With Men’s Health Week a little over a month away, it is worth pausing a moment to consider the relationship between masculinity and men’s health. The now substantial body of literature on men and masculinities, points to men constructing and negotiating their masculine identities in opposition to women and in relation to ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (Connell, 1995). That is, the dominant masculine styles and ways of being, as portrayed in film such as Lord of the Rings (e.g. by Aragorn, Boromir and Gimli). Such characters perpetuate men as strong, resilient and invulnerable. These tend to discourage men from ‘health-positive’ behaviours (e.g. following a healthy diet) and promote risk-taking behaviours like drinking and violence (Gough, 2006). Furthermore, masculine traits such as independence, self-reliance and stoicism tend to be incompatible with ‘help-seeking behaviours’, such as asking advice, using health services and speaking openly about health problems (Seymour-Smith et al., 2002).
Another reason for men’s disinterest in health-related practices is their association with women and femininity (Harrison, 2008; Gill et al., 2005). For example, women are frequently portrayed in the media as diet focused, whereas ‘real’ men don’t diet (Gough, 2007). Those men who do diet, frequently reframe their feminised practice in more ‘hegemonic’ masculine ways (e.g. for sporting success or to increase sexual prowess). A contemporary example of this is the relatively recent ‘caveman diet’. As the name suggests, it is aimed specifically at men and so immediately distinguishes it from similar women’s diets. The diet is promoted by ‘wilderness and survival expert’ Ray Mears, giving the diet a more traditional hunter-gatherer masculine image. Furthermore, the hunter/gatherer image gives men permission to continue to consume meat in bulk (see also: Gough, 2007 for links between meat consumption and masculinity), whilst at the same time eating salads, fruits and vegetables – foods typically associated with women’s diets. Mears does however, masculinise these food groups by suggesting that ‘contemporary cavemen’ should go out and forage for these.
Men’s Health Week 14-20 June 2010
Ray Mears on eating like a caveman
Masculinities, Femininities, Behaviour and Health