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Are men's mental health issues being discussed enough?

Through the Camera Lens: #andme – In the pursuit of gender equality are we in fact creating gender bias?

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You know, if a man wrote this article it would probably be called mansplaining and then it would be ignored, possibly laughed at, disparaged and thereafter we would move merrily on – not fully addressing the content within.  So yes dare I say it, I am using my advantages as a woman to write this article and believe that someone will read it. If enough people empathise, a change will take place; and the gender balance, the real gender balance that is being sought will actually happen. 

I am talking about the other side of the gender equality coin – men’s issues. Men who feel disenfranchised, powerless, trapped, labelled even and invisible.

If I say gender bias most, the majority will overwhelming believe I am talking about women and the rights for women. Actually, no. This article is about the hidden and often untold stories of the struggle that men are faced today here in Switzerland and across the western world – but currently it is not voguish to discuss or highlight this, even when we have clear statistics that show men, in particular divorced men are 10 times more likely to commit suicide than women.

There is a slow but sure movement for men, a silent march, to have their concerned recognised and addressed. Mainstream media has predominately concentrated and headline the women’s movement and rightly so.  Yes, there have been disparity, unfairness and bias towards genders. This is also applicable to men but many of us, me included, did not see it and are not seeing it. My eyes have been opened and now I’m writing about it. Contrary to popular belief, discussing men’s issues is not about denigrating the female movement or ensuring that their position is marginalised. It is about highlighting and addressing many of the problems men face today. Often, to stall discourse and dialogue, the topic of men’s issues is usually avoided. Moreover, shut down – without further comment presumably because of the fear that this will somehow affect or interrupt the progress of the women’s movement. Both discussions must be had! And both must have equal billing. The gender quality debate is not a female only issue, or men for that matter. It really is a cultural, mixed with economic and social, issue.

This article will not cover everything that needs to be said, but it is an introduction. In later articles and different interviewees, we will look in-depth at some of the other pressing topics pertaining to men’s identity, matters and position in society today. Real stories were needed to illustrate this discussion and the opinions of the affected must be documented. Journalism, photography and a burning heart were amalgamated to create this article. All 3 enabled me to see with my lens, listen with my ears and sympathise. It was an experience. Now I want to introduce you to the man that provided the content for this article.

Say hello Stefan. The gentleman I interviewed will, for the purpose of this article, be known as Stefan. His real name is held for privacy and data protection reasons. Stefan is an unremarkable and ordinary guy. He would agree and describe himself as such. An ordinary life in der Schweiz. The textbook treadmill standard existence. Good university, good job, married, 2 children and a Border Collie dog. Unmistakably, an example of the nuclear family we all hear about. His current situation, however, is far from ordinary and he is part of a quiet group of men, not just in Switzerland that are living through challenging times with the break up of their nuclear set up. There was a matter of fact and defeatist attitude about him and his predicament. Rather than, what some would expect of him, blame his estranged wife for his situation, he was at a loss and feeling the squeak on a federal level. In the 2 days or so of my encounter with Stefan, I was educated and my eyes were opened to his and many men’s plight.

You know, if a man wrote this article it would probably be called mansplaining and then it would be ignored, possibly laughed at, disparaged and thereafter we would move merrily on.

Though the pictures and illustrations depict him as faceless, he was far from that. He was very real. Many men like him face a faceless, zero-representation, pedestrian and sometimes vilified existence. Stefan’s current existence, despite being in a good job is a 40+ year old man, living in his parents home because he is being financial drained to maintain his estranged wife’s lifestyle and the home they once shared with their children. Visitation rights were agreed in the courts, but there are always room for interpretation with his, as it puts it “wife’s creative ways to stop him from seeing his children”. He’s being punished. His children are being punished. Who on earth benefits here?

The mental strain of not being able to see his children, the humiliation of temporarily living back with his parents, the lost of a major element of his independence and to see his family home, estranged wife and children getting on with their lives, effectively without his male input. Apart from financially of course. Placed in a situation like this, Stefan had ample time to think about his predicament and analyse the origins, cause and effect to such a level, I was able to imagine his pain and grieve with him.

I do hope I convey the message that Stefan wants me to articulate in this article. Essentially, start a conversation about this quiet killer of men. Not just killer in terms of a physical death – as it is reported that the highest rate of suicides are men; but it is a killer of men’s mental wellbeing, social contribution and their understanding of their role in society.

We are living in strange times, where labels are banded about largely without consequences. This is so wrong on many levels. My interviewee started to feel the weight of certain movements – on a micro-level he had to be careful how he is seen, perceived and understood and on a macro-level he’s having to defend and often openly define ‘ordinary men’ to appease and fit in with the comfortability of others. He states that though he understood the validity of the #metoo movement, it went to such a level that it made even him and ordinary men like him feel as though they’ve got a label on their foreheads, a perverse label which they must bear. How unfair to select from ‘sex attacker’ ‘toxic masculinity’ ‘aggressor’ ‘predator’. He, barely 64kg of him, nervously laughed as he made that point but I knew that was a grave statement and a grave moment. It was what he, his male colleagues and friends felt and were talking about in quiet corners. At every turn, he had to justify, reiterate or even demonstrate his humble personality to females so as not to come across as those new and now fashionable labels. He was now more conscious of himself and his movements even though he knew he was nothing like those labels, far from it he exclaimed. He added, at the time it was nearly a daily bombardment of that movement that made his senses so heightened to the point that he had lost some of his confidence when talking to perfect strangers in the work and social space. He felt a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ aura. Perhaps this coming in parallel with the break up of his marriage didn’t help his sensibilities. Nevertheless, have we become a society that is defined by the worst of us – toxic males, toxic females, toxic humanity! Take your pick. Are we one of those by dint of the gender we are born in?

You know, if a man wrote this article it would probably be called mansplaining

Elaine Pringle-Schwitter

I believe that writing about this doesn’t take away anything from my femininity and the need for equal rights for women, rather it shows my humanity. How can we be happy, free and fulfilled to pursue  the things we want as females and not take note of the things that affect the men in our lives. Remember ladies, these are our sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, partners and friends. This is not an anti feminist article, this is a human rights article and surely we all treasure and believe in that? Stefan, you are no longer invisible and censored, shouting at the top of your voice in a sound-proof near windowless room and to add insult to injury, everyone who has a pulpit is looking the other way.

Let’s not do what is so often described as being done to us women. Let’s open our minds and hearts, listen and see what WE ALL can do. I had a very educational experience with Stefan. Can’t you see? Men are shouting at the top of their voices “Damn it! #Andme…too.’

A dual British/Swiss citizen, Elaine is an award winning photojournalist and a cinematographer whose photographs have been published in numerous major newspapers and magazines. She has spent two decades in the corporate world at senior management level and now works with MTN Press on collaborations in the Swiss Region.

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