By Benjamin Spoer
To answer the question why women in nearly every country outlive men, public health researcher Ben Spoer discovered that many of the behaviors traditionally associated with being “manly” are disastrous for men.
1. Eating Too Much Meat Is Bad for You
Dr. David Bell, medical director of the Young Men’s Clinic in New York City, says, “As males we are taught to eat a lot, eat meat; not eat vegetables.” And if you take a look at food advertising targeted at men (whether overtly ironic or more subtle), he’s right. It comes as no surprise, then, that men experience higher rates of diet-related health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, both of which have been linked to eating processed red meat.
2. Playing Violent Sports Is Bad for You
Violent sports are a central part of how our society constructs masculinity. Take American football, for example, which can cause broken bones, serious head injuries, and long-term brain trauma. This is also true of rugby, where the second-most frequent injury is concussion, and mixed martial arts, in which 3 percent of all fights end in severe concussions. By participating in these combative “manly” sports, many men are causing themselves substantial injuries.
3. Taking Physical Risks Is Bad for You
Men, especially young men, tend to do more dangerous stuff (clinically known as “risk-taking behavior”) than women. “The successful navigation of intense physical danger is a route to demonstrating competent masculinity, whether it’s cliff-diving [or] skiing drunk while wearing a Go-Pro so you can show your friends the awesome videos,” says Dr. Jennifer Hirsch, co-director of the Gender, Sexuality, Health and HIV Research Group at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “There’s a reason that insurance rates are higher for young men than for young women.”
4. Driving Recklessly Is Bad for You
Research supports the theory that men may demonstrate their masculinity through dangerous driving. At a price: 14,000 more men than women were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2012.
5. Not Using Sexual Protection Is Bad for You
Risk-taking can involve sexual behaviors as well. According to Cliff Leek, program director at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, men who believe in so-called “traditional masculinity” (characterized by being tough, holding back their emotions, and being in charge) “are less likely to use protection [and] are more likely to have multiple partners,” which increases their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. More specifically, research has found that men who feel this way about masculinity have more than twice the odds of having unprotected vaginal sex and have specific attitudes about using condoms that lead them to use condoms less often.
6. Not Wearing Sunscreen Is Bad for You
Stereotypically manly men aren’t supposed to care about health or be vulnerable to disease, which makes putting on sunscreen basically out of the question. Plus, a paper in Science Directs puts it, “The application of lotions to the body is a feminine pastime; masculine men don’t ‘pamper’ or ‘fuss’ over their bodies.” According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, men spend more time in the sun than women, but are less likely to wear sunscreen. In 2012, more than 11,500 men were diagnosed with skin cancer than were women.
7. Using (and Abusing) Alcohol Is Bad for You
A large body of research has found that men whose beliefs about masculinity include being physically and emotionally tough and avoiding anything stereotypically feminine tend to drink more. Such a finding is a big issue when you consider that approximately 62,000 men die from alcohol-related causes each year, more than twice as many as the number of women.
8. Smoking Is Bad for You
Columbia University’s Dr. Hirsch says smoking has been connected to masculinity in a variety of ways, from the Marlboro man to the U.S. government providing cigarettes to soldiers in World War II, “which promoted smoking in a job category that was at the time entirely filled by men.” Smoking is so strongly associated with being a man that the World Health Organization says, “In most of the world, being born male is the greatest predictor for tobacco use, with overall prevalence about four times higher among men than women globally.”
9. Being Lonely Is Bad for You
The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities’ Leek says that men are less likely to be emotionally open with their peers, which can lead to loneliness, especially later in life. “Just think of how often men on TV or in movies are compared to women when they express their feelings, or how often young men are told to ‘man up’ if they cry,” Leek says. “It is no wonder [men] are often so reluctant to be seen as anything other than stoic and emotionless automatons.” This is pretty dangerous for men, for two reasons. First, “social support,” or the support you get from hanging out with friends and family, is vital to good health. Second, loneliness has been linked to earlier death among older men.
10. Doing Dangerous Jobs Is Bad for You
Ninety three percent of people killed in fatal workplace accidents in 2013 were men. “Men overwhelmingly participate in the jobs that are more dangerous. Soldiers, miners, workers on an oil platform tend to be men,” says Hirsch, adding that social forces “preferentially slot men into these dangerous jobs. Do you need a penis to be a coal miner? No, but most coal miners have penises.”
11. Avoiding the Doctor Is Bad for You
Part of our cultural agreement about masculine behavior is that it includes ignoring pain. Avoiding pain is part of that. According to Hirsch, showing off your masculinity includes the things you don’t do, “notably (not) going to the doctor.” She adds that there are pretty steep consequences: “One example is concurrent diagnosis for HIV—because men don’t go to the doctor, they are much more likely to have developed AIDS by the time they are diagnosed as HIV-positive.”
12. Not Talking About Your Feelings Is Bad for You
Mental health problems, including depression, are a particular problem for men. Leek, o f t h e Center for Men and Masculinities, says, “Not seeking help is a huge barrier to men’s mental health. Men who are experiencing depression or considering suicide are much less likely than their female peers to seek help, to go talk to folks and get the help they need.” Research shows that, in the month before their death by suicide, about half as many men have contact with some form of mental health services as women in the same situation. This is such a problem for men that Dr. Brendan Gough of Leeds Beckett University in England says that if he could change one thing about masculinity, he would make emotional expression a bigger part of being masculine, which would allow “more healthy psychological development in men overall.”
Benjamin Spoer is a PhD student in public health at New York University studying the social and structural production of obesity. He can be reached @BenjaminSpoer. This article first appeared in BuzzFeed, where links are provided for many of the author’s assertions (http://www.buzzfeed.com/uiekazoo/masculinity-is-actually-killing-men#.rjjyr0oAMw).