Throughout 2019, manhood was changing. #Metoo led to much-needed reflection on the part of many about what it means to be a man—as a friend and a romantic partner; as a father and a son; as a role model and supporter; as an advocate for and a partner to women; and also as an athlete, a sexual partner and a leader or a colleague.
What does it mean to be a successful man in 2020? What is “manhood” all about as we move beyond the John Wayne-style archetype of stoicism and grit? How can men show vulnerability with other men and even, dare I say, with women?
These days, most of the men I see in my practice either directly or indirectly complain of something missing; some hole that is more apparent than ever, leaving them with a feeling of being lost without a rudder—like the old ways of doing things no longer make sense but they’re not sure what the new ways are supposed to be. As a men’s health specialist, I spend a lot of time listening to men and thinking of how we can best serve them, so in honor of Men’s Health month, I wanted to share what I’ve been hearing and learning.
Thanks to celebrity author and speaker, Brene Brown and also Peggy Orenstein, author of the powerful book on male sexuality, Boys and Sex, 2019 opened our eyes to the ways in which masculinity has been toxic—to women, to be sure, but also to men.
There has been more attention paid to the fact that men die younger than women and are generally less healthy than women across ages and cultures. There has also been needed reflection and research into why that is—why is masculinity itself a risk factor for early death? (The answers include risky behaviors, excessive drinking, lack of healthy lifestyle behaviors, and even stress itself.)
These were the questions we were asking already before COVID19 and the murder of George Floyd.
Change is Accelerating
From Kevin Love disclosing his tribulations with anxiety to NFL players posting their own emotional responses to the protests over Floyd’s (and many others’) death at the hands of the police, men are actively engaged in changing the definition of masculinity to allow for compassion alongside power and for vulnerability in partnership with strength. The whole notion of what it means to be a man is being critically redefined.
Fortunately, examples of men standing up in ways that represent this new masculinity abound. Steph Curry wrote a first-person essay on the need for women’s equality in The Player’s Tribune, motivated by thoughts of his daughters’ future. And actor, Terry Crews, from the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, not only plays a sensitive police sergeant unafraid to show emotion, but in real life has been a constant advocate for healthy masculinity.
Through this process, men are starting to hold each other accountable—and asking to be held to higher standards. Men are risking the loss of social status by standing up for what is right, not for what is traditionally manly. And as they do this, they are forging stronger connections—with each other, with women, and most of all within themselves.
Wondering what areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Officer of Vault Health, a national medical practice specializing in care for men, and Is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.