Men need to get better at talking to each other

It's rare and special dumb good luck to be a white male of a certain age in Western society.

We're pretty much at the top of the tree for everything; totally over-represented in politics and property, science and sport, boards and banks, medicine, mathematics and management.

Yes, if you're a middle-aged white male, there's a good chance you've landed yourself a big swinging gig of some description, just for being you.

There's also a damn good likelihood you'll be saddled with obesity, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, alcoholism and/or various cancers. And we die earlier should our wives sensibly choose to leave us.

In health terms, the stats are stacked against us. I doubt I'll finish this blog before slumping, purple-faced, onto the keyboard.

We may be stress-ruined walking wallets whose only solace is the sound of our tears splashing gently into a vat of red wine on Friday night after a week of meaningless meetings, savage politics, workplace bullying and impossible budgets. But, hey, at least we've got a company Audi in the driveway.

Not to moan, of course, because being a man in Australia right now is still better than being, say, a woman in Australia, where - simply because your chromosomal makeup is so dangerous - you have been repeatedly publicly cautioned not to invite rape or murder by doing something so outrageously provocative as taking a walk in a park.

All is not well

But all is not well in man-land, and not just because we've got a prostate exam coming up.

All the broad-shouldered strength, all the providing and battling, the fulfilling of multiple expectations, is taking a toll out there. And shame on all of you who just yelled "harden the f..k up!"


Campaigns against depression urge us to reach out and ask our fellow men "are you OK?", but it's also a personal step we can all take, beyond simply thinking about our male friends with depression.

Beauty brand Dove with  to get men talking about modern masculinity. Guess what, compared to other countries, Australian men are afraid to demonstrate caring behaviour to other men because they might be considered "un-masculine". Sixty-two per cent of us feel uncomfortable crying, because we will seem weak.

It's true, we are absolutely crap at asking our mates if they are happy. Women will surround the emotional victim of a dumping or sacking to cry champagne-and-rage-fuelled tears until it's all mourned out. It's called support.

We men don't do that.

The #manfail

I phoned an old friend the other day and was stunned to find he and his wife had separated. I didn't know at the time. He never said. I never asked. He can talk about it now, but he couldn't then.

I also went through a separation a few years ago and the strangest thing happens (well, lots of strange things happen, but here's one). Quietly, a few male friends open up with the same questions: What happens when you split? How did the kids handle it? Where do you live? Did she take all the money? Are you happier?

My friend couldn't believe the level of silent agony being expressed all around him. Neither could I, at the time.

Henry David Thoreau said "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." There's a lot of desperation going on, to be sure, but I'm hearing bugger-all song.

It's not always about solving the problem. But a mate calling out of the blue with "Hey, I know you're worried about that unfortunate incident with the insider trading and the public nudity, how's all that going?", is for most men an amazing and unprecedented experience. It has cut-though.

Care factor

Just as we can put a stop to casual sexism and dumb racism in our own peer groups just by saying "Er, I don't think so …" we can also be the one who makes it OK for men to talk to each other. Or, at least, a little more OK.

It's perhaps the only behaviour that makes one a real man, behaving like a person who actually cares.

We should cherish our male friendships and reach out to our mates. Let them talk if they want to. Listen. Offer encouragement like "that's weird!" and "woah nelly!" (or whatever works in context) then go and have a beer. You might save someone's life, or just make a friend feel like he has real mates who are there for him.

Because we could all do with a lot less desperation, and a lot more song.

Men, do you talk to your mates about life, relationships and health? What would it take for you to do so? Let us know in the comments below.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is owner of a creative events and activations agency and is a regular commentator on the life and style of Australian men.