MasterChef, men, and mental health
i wasn't expecting to blog about MasterChef again[a] so soon, but i strongly feel the events of last night's episode need mentioning.
One of the contestants, Brent, an ‘average Aussie bloke’ tradie[b] from Queensland, voluntarily decided to leave the show, citing mental health reasons: the stress and anxiety were just overwhelming him. One of the hosts, Jock, took him aside to check that he was doing the right thing, noting how much he'd already had to give up to get this far, and that once the parachute is pulled, it's pulled; he wouldn't be able to come back. Brent confirmed he was aware of this, and that his wife was supportive of him coming home to her and their two-year-old son.
Jock used the word ‘courage’ to describe Brent's choice. There was no shaming of him for his decision, no depiction of him as a ‘quitter’, no suggestion that he was weak for not just continuing to push regardless of the cost to himself (and potentially to his family). And indeed, how is it anything other than courageous for a tradie participating in one of the highest-rating shows currently on Australian television to leave the series for mental health reasons? To me, Brent's choice was incredibly gutsy, and worthy of great respect: i feel it was a very public challenging of toxic masculinity.
A number of cis men seem to interpret the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ to mean “masculinity, which is inherently toxic”, rather than “toxic, rather than healthy, notions of masculinity”. This is perhaps not surprising given the existence of misandry posing as feminism, and the mass media being all too eager to conflate the two. But most of the times i encounter feminist women using it, the latter meaning is what they're referring to; and as someone who was raised male, i experienced some of the toxic notions of masculinity firsthand. i was verbally and physically harrassed for my perceived lack of masculinity, for being too sensitive and ready to cry, for being too intellectual and bookish, for not being particularly interested (or competent!) in things like footy[c] and mechanical equipment. The notion that, for example, ‘masculinity’ could be about using strength to lift people up rather than trying to bring them down was nowhere in the vicinity.
Just as many women enforce sociocultural beliefs that negatively impact other women (e.g. slut-shaming), many men enforce sociocultural beliefs on each other that cause significant mental health issues and suicidality. Maintaining sufficient ‘masculinity’ requires a great deal of effort, since the slightest deviations from Appropriately Masculine Behaviour renders one not a Real Man™[d]. i hope that the willingness of an ‘average Aussie bloke’ like Brent to very publicly acknowledge personal mental health issues, and to prioritise addressing them for the sake of himself and his family, encourages other men to do the same, and in doing so, start to move away from restrictive ideas about ‘masculinity’.☙
[a] My recent MasterChef-related post:
[b] ‘Tradie’ is a common synonym for ‘tradesperson’ in Australian English.
[c] i.e. Australian Rules football.
[d] Cf. the following Tumblr screencap:
Transcription: "[venusknife] straight people are so fucking wild today my coworker informed me that cafés are for women and bars are for men and her husband refuses to enter starbucks in case they think hes gay ?? whats up next in Incredibly Unnecessary Gendering [scrumptiousangst] So the bar he goes to has only guys in it? That doesn't sound very straight"