Male disordered eating and “A double-bind of masculine identity” – do we believe in internalised misandry?

The piece shared back in October in the British Eating Disorders Society group by my colleague, Sam, was something from the Guardian I had the best body I’ve ever had – so why did I feel so much shame?

In it, the author discusses his experience of shame related to his body, and in essence, the journey of this. It immediately set me thinking about a message I end up repeatedly giving in lectures and public talks, to the point it was uttered by me very recently indeed at an open event where I was talking about male embodiment, masculinity and eating disorders. I make no apologies for this: this is not something that ends up being repeated just because I can’t be bothered to swap out old slides or research something new! It’s there because it never seems to go away and is as current now as it was when I first said it, using evidence from my data, at a talk on misandry a few years ago. I’ve said it so much at public events, it has even appeared in news print, having been spotted in my Conversation piece.

Here’s a snippet but the whole thing can be read at that link above:

Why do men feel so “feminised” in the face of an eating disorder? What are we doing to change the fact that we still have a society that has raised men to believe that there can even be such a thing as a feminine mental health condition? Why do we continue to raise our boys and girls to tread such a narrow path of identity that when they grow up the lads daren’t go to a doctor for fear of ridicule that they have a “women’s illness”?

Slightly scarier still, why is having a “women’s illness” such a bad thing? Let’s suppose an eating disorder really was a “women’s issue” then, eating disorder aside, what have we done to our men to make them believe that being anything like a woman is bad or something to feel ashamed about? Apparently, we are in complete denial about the sexism that continues to be deeply instilled in boys by the society that’s supposed to nurture and enlighten them.

Perhaps this so-called crisis in masculinity that we keep hearing about is far more to do with the counterpart to the odious mysogyny: misandry. Sometimes, we talk about ‘internalised homophobia’, in which we describe the idea that some homosexual people may experience self-loathing that is so deeply ingrained, related to their sexual orientation and all associated attributes, that they struggle to positively embrace themselves. They experience everything from mild dislike and disparaging thoughts through to full blown hatred, all because of the constant injunctions they receive and absorb about everything that is not heteronormative in the their lives and their society.

What if this was happening with (if you’ll forgive the gross simplification) man-hating, too? Misandry, as misogyny’s similarly ugly partner, is about discriminating, belittling, mistreating, holding back, holding down men for no other reason than that they are, well, male. This double-bind that David refers to feels like finding shame in oneself because we fail to live up to being the complete masculine we can be (something discussed heavily in my book I hastily add). This isn’t just psychological, it is bodily. It is to dislike ourselves because of the man we are, may be or may fail to be. It is to hate ourselves because we see shades of the feminine in our behaviours (caring, home-making?) or our bodies (‘moobs’ and ‘muffin-tops’?)

These are just musings, excerpts from the handwritten thoughts in my research journal as I analyse data, read scholarly literature and, in this case, news literature. One thing I feel convinced of, until we stop raising boys and girls in such rigid gender binaries – and I’m not talking about biological sex here, we will always need, desire and value reproduction – we will not undo the damage to our sons and brothers. Genuinely, I ask that question again – in these allegedly enlightened times – why are boys still growing up being taught that sexism is bad at the same time as we make them feel like being anything like ‘a woman’ is to be experienced as shameful? What a twisted situation…