Societal norms have dictated that people show up in certain ways. Masculine and feminine gender norms are no different. They are unspoken rules and expectations that we use to organise us by gender. They prescribe how we are supposed to show up and behave. Examples include women should be pretty, quiet, and empathetic; men should be strong, dependable, and logical.
But these qualities are not as such inherent, dependent on your sex or the myriad ways in which people now identify with gender. They are simply human characteristics, that largely show up to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the social context and unique environmental factors any given individual has experienced.
Miscarriage, the responses to it and the support systems in place (or lack thereof), can often provide an example of how gender norms show up and play out. Undoubtedly miscarriage in itself is often something difficult to talk about. But as a society it is one of the many issues that we should understand despite whether it personally affects us or not. For the people who experience it, it is tragic and traumatic.
People don’t like difficult painful things, but only by addressing them, can we grow and recover. We should never stigmatise difficult, painful things. We should seek to understand them, and allow the people going through them their time to grieve and process. We should allow them to determine what that is. And we should allow them to find a space to share those feelings if they need to.
Miscarriage has been seen as something that predominantly affects women. But in the majority of miscarriages there’s a man involved. This highlights a recurring issue both for men and thus for society. The prevalence of the masculine gender prescriptive that men should be emotionally restrictive can mean that men remain silent and dependable. This often goes so far as to make the dangerously flawed assumption that they have no emotion. But while men don’t have permission to express that emotion, they may not be able to properly grieve, nor satiate their own desire to heal and help.
# Miscarriage is largely stigmatised
# It’s seen as something that only affects women
# Men are not expected to show emotion or pain
Men are speaking up and saying I don’t want to fit that model. That’s not me. I need help. I can have my emotions. I need to grieve too. I need to know how I can help and be sensitive. I need to know it’s OK to not have an answer. I need space to not be strong in this moment, because I feel weak and sad. I need a group to share this with, that accepts I have feelings too and with whom I can safely express and share them.
This is why men who ask for help are heroes.
They have their feelings and refuse to repress them. They recognise that feelings are the most real thing we have.
They are able to say miscarriage isn’t OK. I feel deep sadness. I feel alone. I don’t know how to help my partner or myself. I need support. This is a healthy human response and the only place from which growth and a process of healing can begin.
For men and women.
The male gender norm of needing to be self-reliant is one of the most damaging in our society. Why? Because all humans have one basic need: to survive. As social animals there are two things that lead to survival, avoiding rejection and making connection – with other humans. These are not a gender dependent phenomenon. These are essential to every human being’s psychological well-being. And one of the ways to connect is to be able, in a given moment, to be vulnerable. That means sometimes appearing weak and needing help. To not be self-reliant.
But there’s a risk for men when they step outside of the masculine gender norms of self-reliance and emotional constriction. They may be perceived as weak. So, asking for help is risky for men. This is well-researched. It’s why we have higher rates of suicide in men, poor health outcomes for men who strongly identify with masculine norms, and why strong adherence to these norms can be a factor in risk-taking behaviours. It’s a huge issue in all sorts of health and well-being scenarios.
And it’s also a huge issue that often limits our progress on equality. Because equality is a human issue not a women’s issue.
Feeling able to ask for help from others is absolutely essential for all humans. And it’s our responsibility as a tribe to respond when help is asked of us. Men should never run the risk of being socially penalised for appearing weak or in need, just as women should never be penalised for wishing to have complete agency over their own lives.
When we allow men to feel, to care and to be vulnerable, we have created safer psychological spaces for everyone. Then we nurture psychological health in all humans and create a more humane society. When we allow men to have their feelings, we create equality. And equality leads to thriving societies, communities, and families.
So, we should applaud all the men who stand up and say today I don’t have the answer. Today I am in pain. Today I am grieving. And today I need help.
Will you help me?
Those men are the brave ones, the strong ones and the heroes.
This is the kind of courage we need in our world.
Sarah Drijfhout and her partner experienced multiple miscarriages over a number of years. She is a certified hypnotherapist, RTT® practitioner, and trained councillor. As part of her professional practice, she helps men with a variety of presenting problems. For more information about her work visit website www.pandoraspathway.com.