First, I tried asking. Sprinkling little reminders, jokingly throughout the day. Then I started lecturing. Now, more than a month into my get-my-husband-to-the-dentist campaign, I've moved on to heckling, grilling, guilt-tripping and bargaining. I'm not too proud to beg.
I'll bet my efforts sound familiar to men's health expert Donnovan Somera Yisrael, MA. He's a wellness educator at Stanford's Vaden Health Center and he manages sexual and emotional health programs, often focusing on preventing or curbing risky behavior. And not going to the dentist, when you have an obvious tooth problem, counts as risky in my book.
Yisrael recently sat down for a Q&A with BeWell@Stanford to discuss his work with men. And his first sentence solidly supports my case: "I believe that the phenomenon of men neglecting their health generally as compared with women has been solidly established." Uh, huh! And he has a few ideas about why that is:
Over the years, as I’ve dug deeper into “why people do risky things,” it has become evident that culture (broadly defined) is a huge factor in these risky behaviors, and in turn gender roles/stereotypes play powerful roles in the culture that influences our behavior. Whether we are talking about wearing sunscreen, body image/eating disorders, alcohol/drug abuse or sexual/relationship violence, gender “rules” play a major role.
I'm up against a tough foe and eager for tips. The BeWell interviewer read my mind by asking how we can encourage the men in our lives to take better care of themselves. Yisrael's response:
Men need to be persuaded and educated that in order to best maintain health, they must find a healthy way of asking for help. They must pursue health maintenance and self-care without concern that doing so means they are weak or not “real men.”
We must work to challenge what it means to be a guy, boy, man, father, etc. in 2015 and beyond. This issue is dealt with so brilliantly in the film The Mask You Live In by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. I recommend it to everyone.
And, in the case of the dentist, I'll keep cajoling and perhaps add a bit of gender messaging to my arsenal: Manly men visit the dentist regularly.
Previously: To live longer, men need to embrace their femininity, new research suggests, Sex matters: Why we shouldn't conduct basic research without taking it into account and Examining how fathers' postpartum depression affects toddlers
Image by Christoph Weigel via Marcel Douwe Dekker