most of those deaths were men should highlight just how manly it is to take mental health seriously.
Whatever your politics, whatever your beliefs on traditional family roles for men and women, it's pretty easy to see there are mental health issues among some "manly men," or they wouldn't be killing themselves at the rate they do.
That BBC article rightly notes suicide is a sensitive and complex topic with a variety of causes. You can't generalize it with one broad brush. But there are notable trends in the data experts have made note of. And a big factor in suicide is communication.
When families have, for generations, raised boys to believe crying and expressing emotion is weakness, that has negative effects on mental health which are hard to undo. Mental health has come a long way over the last few decades, and experts in the field have realized something.
If men won't seek help for emotional or mental trauma, it'll manifest in destructive behaviors. Thousands of graves across this country are filled with men who weren't taught to express their emotions and handle trauma properly. Eight of the top 10 states with the highest suicide rates are in the rural mountain west, according to NPR.
Colorado is one of them. Its department of public health and environment decided to take action, teaming up with Cactus, a Denver-based ad agency, to create a campaign called Man Therapy.
The Man Therapy website says, "Working aged men (25-54 years old) account for the largest number of suicide deaths in the U.S. These men are also the least likely to receive any kind of support. They don't talk about it with their friends. They don't share with their family. And they sure as heck don't seek professional treatment. They are the victims of problematic thinking that says mental health disorders are unmanly signs of weakness."
The website includes resources for men who are in crisis or might need therapy. It features an online quiz you can take called "20 Point Head Inspection" that can help determine if you might need help. There are tips on getting a better night's sleep, treating substance abuse and addiction, and more.
But the centerpiece for the campaign is a fictional character named Dr. Rich Mahogany, who works to dispel long-taught concepts that admitting you have mental issues isn't something men do. There are videos on the site of him talking about the importance of acknowledging emotional issues like stress and burnout before they fester into something that'll eat you alive and make you feel like you have no other option but to end life.
Even if men in Arkansas admit they've got a problem and want to get help for depression or anxiety or other mental health problems, resources can be slim. Finding a therapist or counselor in Little Rock might not be challenging. How about finding one in Jasper?
All the want-to in the world doesn't help if there are no psychologists in your area. It's easier to convince a man to talk to a therapist if they're 10 minutes away, versus three or four hours.
Last year we spoke to Rebecca Ward, a counselor in central Arkansas who has practiced since 1980. She described the current state of mental health care in The Natural State as "pitiful." Arkansas has plenty of places to fish and hunt, but not nearly as many to seek mental health treatment.
The counselor has taken calls from folks in places like Mountain Home and Nashville, asking for recommendations for a therapist in those areas, and she had none to offer.
Fortunately, with the advance of telemedicine, men who desperately need a counselor can find one, assuming their insurance covers mental health treatments (another issue entirely).
Cowboys and lumberjacks can be manly, but there's nothing un-manly about recognizing when you need help and even asking for it. So if you need it, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.
As for the conservative author pining for a time when men didn't wear dresses on magazine covers, maybe get off the Internet and step out of the city. Come visit any small town in Arkansas, and we guarantee your vision of manly men will be restored.