'Hard man' Scots need to emulate Maradona not Begbie
FROM the stoic figure of Gordon Brown to the fiery temperament of Sir Alex Ferguson and the violence of Trainspotting's Franco Begbie, the idea of the "hard man" remains a dominant one in Scottish culture.
But the long-held notion that male Scots should be tough and invulnerable - if not positively dangerous, as Begbie was portrayed by Robert Carlyle on screen - is creating a mental health timebomb, says a leading men's psychologist.
Dr Ewan Gillon will tell the British Psychological Society this week that, unless Scots start to look beyond traditional male role models, new generations will continue to numb their feelings with alcohol and violence.
Gillon, a senior lecturer at the University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University, will stress Scots must celebrate "other kinds of masculinity" to free themselves from "destructive cycles" of alcoholism, knife crime and suicides among young males. He also points to the emotive Argentina football coach Diego Maradona as an alternative.
In a lecture entitled The Making Of Scottish Men, he will also point out that mental health services have become too female-orientated, leaving many practitioners unable to aid depressed men.
"Traditional male ideals emphasising hard living, competitiveness and emotional detachment still hold firm in many parts of Scottish society," he told Scotland on Sunday.
"This can create a stoical, invulnerable front that masks many forms of emotional distress and mental problems. So some men destroy themselves and others, commonly in the forms of alcohol and drug abuse, anger, violence and through a range of less visible mechanisms such as workaholism and emotional neglect."
Gillon believes the "hard man" ideal is a legacy of Scotland's industrial past, particularly during the war, when men's main role was as provider, with their emotional wellbeing seen as a "mere luxury".
The notion has persisted, he says, courtesy of factors such as poverty and deprivation, which create communities where the "hard man" is an "alternative form of status".
One problem in breaking the cycle is that there is less direct access to other cultures in Scotland's cities, which are less cosmopolitan than, say, London. He added: "We have to celebrate other kinds of masculinity and draw on role models outside Scotland. Someone like Maradona is a good model. Yes, he is a flawed man, but he is revered in part for the way he is so expressive with his emotions. His is not the kind of hard-nosed version of masculinity we associate with (Manchester United manager] Alex Ferguson."
Gillon's comments back other academics who have commented on the influence of the assertive, working-class male in Scottish society. In his book, Modern Scotland 1914-2000, Richard Finlay, professor of Scottish history at Strathclyde University, accepted macho culture was prevalent in the last century.
"Working-class male culture in Scotland held that any man who did not work with his hands was a poof, a skiver, a snob, an upstart, or any combination of the above," he said.
The Scottish Government, Gillon acknowledges, is making inroads into tackling the problem, particularly with its move towards minimum pricing for alcohol. Three years ago, Kenny MacAskill vowed to address the core factors behind Scotland's high murder rate. The justice secretary said the "ideal and worship of the hard man" had to stop.
Gillon, however, believes the "hard man" transcends class divisions, pointing to the former PM. "Gordon Brown is one of the middle-class examples of the Scottish hard man," he said. "Even though a son of the manse, he has been portrayed as a man prone to bullying and a lack of expression, someone hard to get on with."
Gillon says better provision of mental health counselling services for men is required.
He added: "The feminised nature of the profession means mental health services have been constructed around women. To be diagnosed with depression, it often has to be manifested in very expressive, tearful ways. With men, it shows in different ways, which often means they are just seen as alcoholics."
But Dr Carol Craig, chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing, who explored the "macho environment" of Glasgow in her recent book The Tears That Made The Clyde, believes the problems with Scottish masculinity are more fundamental.
"There is a danger of being overly simplistic in saying men just need to express their feelings more," she said. "It's about the need for men to be in a strong, sharing relationship. In any case, women do not have great mental health. There's a school of thought that women dwell on their feelings in an unhealthy way."
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