by G Gavin Collins
The Daily Mail has recently come under fire for questioning the masculinity of contestants on ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here,’ who broke down in tears while undergoing challenges in the middle of the jungle. Critics cite this treatment of male contestants as just another example of an unhealthy societal approach towards masculinity. This attitude, we are told, leads to pressures on men to act more macho, while possibly contributing to the increasing rate of male suicide in western countries. The evidence for this latter point is suspect, and critics ignore any suggestion that humans’ evolutionary and cultural history might play a role in the observed differences between society’s views towards men and women.
The relevant human history is that, as hunters and gatherers, certain traits were favoured in males that were not deemed as important in the more domestic female. A propensity to suffer panic attacks during a hunt, for instance, would not have been accepted in a tribe because it lowered the chances of everyone’s survival. Both female tribeswomen and male tribesmen were therefore more attracted to less sensitive male leaders, who could maintain their composure during the most trying of circumstances. Despite the relatively recent rise of human civilisation, many of the traits which were valued by our ancestors are still relevant today.
Take for example the case of our present day economy. A company involved in high-pressure work is much more likely to hire a candidate who they feel is more level-headed. Male and female applicants who do not meet this high standard are likely to be perceived as a liability. Similarly, professional athletes are valued for their ability to maintain their poise in situations that would cause a normal person to panic.
While male suicide rates have been on a recent upward trend in many western countries, it should be noted that this rate was significantly higher as recently as the 1980s. Furthermore, in some western countries such as the United States, this has coincided with an upward spike in female suicides. This alarmism is further tempered by a recent report from Samaritans.org, which found that the UK male suicide rate fell between 2015 and 2016. Advocates for a new definition of masculinity would be wise to find better statistics to support their positions.
Despite the continued relevance of many of these traditional attitudes to the modern day, however, it is important to still respect those who do not fall perfectly into traditional gender roles. Articles such as the one printed in the Daily Mail are morally wrong because they use journalism as a vehicle to make fun of others and stir up controversy. That is surely something everyone can agree on.