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Men, Friendship, and the Health Effects of Loneliness

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The expectations of toxic masculinity–and normative masculine gender socialization–takes a toll on men and boys in a variety of ways. This is by no means an argument for minimizing or re-centering the discourse on rape culture away from women, girls, queer folks, people who are gender-non-conforming, and other marginalized communities and individuals. But in order to understand rape culture holistically, it is essential that we understand the ways in which it can be harmful to men, both heteronormative men and otherwise. In our rape culture, men make up the majority of perpetrators of violence against other men. And while women and girls statistically attempt suicide more often, men are statistically more successful.

One of the lesser talked about effects of toxic masculinity is the result it has on men in middle-age, once they are partnered, with careers and kids, and relatively settled in their life. The social sphere of men narrows, and their world is often limited to work and home, and their social life is ancillary to, and dependent upon, the activities and social life of their children. Studies show that women tend to maintain friendships from their pre-domestic relationship life, whether they be from high school or college, and tend to make new friends later in life. On the other hand, men, even when they can name a few close friends from these earlier periods, maintain a superficial or sparse connection to them. They are also unlikely to build new close relationships in middle age. Men, as they become partnered, tend to invest all emotional energy into their primary relationship, which largely results in women having to bear the burden of an imbalance in emotional labor.

Billy Baker, a features writer for the Boston Globe, recently wrote about the effects of loneliness on men’s health (spoiler alert: its bad for one’s health), and WBUR followed-up with a broadcast on the topic featuring a Harvard medical school psychiatrist, and U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. While the broadcast has some issues–particularly that the host can’t seem to see understand why going to your kids’ sports games isn’t quite sufficient for adult socialization and friendship making–it is important that this topic is being brought to light. The broadcast unpacks some elements of gender socialization, although it doesn’t go quite far enough in connecting it to rape culture and the demands of neoliberal capitalism on masculinity, it is a start. It would also be interesting and necessary to see how statistics and trends break down along class and race lines, and I wonder to what extent this is largely a white-male problem (which as the dominant group, influences others). Interesting distinctions were pointed out that immigrants from Arab countries to the United States tend to have an “open door” policy of sorts, retaining the communal and social dynamics of their communities of origin, while recognizing that it is in conflict with their Western counterparts.

– Brett Goldberg

Listen to the radio broadcast via WBUR, and read the full original story via the Boston Globe Magazine.

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