FEATURE: Dressed to Repress: It’s Okay to Talk: IDLES’ Samaritans and Tackling Masculinity Myths




Dressed to Repress: It’s Okay to Talk


ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash

IDLES’ Samaritans and Tackling Masculinity Myths


WE live in a society where anxiety and depression…


are more common and uncontrollable than ever. We are told one-in-four people in this country will experience some form of mental-health problem in their lifetime. I always find that statistic myopic: there is a crisis that means mental illness is striking more and more of us; nearly all of us will suffer from mental-health problems at some point in life. Look at the testimonies and personal stories from people out there – the problem of controlling the ensuring mental-health crisis is distributing. I looked at this story from Mind (the mental-health charity) and a Lee Cambule – he spoke about his experience  as a man and how men are expected to be sturdy and stoic:

 “Strength, dominating positions of power, the hunter-gatherer, the idea that strong and silent is alluring/attractive, the “show no weakness” bravado of heroes in our media.

In many of these macho images, there is little room for showing poor mental health. The men who are most revered in society (famous, wealthy, successful, powerful) are not always ready to admit their struggles in public and that can leave the “average bloke” feeling uncertain about speaking out.

It is great that the tide is turning for men. When Prince William and Prince Harry began talking openly about their own mental health challenges, it gave the nation an incredible lift. One by one, more of these revered men are coming forward and openly addressing mental health; footballers, politicians, actors, anyone can talk about it. I do not consider that these men are weak or failing by speaking out, in fact, they are the brave ones.

They are the ones who are “manning up”.


That expression is still often used for the wrong reasons, unfortunately. The concept that mental health can be conquered by simply acting more “like a man” is misguided.

Depression, anxiety, personality disorders and schizophrenia are no more or less difficult based on whether you got a Y chromosome in your DNA”.

Problems like substance abuse affect more men than women – about three-to-one in their 'favour' – and traditional male industries – manufacturing, for example – are in decline. The need to remain the breadwinner, at a time when mental-health problems are rising and the role of men in society is changing, means we are seeing more cases of depression, substance and suicide. History has always taught men to be the hunters and to shoulder any crisis without letting it get to them. There is a huge stigma around men about mental-health and talking about feelings. A further report, in Male Psychology Network, by Audaye Elesedy, look at the dogma of male stoicism and how men have to ‘gut things out’ and ‘man-up’. This rather age-old and damaging notion of men being emotionless and ‘stronger’/’less emotive’ than women is causing many to shut down and suffer in silence. We need to get out of this notion men should bottle things up and be seen as ‘strong’ all the time:

The study of masculinity in psychology began in the 1990s and developed a deficit model, focusing mainly on problems attributed to masculinity. For example, masculinity was said to impose on men a narrow set of values and views, which leads to problems such as misogyny and homophobia. The crisis in masculinity today is said to be about men struggling to find their place in a world that no longer values the traditional male role of the breadwinner and stoical defender of the family. 


In 2013, Diane Abbott, the current shadow home secretary, described how rapid social change has left today’s men in a cultural tornado of traditional values, pornography and male cosmetics. She suggested that the path forward is a combination of a more flexible view of masculinity, strengthening the bond between fathers and children, and improving educational and career outcomes for men, but without making this a required part of masculinity”.

This brings me to IDLES and their new track, Samaritans. It is from their forthcoming album, Joy As an Act of Resistance (out on 31st August), and has got a lot of people talking. Frontman Joe Talbot discussed the meaning behind the song:

"There's been a long line of bullshit that has pushed men into a corner, where simple masking becomes a trope of masculinity and a catalyst for insanity. What we wear, what we eat, what razor we use, high performance chewing gum, go faster shampoo, how we treat women, how we treat ourselves, how we die. I truly believe that masculinity has gone from an evolution of cultural praxis to a disease. I wanted to encourage a conversation about gender roles by writing this song".

The song’s messages and mantras – the non-chorus standout, “This is why you never see your father cry” – are stunning and emotional.



Elsewhere, Talbot talks of a “mask of masculinity” and how it is wearing him. Talbot, and IDLES, skew and transpose songs like Nirvana’s I Hate Myself and I Want to Die – “I’m a real boy and I’ll cry/I love myself and I want to try” – and Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl – the frontman kissed a boy and liked it; delivered in manner that suggests there is no taboo and controversy doing such a thing - and, cleverly, highlight how popular music has, in its way, painted pictures of what masculinity is and how women, in a way, are seen as more expressive, emotional and honest. IDLES amaze and inspire us because they are a band making real statements. Even on Brutalism, their acclaimed debut album of last year, they were talking about the realities of life and bringing in characters and conversations that felt sentient, tangible and on-point. In a music scene still dominated by oblique, indirect and obfuscated glimpses of brutal truth and soul-searching honesty; IDLES are the razor blade in the apple; they are the killer who lurks in the closest – starting to quote Radiohead here…! - and the fish John Cleese pulls out his pocket and send an unsuspecting Michael Palin into the water (Monty Python’…). Aside from narrating social issues and the everyday man and woman in the world – another thing music has never really been good at documenting – they are willing to expose the shambolic insinuation men are designed to be closed-off and ice-cold.


Come back to that line about your father never crying: how many of us, compared to our mothers, have seen our fathers that vulnerable and emotional? I am the same. As someone who suffers from depression badly (and anxiety); I find it incredibly hard communicating, let alone being that open – I have not properly cried since I was in school! As a thirty-five-year-old journalist making plans and trying to make sense of things, it is very hard to get a sense of what I am supposed to be and what defines being a ‘man’. Look at this article that looks at millennials and how they should live and work as men:

According to Vandello (Joseph Vandello, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida), manhood has historically been based on rituals and traditions. Today’s young men face a unique challenge as there are fewer rites of passage than in the past. In generations past, military conscription has meant hundreds of thousands of young men have gone to war. That is not the case now”.

All of us have so much to deal with in this day and age that impacts our mental-health and our overall happiness. Men are still, in 2018, expected to be this rather robotic and unfeeling thing that gets on with the day and does not let the tears come – lest they are seen as ‘feminine’ or weaker, somehow!


IDLES are among a smaller number of artists opening up conversations and dispelling these myths. Suicide rates in men are increasing and it seems there is still that ideal of the man as a hunter: never showing their true feelings; made to feel they cannot talk about mental-health and their struggles. There are reasons – quoting the aforementioned article – why this has been programmed into our D.N.A. through time:

Self-perception of manhood is tied to sexuality through an individual’s sense of control, according to Patrick Noel, an American University student who works with Men of Strength. The group focuses on preventing domestic and sexual violence on college campuses.

Sexuality “intersects with masculinity because men are taught throughout their lives to be in control of all aspects of their lives, from their emotions to their finances to their family lives,” he says. “A perceived failure of any of these things is seen as a failure of their masculinity”.

Not to disparage and doubt the humanity and understanding of psychologies and strangers but we need to force the conversation into the open. We have shows and forums where women can express themselves and talk about things happening in their lives. We are at a time when masculinity and sexism are words that could, if not discussed in the right way, cause offence. The role of masculinity, good or bad, is shifting and getting a real understanding of how men are supposed to interact and behave is being tarnished by high-profile celebrities and disreputable figures.

Peter Macdiarmid Getty Images.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Most, good men are becoming more isolated and silent when it comes to their feelings and thoughts. There is a huge stigma, still, regarding manhood, emotional honesty and what we are supposed to be. There are phrases and sayings that wind me up no end. “There are people worse off than you” – like that is relevant and pertinent; an insult to what I am going through – and “It could be worse” – how do you know?! – are ones that boil the blood and show a complete lack of caring, awareness and humanity. Man-related tropes, dogmas and maxims like “Man-up!” and “Show some balls!” have been woven into the fabric of masculinity and manhood as subtly as an army drill-instructor beasting cadets through bloodied barbed wire. It is a toxic ideology that is claiming lives and creating massive confusion. It is refreshing to see a high-profile and important band like IDLES address masculinity, mental-health and emotions in such a meaningful fashion. They are not the only ones to do this – male artists have talked about mental-health and openness – but Samaritans seems like the most vivid and much-needed example of an act breaking from routine and mainstream-friendly themes and talking about something meaningful and serious. Already, after a day, the song has got men and women talking about masculinity, mental illness and gender roles.

Going forward, I would like to see something – maybe it already exists – on radio or T.V. where men can talk about gender and the nature of masculinity. It would help dispel this generations-old model that has done more to damage wellbeing and how men are perceived than anything. The sooner we get rid of the caveman-who-does-no-talk-about-anything to becoming more like, well, women…the better society will be! Reversing centuries of repression and emotional celibacy is a hard task but I am not proposing radical and instantaneous remedy: a productive and consistent series of movements and motivations that drag forth the caved and cowing dictator of masculinity – what it is now – and dethroned it. We need to, at such a tough and bleak time, urge men to talk about their feelings and confide in those close. It is a hard task, as I say: we have been indoctrinated and told to be reserved and self-seeking when it comes to our troubled thoughts. Nobody who gives a damn is asking that of any men – it is the impressions of the media and people who have no meaning in our lives propagating that image. IDLES have helped spark new chat and connection. It is important, as we move forward and think about masculinity and the mental-health crisis affecting men, we keep this ball rolling and ensure we…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Ania Shrimpto

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