Millennial men are confused about their roles— and it’s understandable
If there is one constant in life, it is change. While every generation must navigate societal changes, I am seeing that some millennial men (those born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s) who lack a strong sense of self—and are unclear about their role in the future— are manifesting symptoms that appear to be due to shifts in and the evolution of traditional gender roles.
Men build their masculine identity by mirroring other men. We watch our dads, uncles, brothers, basically anyone who is male and in proximity. This practice continues throughout life with men often learning what is acceptable behavior by watching their peers and the media. The drive for a boy to prove himself as masculine often begins when they are fairly young but can kick into high gear during adolescence, when boys succumb to the pressures of precarious manhood.1 Unfortunately, many learned stereotypical masculine traits are not as readily accepted in our society today as men approach adulthood, which potentially causes disconnects and challenges in building relationships later in life.
For example, previous generations of men have been criticized for not being in touch with their emotions or being unable to connect emotionally in their relationships. Traditionally there was strength in silence. Many millennial men are attempting to change this culture, however, they can be met with criticism from women who are complaining that they are weak.2 The resulting confusion can be extremely disruptive. Or, life requires roles that they have not been well-trained to live in such as being a full time father or caregiver. Men are perfectly capable of performing these roles but they often lack the skills or have a hard time seeing themselves in this role. When our self concept is challenged, we often suffer symptoms that can lead to anxiety or depression.
Clinicians must remain ever vigilant and aware of how gender stereotypes are deeply embedded in American culture—despite what may appear on the surface. Whether it is displayed in alcoholism, indifference, or acts of violence, the impact of male depression in the millennial generation is far reaching. Fortunately, it can be properly addressed by a knowledgeable therapeutic partner.
1. Newsom, J. S. (Producer). (2015). The mask you live in [Motion picture]. United States: The Representation Project.
2. Wells, J. (2016, March 16). Millennial men have gone soft—but it’s not our fault. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/millennial-men-have-gone-soft--but-its-not-our-fault.