SPECIAL: We need to talk about men
I’m going to interrupt business as usual broadcasting here because it’s November... and we need to talk.
We need to talk about men.
This episode is inspired by Movember, which uses the month of November to talk about improving the quality of life for men and raising funds to do something about it.
The reason for this conversation is pretty clear when we see the numbers:
In Australia three in every four suicides are men
Men die on average six years earlier than women for reasons that are largely preventable.
And lastly - 70% of men say their friends can rely on them for support, but only 48% say that they rely on their friends. In other words: they’re here for their mates, but worried about asking for help for themselves.
Helping to improve the health and wellbeing of the men in our lives is so important, and this episode covers that from a variety of different angles. I’m incredibly proud of it and I hope you find it useful too.
I speak with four men from very different areas of expertise on men’s health. There’s personal trainer and TV personality Sam Wood, Sam Gledhill from the Movember Foundation, award-winning filmmaker Damon Gameau and anthropologist Dr. Monty Badami.
Together they share rich and nuanced view of how we can better support the boys and men in our lives and how we can have conversations with them that matter.
This episode is also very personal to me because a couple of years ago we lost a legend in our community - Lyndon Williams - who was a big supporter of Movember. This month we’re sharing his Movember account - In Memory of Lyndon Williams - for anybody looking to donate money in his name. He’s raised over $25,000 since 2010!
So. Share this episode with your partner, your brother, your father, your son or your friend. Let's change that statistic that says that only 48% of men believe that they can rely on their friends.
Be the person that they can rely on.
Let's get the conversation started around men’s health.
“Men’s mental health and suicide prevention is something that the Movember Foundation thinks we need to take urgent action on as a community. Three out of four suicides are in men and around 2,000 men in Australia this year will lose their lives to suicide. There’s a real crisis that we need to address.”
SAM GLEDHILL, MOVEMBER FOUNDATION
Sam Gledhill, Global Director, Testicular Cancer at Movember Foundation
“If you reflect on the stoic vision of masculinity where men tend to shut down and they don’t talk and they don’t express emotions - that’s an archaic view of masculinity. What we’re seeing now is this emergence of the modern man who is comfortable with vulnerability, who’s able to talk to his mates.
“A lot of our resources at Movember.com are on mental health and suicide prevention causes, and are focused on how we can help men have conversations. How to reach out if they’re struggling with something. If they’re hitting a life point where something’s really bothering them, how they can engage with people to help them through that process.
“On the other side, if you have a man in your life who’s struggling, how you can be a good listener and have enriched conversations with them that might actually help them through. Because the simple fact is that a conversation has the potential to save a life.
“I’m really excited to see a change in the way we approach masculinity as a community. I’m a dad - I’ve got two young boys - and I look at them and I see what the future generation can be like. I think of this old, ancient, stoic vision of manliness and I look at how we’re breaking that apart. I’m thrilled that we’re starting to see men open up to vulnerability, that we’re seeing men have conversations and take positive, affirmative action around their own health. I hope we’re creating a community where my boys will grow up and think that that’s absolutely normal.”
The Alec Principle of conversations:
“I think for blokes - we bottle everything up and tell ourselves that we’re the only ones that feel the way we feel. Whenever I have the courage to talk openly and honestly about something I’m struggling with to my friends, 90 percent of the time they say me too.”
Sam Wood - TV Personality and Founder of 28 by Sam Wood
“I was the really, really skinny kid. I was the same height and 68 kilos - so 6’3” and 68 kilos. I’m still 6’3” and 98 kilos. For me, getting into a gym for the first time as a late teenager was to improve my sport but also my self-confidence. I really lacked self-confidence. There was a bit of me that was resided to the fact that these were the genetics I’d been handed out and it was tough luck that there wasn’t much I could do about it. That [time] was my first internal experience of how health and fitness could help someone.
“You’ve got to have the courage of saying those things to the people that love you the most. Guys often get great value doing things together. Get an accountability partner, or a training buddy or a small group of your together and do a mini challenge and have a prize at the end - things like that tend to work really well with blokes and you’ll be amazed by how many of them are feeling the exact same way that you are.
“The biggest thing men struggle with is asking for help - whether it’s getting a checkup from the doctor, admitting there’s something going on from a mental health perspective or admitting that they’re not comfortable with the way you look. I always talk to guys about the importance of having a proactive approach.
“The most important thing is to start. It’s never as bad or as hard or as scary as you think it’ll be - and you never have to do as much as you think you have to do.
“People scare themselves off by thinking that the mountain is too high [to lose weight]. It’s not. Our bodies are amazing things. They totally transform. You can undo 10 years of neglect in three months. It’s about starting, being consistent and making sure it’s a combination of exercise and nutrition.”
Sam’s top three tips for men to re-introduce exercise into their life:
Set simple and achievable goals each day (eg: walking 5,000 steps each day or committing to creating seven healthy breakfasts for each day of the week);
Get at least seven hours of sleep each night;
Add intensity to your workouts to get faster results.
“Growing up, the story I thought of as a male was needing to be stoic. Needing to present an image that was strong and dependable and reliable. That you didn’t process any kind of emotion or deal with it - you acted out. I would love that narrative to change - around the fact that true bravery for a male is to confront your own shadow.”
“We are defined by the stories we tell and we aren’t as savvy as to who is telling those stories.
Growing up - and I’ll only speak from my experience - the story I thought of as a male was needing to be stoic. Needing to present an image that was strong and dependable and reliable. That you didn’t process any kind of emotion or deal with it - you acted out. Whether it was road rage or an aggressive push of someone or a screaming match with someone. I would love that narrative to change - around the fact that true bravery for a male is to confront your own shadow and to go internal with that, and be okay to fact that part of yourself that’s awkward and uncomfortable - and that it’s perfectly acceptable to do that. In fact, you’re much more powerful and stronger as a male when you do do that. I say that from experience, because I went through that myself.
“We need to understand that all these things are linked. The environment we’re in on a greater scale, our communities, our own life at home - all these things do contribute to our health. It isn’t just one thing. It isn’t just about cutting out a can of coke from your life. It’s also processing those feelings or the way you interact with your wife and kids or even how you deal with the wider world and what’s going on at the moment. It’s important to understand that all these things don’t act individually, they are all deeply, deeply intertwined. If you can start healing yourself in one area, it’s quite amazing how it can then show up and make a difference in other areas of your life.
“If I’d known then what I know now, there’s no way I would have done that [sugar] experiment. My naivety helped in a sense there. The first thing that any male should do, or anyone in general, is remove sugary drinks and soft drinks from their diet. They’re such a blow to your body and in terms of how hard your liver has to work. That’s the sports drinks, that’s the mixers in your drinks, even the gin and tonics - the tonic has seven teaspoons of sugar in it - that’s the juices. All those things flood the liver very quickly and cause all of these complications. Just by making that one change you’ll make quite a lot of difference.”
“We are born into a gendered world. We don’t necessarily choose to act like a man but we are taught to be one by being a man in a man’s world. It’s an embodied, enculturated, lived experience. Young people get to a point where they start to question that. What kind of man do I want to be? For the most part, there’s a lot of tension and anxiety around that. There’s a sense that they don’t have options but to reproduce the dominant norms or narratives around masculinity that exist in the world - and the problem is that they don’t serve us any more.”
Dr. Monty Badami
“I want to make a very clear distinction between toxic masculinity and healthy masculinity. The terms have become a little bit blurred, people tend to now think that all masculinity is toxic and men start to feel threatened and that they don’t have permission to be masculine, but I think we can do a bit better than that.
“There are a lot of young men and older men who are suffering with - what I would call - a crisis of masculinity. Where they don’t really know who they are in this world or how to be or how to communicate and connect with other people in healthy ways.
“If people are thinking about how they can engage their son or their partner, it’s really important to spend one-on-one time together. Intimate time is really important. Turn your mobile phone off, give yourself an opportunity to spend time together. That doesn’t mean staring into each other's eyes - with the young boys that I work with, staring into their eyes actually makes them feel much more threatened and you’ll shut down the conversation - but when you’re driving the car or going for a walk or playing a game together, that’s a good way to connect with each other.
“Sharing stories is really important. One of the things that we do in our family is that we talk about our day and we talk about the good bits, the bad bits and the boring bits. That’s really important because it normalises storytelling. It normalises conversation and normalises communication. When it comes to some of the issues that men are struggling with, one of the issues is that men feel like they can’t talk about stuff. By normalising storytelling and normalising connection through conversation, we make it a lot easier for them to do that.
“[The other piece of advice is] Be aware of your inner state so that you can identify your triggers. This is where the idea of mindfulness and emotional intelligence is really important. By sitting with ourselves and acknowledging the emotions that we’re feeling and talking about them, we normalise that experience for the people in our lives. They start to develop an emotional literacy - a language - to start to deal with some of those issues as well.
“They’re some of the big things we can do and they don’t take a lot of effort.”
Connect with one another through storytelling
Play games with younger boys to connect
Normalise connection through conversation
Make checking in with your emotions a regular thing
Talk about your feelings openly so that it becomes a shared language within your family, school and community
Donate: To Lyndon Williams’ Movember account
Resources and groups for men:
- The Making of Men (Byron Bay and QLD)
- The Man Cave (VIC)
- Good Blokes Co (WA)
Other links mentioned:
Are you going through a rough time and need help?
Lifeline on 13 11 14
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890
QLife on 1800 184 527