I couldn’t help but notice Bill Keller’s article recently criticizing a female cancer patient for documenting her ‘fight’ for life in her popular personal blog. It addresses a difficult question. When faced with mortality, do we fight the disease or do we accept it? Yet, the survivor-advocate part of me immediately connected with the subtle message Keller was selling in his piece. Just die. Just be quiet about it and deal with it. Have some dignity. Be. A. Man.
It’s difficult to judge any person’s path to death. I wouldn’t do it. It’s not appropriate. In a world where society is perpetually offering unsolicited and uneducated opinions how could one be taken seriously on something so intensely personal as one’s end?
What we do know is that male-dominated forms of cancer receive very little funding compared to female-dominated cancers, such as breast. Much like male victims of trauma are a blip on the radar compared to much better funded and much more publicized scourge of domestic violence against women.
Why do you think men get the shaft in attention? Is it our ‘quiet dignity?’ Our ability to be a man and suffer? Women ask for help. They talk about their troubles. They expose their vulnerabilities, no matter how ugly and undignified, and they receive a response. Support. A sense of community. Solace. Relief. All of the things men need too.
The science is in. All of the good that comes with sharing your trauma extends lives, leads to lower blood pressure, anxiety levels, lower rates of depression and suicide, you name it.
But it’s not a man’s way. It doesn’t support the propaganda beaten into us since we were boys.
When I had the opportunity to take part in Oprah’s two-part special on male child abuse, it was no surprise that it took a strong women to bring all of us men together. It was a gift to us men. She was willing to do what us men wouldn’t do for ourselves. It was messy. We confronted this life-altering trauma that we have harbored our entire lives. All the men who attended just couldn’t live with it. Being a man just didn’t cut it for us. And it shouldn’t for you.
Vulnerability is a type of courage that is foreign to men. It goes against all we have been taught from childhood. Yet, if we are to heal we must show it. We must find others like us. We must open our hearts or nothing will ever change. We will never overcome our circumstances. We will die in ‘quiet dignity.’ Though in cases of mortality and trauma, I’m not sure what is all that dignified by silence anyways.