By Paapa Yaw Asante, University of Ghana
It is common to hear statements such as “men don’t cry”, “a man must be strong, tough and brave”. But have we asked ourselves whether these norms are causing more harm than good to men’s health? There is a strong link between these gender norms, known as masculinities, and men’s poor health outcome. The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged masculinity as a major contributing factor for men’s low help seeking and delay in treatment which is one of the reasons why men die earlier than women.
This is clearly observed in the research setting, Ga Mashie in Accra. Previous research showed that although more men than women were living with high blood pressure, men were actively not seeking treatment, which can lead to complications and premature death; yet research was lacking on how masculinity influenced men’s health behaviours in this urban poor context. This is why, as a social psychologist, I sought to understand the experiences of these men living with High Blood Pressure by first, finding out what it means to be a man, as these norms of being a man influence their experience.
To understand community norms of who a man should be, I talked to men and women of different age categories from adolescents to older people through 11 focus group discussions to get their shared views of who a man is. My finding shows that money, sex, strength and power define who a man is. In their quest to work, make money and maintain their strength to provide for their families, many men do not recognize, admit and respond to changes in their physical health on time until their condition becomes worse. However, when these men notice changes in their sexual performance, they will seek immediate treatment to restore their sexual prowess rather than their health. This is well captured by a middle-aged man who said ‘I would rather die than live without erection’. This shows how a man would prioritize sex over his health to prove his potency. So, if conforming to these norms of manhood are slowly killing these men, and this has economic and health consequences on the family, community and nation at large, how do we address these health challenges? Well, my experience in the field so far shows that men are more comfortable talking about their health needs and challenges in their safe spaces (work and leisure spaces). For a start, we can use these spaces of men by making health accessible to them in addressing their complex health needs. To be a man, eno be easy!
This is an edited version of a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition presentation, which was delivered at the University of Ghana on 26th June 2019, by Paapa Yaw Asante, a PhD Student at the Department of Psychology, University of Ghana. Paapa Yaw Asante submitted his PhD thesis titled Masculinities, health and chronic illness experiences: a multi-level social psychological study in two urban poor communities in Accra, Ghana in October 2020.
Watch the original presentation
Listen to the Twi version
For more information on the 3MT competition convened by the University of Ghana, University of York and University of Nairobi visit here. [York, Ghana and Kenya partner up for 3MT – York Graduate Research School, The University of York – https://www.york.ac.uk/research/graduate-school/updates/2019/3mt-ghana-results/ ]