Skip links


Men's Mental Week
June 2021

When considering gender stereotypes, I often think back to a well-known exchange of words from the 1978 Superman film. It is the point where Lois Lane is falling to her (presumed) death and she is suddenly swept up in Superman’s arms: ‘Don’t worry miss, I’ve got you’ and she looks around and yells at him in reply ‘If you’ve got me, who’s got you?’

‘Don’t worry miss, I’ve got you’

He smiles calmly and proceeds to move them both to safety. Aside from the obvious damsel in distress/hero scenario, I always considered a slightly different interpretation of this, as to me, the interesting point was that when help was provided, Lois quickly realised that it was improbable that her rescuer was able to do it unaided and she automatically looked for the wider support structure behind him. Whilst this is presented as an extreme situation (not many of us find ourselves falling from helicopters on top of high buildings), there is a point that is widely overlooked, which is that there are many times in our lives when we need urgent assistance, but we often only see the single face of support that presents itself, without thinking of the wider support that may be required. For example, the parent who rescues the child from some dreadful accident, but then needs to discuss it with friends and family later to allay their fears of what could have happened; the outreach worker who talks to suicidal people and helps them to manage their emotions, but who themselves needs a support network to fall back on, such as the friendly pet that will listen without judgment. These people all present the face of the superhero: outwardly calm, measured and supportive when needed, but Lois was right to question her rescuer, as all superheroes must divine their powers from somewhere.

Many who present the face of the superhero generally don’t have access to otherworldly powers. Like the iconic portrayal of superman by Christopher Reeve, where there were large numbers of people working in the background to ensure that the visual impact of the scene was effective, there are many people who work to ensure that others are able to do their jobs, are able to carry on, and to support others in turn.

They also, very often, provide their support whilst conforming to/meeting the expectation of the roles that have traditionally been designated for them within society: the breadwinner, the school child, the wife, the mother, the helpful son, the loving daughter. These roles are all artificial constructs that are used as a shorthand, as a means of quickly interpreting a situation or issue without having to attribute too much thought, but these constructs can often damage individuals in the long term, as much as they can help to understand a situation in the short term. In particular, when considering the male gender stereotype, there is a traditional view of masculinity whereby boys and men are expected to behave in a particular way within society, often by negating and limiting their emotional development in ways that are often positively reinforced through peer pressure, advertising campaigns, cinema and television portrayals of men as a means of promoting a brand or a particular practice.

Many who present the face of the superhero generally don’t have access to otherworldly powers.

Such requirements mean that individuals are less likely to challenge the stereotypes, resulting in further restrictions imposed by society: for example, men are less likely to be considered seriously when applying for custody of their children, men are less likely to apply for Child Benefit, to stay at home with the children in the early years and generally dissuaded from wearing clothing considered to be ‘feminine’ (I can remember a time when men refused to wear a pink shirt or a pink tie, for fear of being labelled ‘effeminate’), and many other requirements both devised and enforced by society. The folly of these requirements can be illustrated by a tale dating back to around 1820, when the public schools of Eton and Westminster decided to compete for the right to determine their school colours: legend has it that Westminster was triumphant and won the right to wear the colour pink, and Eton lost out, being relegated to wearing the colour blue.

At the time, pink was considered to be a stronger and more dominant colour, with blue being weaker and subservient: it was not until the 1970s that the idea of pink for girls and blue for boys took hold more firmly. The colours have been kept for these two schools, but the perception of masculine and feminine has morphed significantly over the years, which can be seen through the way that gender roles have fluctuated over the centuries, but are still capable of causing unrest when challenged directly. These constructs, as with the view of the superhero, are often an illusion belying wider needs and support structures and like Lois, we should recognise when those support structures might be missing.

About the author

C. Gardner is a contributing writer for bonafide hr, she is an autistic individual, with extensive experience as an academic, senior policy advisor and senior litigation caseworker in London. Currently engaged as a parent, disability advocate, freelance author, perpetual student, editor of texts and occasional floozy.

Campaign Against Living Miserably:


Men are more likely to die from suicide in the UK

Mind 0300 123 3393

shout Text SHOUT to 85258

Samaritans 116 123

CALM 0800 58 58 58

PAPYRUS 0800 068 4141