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“Everywhere you get these models of
what you should be like.”
Men, masculinities, and mental health
University of Helsinki
Master’s Programme in Changing Education
Master’s thesis, 30 cr
Supervisor: Kristiina Brunila
Tiedekunta - Fakultet - Faculty
Faculty of Educational Sciences, Master’s Programme in Changing Education
Tekijä - Författare - Author
“Everywhere you get these models of what you should be like.” Men, masculinities, and mental health.
Työn nimi - Arbetets titel
”Joka puolelta annetaan malleja millainen sinun kuuluisi olla.” Miehet, maskuliinisuudet ja mielenterveys.
Oppiaine - Läroämne - Subject
Työn laji/ Ohjaaja - Arbetets art/Handledare - Level/Supervisor
Master’s thesis / Kristiina Brunila
Aika - Datum - Month and year
Sivumäärä - Sidoantal - Number of pages
78 pages + 1 appendix
Tiivistelmä - Referat - Abstract
Youth mental health has become a central topic of public discourse. However, the significance of social
structures, such as gender norms, for emotional wellbeing remains understudied in Finland. Previous
research on men’s mental health has shown that conformity to traditional masculinity ideals can cause
men to undermine their health or lessen their likelihood to seek help. However, these studies often lack
the perspective of men’s agency in reproducing and challenging these ideals. To address this gap in
research, the first objective of this thesis was to examine what kind of masculinity discourses young
Finnish men produce. By analysing these discourses, I studied how young men view the gendered
expectations to be connected to their presumed mental health. My second objective was to analyse what
kind of reactions young Finnish men have to the public mental health discourses. Thus, the context of this
study is within the broader mental health and gender discourses in Finland.
The study was conducted applying a thematic discursive approach to the open answers in a large
questionnaire data about young men’s mental health gathered by Nyyti ry and the Family Federation of
Finland in November 2020. Thematisation served mainly as a tool to organise the data, while the discursive
approach allowed me to examine how the masculinity and mental health discourses in the data were
constructed, and to analyse the ideas and practices within these discourses that shape social reality.
Young men produced three lines of masculinity discourses, which highlight how the traditional hegemonic
masculinity ideals remain strong in Finnish society, upheld with narrow representations of masculinity.
These ideals were portrayed as restricting, limiting the actions of young men, and to create gendered
conditions of opportunity to show weakness, ask for help, and talk about mental health. As a reaction to
the public mental health discourses, young men produced critical discursive reactions, illustrating how the
prevailing mental health discourses are insufficient in quality and quantity, too individualised, and seen
as discriminatory towards men. This research indicates a need to address the structural, gendered
expectations in order to widen the positions available for men in society and to find useful solutions to
support the mental health of young men.
masculinity, mental health, gender norms, therapeutic ethos, discursive approach
Avainsanat - Nyckelord
maskuliinisuus, mielenterveys, sukupuolinormit, terapeuttinen eetos, diskursiivinen lukutapa
Säilytyspaikka - Förvaringsställe - Where deposited
Helsinki University Library – Helda/E-thesis (theses)
Muita tietoja - Övriga uppgifter - Additional information
Tiedekunta - Fakultet - Faculty
Kasvatustieteellinen tiedekunta, Changing Education maisteriohjelma
Tekijä - Författare - Author
Työn nimi - Arbetets titel
”Joka puolelta annetaan malleja millainen sinun kuuluisi olla.” Miehet, maskuliinisuudet ja mielenterveys.
“Everywhere you get these models of what you should be like.” Men, masculinities, and mental health.
Oppiaine - Läroämne - Subject
Työn laji/ Ohjaaja - Arbetets art/Handledare - Level/Supervisor
Pro gradu -tutkielma / Kristiina Brunila
Aika - Datum - Month and year
Sivumäärä - Sidoantal - Number of pages
78 sivua + 1 liite
Tiivistelmä - Referat - Abstract
Nuorten mielenterveys on noussut keskeiseksi aiheeksi julkisessa keskustelussa. Kuitenkaan sosiaalisten
rakenteiden, kuten sukupuolinormien, merkitystä henkiselle hyvinvoinnille ei ole vielä tutkittu Suomessa
merkittävissä määrin. Aiemmat tutkimukset miesten mielenterveydestä ovat osoittaneet, että perinteisiin
maskuliinisuuden ideaaleihin mukautuminen voi saada miehet aliarvioimaan terveyttään tai pienentää
heidän todennäköisyyttään hakeutua avun piiriin. Aiempia tutkimuksia on kuitenkin kritisoitu miesten
toimijuuden huomiotta jättämisestä. Vastatakseni tähän aukkoon tutkimuksessa, tämän tutkimuksen
ensimmäinen tavoite oli tutkia, millaisia maskuliinisuusdiskursseja nuoret suomalaiset miehet tuottavat.
Näitä diskursseja analysoimalla tutkin, miten nuoret miehet näkevät maskuliinisuuden ideaalien olevan
yhteydessä heidän oletettuun mielenterveyteensä. Toinen tavoite oli analysoida millaisia reaktioita
julkinen mielenterveyskeskustelu herättää nuorissa suomalaisissa miehissä. Täten tämä tutkimus
kontekstualisoituu laajempiin mielenterveys- ja sukupuolidiskursseihin Suomessa.
Tutkimusaineisto koostui marraskuussa 2020 Suomessa kerätystä laajasta kyselydatasta. Kyselyn, jonka
teemana oli nuorten miesten mielenterveys, toteuttivat Nyyti ry ja Väestöliitto. Tutkimuksen analyysissa
hyödynsin temaattista diskursiivista lukutapaa laajan kyselydatan avoimiin vastauksiin. Analyysissä
tematisoinnin tarkoitus oli pääasiallisesti jäsentää dataa. Diskursiivinen lukutapa puolestaan mahdollisti
datasta muodostuvien diskurssien tarkastelun, sekä näistä löytyneiden sosiaalista todellisuutta rakentavia
ideoiden ja käytäntöjen analysoinnin.
Nuoret miehet tuottivat kolmea erilaista maskuliinisuusdiskurssia, jotka korostivat miten perinteiset
hegemonisen maskuliinisuuden ideaalit ovat edelleen vallalla suomalaisessa yhteiskunnassa ja joita
toisinnetaan ahtailla maskuliinisuuden representaatioilla. Näitä ideaaleja kuvattiin miesten toimintaa
rajoittavina, tuottaen sukupuolitettuja mahdollisuuksia osoittaa heikkoutta, pyytää apua, tai puhua
mielenterveydestä. Reaktiona julkiseen mielenterveyskeskusteluun nuoret miehet tuottivat kriittisiä
diskursiivisia reaktioita, jotka kuvasivat miten nykyiset mielenterveysdiskurssit ovat riittämättömiä niin
määrällisesti kuin laadullisesti, liian yksilökeskeisiä ja nähtiin miehiä syrjivinä. Tämä tutkimus osoittaa
tarpeen siirtää huomion rakenteellisiin, sukupuolitettuihin odotuksiin, jotta miehille mahdollisia positioita
yhteiskunnassa voidaan laajentaa ja löytää hyödyllisiä ratkaisuja nuorten miesten mielenterveyden
Avainsanat - Nyckelord
maskuliinisuus, mielenterveys, sukupuolinormit, terapeuttinen eetos, diskursiivinen lukutapa
masculinity, mental health, gender norms, therapeutic ethos, discursive approach
Säilytyspaikka - Förvaringsställe - Where deposited
Helsinki University Library – Helda/E-thesis (theses)
Muita tietoja - Övriga uppgifter - Additional information
Table of contents
1 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................ 1
2 MASCULINITY AS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT ................................................................ 4
2.1. Poststructural paradigm ................................................................................................. 4
2.2. Gender as a social construct .......................................................................................... 7
2.2.1. Representations creating, upholding, and transforming gender norms.............. 9
2.2.2. Hegemonic masculinity ................................................................................... 11
2.2.3. Hybrid masculinities ........................................................................................ 14
2.3. Masculinity in crisis .................................................................................................... 17
3 YOUTH WELLBEING DISCOURSES AND MENTAL HEALTH IN FINLAND .............. 20
3.1. Mental health as part of wellbeing discourses ............................................................. 20
3.1.1. Therapeutic ethos ............................................................................................. 22
3.2. Gender and mental health ............................................................................................ 24
3.3. Mental health services in Finland ................................................................................ 26
4 RESEARCH TASK AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS ........................................................... 29
5 RESEARCH WORK ................................................................................................................ 31
5.1. Research design and data ............................................................................................ 31
5.2. Thematic discursive approach ..................................................................................... 33
5.3. Ethical considerations and positionality ...................................................................... 36
6 MASCULINITY DISCOURSES IN THE LIVES OF YOUNG FINNISH MEN .................. 40
6.1. Restrictive masculinity ideals ...................................................................................... 40
6.2. Negotiations with weakness ........................................................................................ 44
6.3. Insufficient representations of men and masculinity ................................................... 46
6.4. Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 48
7 YOUNG MEN’S REACTIONS TO PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH DISCOURSES ............. 52
7.1. Insufficient discourse of men’s mental health ............................................................. 52
7.2. Critique towards individualised discourses ................................................................. 55
7.3. Men as victims of feminism ........................................................................................ 57
7.4. Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 60
8 DISCUSSION .......................................................................................................................... 63
APPENDIX A .................................................................................................................... 79
Youth mental health and emotional wellbeing have become central topics and an
increasing concern in public discourse, especially during the covid pandemic. Several
organisations and media platforms have expressed their concern for the “decline of young
people’s mental health” and “lost human potential” both globally (OECD, 2021;
UNICEF, 2021) and in Finland (Aalto-Setälä et al., 2021; Iivonen, 2022; Paakkunainen,
2021). With a growing number of courses and guidance related to emotional support and
self-management, emotional wellbeing has also become a significant focus of education
in Finland (Ahonen, 2020; Brunila, 2012b).
Simultaneously, the expanding focus on wellbeing and mental health have raised critical
questions about the increasing governing individuals are subjected to, justified with
objectives of wellbeing. The concepts of therapeutic ethos and therapeutic power have
been used to describe how therapeutic vocabulary, practices, and “struggling with the
self” have become an essential part of society and social life. As a result, individuals are
guided to self-govern and transform themselves, whilst the wellbeing discourses are
utilised to explain and justify the actions of various actors. With the focus on individuals’
responsibility, therapeutic ethos overlooks the meaning of social structures and issues for
one’s mental health. (e.g., Brunila et al., 2021a; Brunila & Siivonen, 2016; Klein & Mills,
2017; Rimke & Brock, 2012.) In Finland, the concept of therapeutic power has raised
public interest in the past year due to the contributions of educational and social scientist
Kristiina Brunila and colleagues in their book "Therapeutic power: Tensions between
Happiness and Wellbeing in the 2000s"
. I have found these two lines of discourse
fascinating, demonstrating a vast interest in the wellbeing discourses from various aspects
and, at times, from very contradictory angles. These two interconnected phenomena have
sparked my interest to examine the social structures restricting and enabling our
opportunities to act, and the consequences and reactions these various discourses produce.
The focus of this study is men’s mental health and masculinity. The connections between
mental health and social structures, such as gender norms or masculinity, remain
Brunila, K., Harni, E., Saari, A. & Ylöstalo, H. (2021). Terapeuttinen valta: Onnellisuuden ja hyvinvoinnin
jännitteitä 2000-luvun Suomessa. Vastapaino.
understudied in Finland. Previous research on men’s mental health has shown that
conformity to traditional masculinity ideals can cause men to undermine their health, not
show weakness, or lessen their likelihood to seek help (Courtenay, 2000; Valkonen &
Lindfors, 2012). However, previous studies have been criticised for the lack of
acknowledgement of men’s agency, subjectivity, and various identities affecting their
emotional wellbeing. With this research, I attempt to address this gap in research and
include the perspective of young men in the masculinity and mental health discourses.
Thus, the context of this research is within the broader mental health and gender
discourses and norms in Finland.
The objective of this study is twofold. First, to examine what kind of discourses young
Finnish men produce about masculinity and gendered expectations. By analysing these
discourses, I studied how are the gendered expectations described to be connected to the
presumed mental health of young men. Second, to analyse what kind of discursive
repertoires young men produce as a reaction to the public mental health and wellbeing
discourses. My interest was to study the reactions and consequences of these discourses
by applying a thematic discursive approach to a large qualitative questionnaire data from
a Finnish third sector mental health service provider, Nyyti ry, and the Family Federation
of Finland. Therefore, this study contributes timely data to the discussion about mental
health, gender norms, and the gendered conditions of possibility these norms are
perceived to create for those falling under the social category of men in Finnish society.
The structure of this thesis is the following. The theoretical framework consists of two
parts. In the first chapter, I outline the poststructural paradigm of this research, discuss
the meaning of discourses in creating social reality, and elucidate the understanding of
gender as a social construct. My understanding of discourses is informed by the
Foucauldian tradition and discourse theory by Laclau and Mouffe. In the second part, I
focus on wellbeing and mental health discourses, the meaning of gender in these
discourses, and look into the mental health services in Finland. After the theoretical
framework, I outline the research questions and objectives of this thesis. In the fifth
chapter, I describe the used data, introduce the used analysing method, thematic
discursive approach, and discuss my position as a researcher in the context of this study.
Like the theoretical framework, the results of this study are divided into two chapters.
The first one focuses on the masculinity discourses young Finnish men produce and the
presumed connections of gendered expectations on young men's mental health. The
second one addresses young men’s reactions to mental health discourses. I conclude this
thesis by discussing the results and providing suggestions for future research.
I have completed this master’s thesis at the Faculty of Educational Sciences. Although
the context of this research is not directly in the education or school context, I argue that
the topic of masculinity and mental health is fundamentally connected to education. First,
education plays a significant role in creating, upholding, and dismantling gender norms
which create gendered conditions of possibility for individuals. These, in turn, are
connected to student wellbeing and the gendered education choices and selection of
optional studies (e.g., Ikävalko & Brunila, 2019). Therefore, gendered expectations and
ideals should be widely addressed and scrutinised in educational institutes and practices.
Second, education is widely entangled in the wellbeing discourses and therapeutic ethos,
which shape students’ understanding of their responsibility and the role of structural
issues in mental health services and discourses. Thus, education is closely interlinked to
broader societal phenomena, such as gender norms or wellbeing discourses, which are
examined in this thesis.
2 Masculinity as a social construct
This first theoretical chapter illustrates the discursive and social processes that construct
gender as a social category and create gendered conditions of possibility in society. First,
I outline the poststructural research paradigm of this study and its theoretical
underpinnings. Then, I discuss gender and masculinity as social constructs. I also examine
the concept of representation and previous theorisations of masculinities. I conclude by
addressing some of the reactions and social movements the changing social conditions
and gender equality discourses have provoked.
2.1. Poststructural paradigm
The basis for this research is the understanding that gender is socially constructed and
that gender, and other identities, are relational and performative, constituted in discourses
producing gendered conditions of possibility for individuals (Butler 1988; 1990/2006).
This places this research within a feminist, poststructural research paradigm. Feminist
poststructural theory focuses on positioning differences, such as gender and subjectivity,
at the centre of research, with an essential focus on the discursive and regulatory processes
whereby individuals are made into gendered subjects (Davies & Gannon, 2011; Hyvönen,
2021a). It aims to challenge norms and structures, making visible the force of the
linguistic practices that constitute them, dismantling their apparent inevitability, and
emphasises the intricate ways discourses are always tied to power and knowledge systems
(Davies & Gannon, 2011; Denzin & Lincoln, 2018).
Poststructuralism considers structures, norms, and meanings to be produced and
maintained through discourses. Thus, the poststructural approaches see discourses as
constructing the world, not just as means to interpret it. Bacchi and Goodwin (2016) argue
that lived realities are created by these norms, structures, and social practices, instead of
merely reflected in them, which makes structures and the world constantly subject to
change. As structures are not fixed or given, but the effect of practice and reiteration,
acting outside traditional norms and structures can cause those norms and structures to
change or break (Mease, 2017). It is essential to recognize that utilising a poststructural
approach does not mean that the material world does not exist. However, our
understanding of it is constructed in language within socially and historically contingent
material contexts that shape our understanding (Davies & Gannon, 2011; Mease, 2017).
Poststructural theory emphasises the challenge of the social text and its logic, as it can
never represent the lived experiences fully (Denzin & Lincoln, 2018). As meanings and
structures are constrained by human experience and language, they never fully capture
the social and natural existence of the world and can merely be thorough and accurate
descriptions of it from a particular context or perspective (Mease, 2017).
Moreover, the poststructural approaches are plural, applied to several theoretical
positions, which share certain essential assumptions about language, meaning, and
identity (Baxter, 2016). My understanding of discourses is informed by the Foucauldian
tradition and Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory, which are both immersed in the
relations between power and discourse, and the conditions of possibility discourses create
The poststructural understanding of the significance of discourses has been strongly
influenced by Michel Foucault’s theorisation of discursive practices as a way of thinking,
producing meaning, and constituting and organising the body, thoughts, and feelings.
These discursive practices are established conventions within discourses, which are
deemed appropriate, natural, and self-evident, governing what can be said and guiding us
to speak about things in a certain way. In Foucault’s theory, discourses are always tied to
power and power is understood as an outcome of historical conditions of institutionalised
discursive formations. As such, discourses should be understood as power-knowledge
systems instead of merely language. The mechanics of power produce different types of
knowledge, which in turn reinforce the power-knowledge systems by defining “normal”
or ideal codes of conduct. Power is multidirectional and omnipresent in every level of
social relations and exercised in individual life, rather than possessed, and simultaneously
restricting and enabling. Power relations are constantly reproduced and, therefore, subject
to change. As such, discourses and power relations create conditions of possibility –
setting boundaries for what can be said, thought, understood, and felt in specific contexts
- and subject positions for individuals. (Alhanen, 2007.)
Foucault has strongly influenced Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory (Jacobs, 2018).
Political theorists and developers of discourse theory, Laclau and Mouffe (1985/2014),
argue that everything is discourse, asserting that all social world is discursive in nature,
meaning that nothing holds definitive or natural meaning outside discourse. Therefore,
these meanings are also subject to change and dependent on their historical context. They
theorise that all knowledge is socially constructed through discourse, which reproduces,
challenges, and transforms society. Discourse holds power that is both a productive,
creating the world, and a constraining, structuring how the world can be talked about or
ways of being, force. By combining and connecting words, objects, ideas, and concepts
in specific ways with speech and acts, individuals give meaning to the world. When
repeated, these combinations begin to form patterns that eventually become stable
structures constituting the social world (Jacobs, 2018). These patterns are what discourse
theory calls discourses (Jacobs, 2018; Laclau & Mouffe, 1985/2014).
As the construction of objects as meaningful always takes place within discourses, which
produce conditions of possibility, subject positions are also created within discourses.
Hence, the subject is conceived as a part of discourse and in terms of the different
positions within said discourse. Therefore, social identity is constructed through acts of
inclusion and exclusion in relation to difference and/or equivalence to other identities.
(Torfing, 2005.) Discourse theory is interested in how discourses are tied to the exercise
of power, limit our possibilities for action, and how we can deconstruct the structures
taken for granted through analysing discourses. Laclau and Mouffe (1985/2014) state that
when discursive patterns are continuously iterated, the discourses they form become
hegemonic structures, indicating the dominance of certain ideas or concepts in society.
Like Foucault and Laclau and Mouffe, I understand discourses as knowledge systems or
entities always tied to power and historical context, producing inevitable material
consequences and subjectivities. When certain discursive practices or patterns are
reiterated, they form normative structures. This way, discourses refine what is desirable
and recognisable as an accepted form of being, talking, or feeling in specific contexts
(Brunila, 2016). Therefore, the way we talk about gender, masculinity, or gendered
behaviour, constitute the conditions of possibility for subjects to act, feel, talk, or express
their gender. These discursive practises turn individuals into gendered subjects and
produce normative, hegemonic structures.
Norms can be seen as codes of conduct that individuals comprehend as conventional or
binding (Hyvönen, 2021a). Feminist poststructural theory acknowledges the role of
power structures and privilege in creating meanings and norms and displays the complex
ways that power works to shape us into particular kinds of beings, as well as to make
those ways desirable so that we actively take them up as our own (Davies & Gannon,
2011). Educational and social scientist Brunila (2019) states how gender norms and
prejudices produce a set of standards for what is appropriate behaviour for certain
identities and thus, limit individuals’ behaviour and their possibilities to act. Davies and
Gannon (201) argue that structures, such as gender norms, are imposed, actively taken
on, and resisted by individuals. These gendered conditions of existence and positions are
not static but shift over space and time as individuals take up, maintain, or challenge the
discursive practices upholding gendered practices and understand themselves in terms of
them. Therefore, this opens up the possibility to actively change positions. As discourses
are not closed systems, it is possible to think or act differently, and changes in discourses
can create changes in power (Brunila & Ikävalko, 2012).
As sociologist Hearn (2014) states, “men” can be thought of as a socially formed material-
discursive category, understanding discourses to include material acts and focusing on
the material consequences of discursive practices. Echoing Hyvönen (2021a), a
researcher of men and masculinities, the terms “man” and “masculinity” in this research
are understood as socially, historically, and situationally constructed power-knowledge
relations, which depict certain groups of individuals or behaviours, without an essential
explanation of beings. Following the above theorisation of structures and subjectivities
formed in discourses, I next discuss gender as a social, discursive construct.
2.2. Gender as a social construct
At the core of feminist theory lies feminist scholar Judith Butler’s (1988, 1990/2006)
notion that gender, and other identities, are relational and socially constructed. Butler
challenges the idea that gender is inherently biological and argues that gender is created
through performing normative actions and conceived in regulatory discursive practices.
Through stylised repetition of acts, imitating the dominant conventions of gender, gender
is performatively produced and constructed (Butler, 1990/2006; Jokinen, 2003). With this
understanding, Butler (1990/2006) argues that “in this sense, gender is not a noun, but
neither it is a set of free-floating attributes” (p. 34). As such, gender is always doing, and
gender identity is performatively constituted by the expressions of gender. For Butler,
there is no pre-existing gender identity behind the expressions of gender, as the subject
and its identity are constructed in these expressions.
Although gender is dependent on individual acts, it is not a voluntary task, and Butler
(1990/2006) states how gender norms are continuously reproduced and instituted through
the repetition of acts. Through these acts, individuals not only communicate but create
their gender identity. Gender is learned and socially constructed, which, unlike the
biological view, makes it subjective to change. Poststructural theorisation recognises the
power of discourses in constructing gender and how gendered subjects reproduce these
discourses in their everyday actions. These discourses are reinforced in our day-to-day
actions, institutions, and laws, and through social conventions, certain gendered acts
become normalised and viewed as natural.
One significant institution where gender norms and identities are reinforced is education.
Several scholars argue that education plays a significant role in reproducing gender norms
and identity politics, as assumptions and understanding of gender affect both the aims and
outcomes of teaching, as well as the educational choices of students (Brunila, 2019;
Lappalainen et al., 2013; Ojala et al., 2009; Vaattovaara & Ylitapio-Mäntylä, 2021).
Brunila (2019) illustrates how teachers’ assumptions about gender-related characteristics
lead to different treatment of students and create different conditions of possibility for
different genders. This, in turn, produces gendered differences, for example in behaviour,
attitudes, and identities, which strengthen these assumptions and create a vicious cycle
where gendered expectations get reinforced. Ojala et al. (2009) underline that although
the education system does not formally limit the educational choices of different genders,
the gendered expectations and atmosphere in education uphold and shape students’
agency in diverse everyday situations and decision-making.
One example of the gendered expectations in education, according to feminist educational
scholar Lahelma (2014), is the “boy discourse” – the concern that boys’ educational
achievement, on average, is lower than girls’ – which has risen as a topic of public interest
and has not always been regarded as a problem, but “rather a self-evident gender pattern”
(p. 175). In their article, Lahelma provides several examples of how teachers treat
different genders differently and display strongly diverse attitudes and expectations
toward different genders. The way the “boy discourse” manifests itself in Finnish schools
contains multifaceted practical, political, and theoretical problems, which may emphasise
the forms of masculinity that contribute to boys’ underachievement and is unhelpful for
the boys having difficulties in school. This underlines how gendered discourses in
education produce gendered subjectivities. However, as discourses are subject to change,
education also holds significant potential in challenging these norms.
In addition to the aforementioned ways gender is produced, these socially and
discursively constructed gender roles and norms are constantly reiterated and challenged
in representations of gender expression and identity, discussed next.
2.2.1. Representations creating, upholding, and transforming gender norms
Representations – images and texts - especially in the media, play a significant role in
upholding and creating gender norms. In line with the theorisation of discourses above,
representation can be seen as discursive practices and parts of discourses, constituting the
phenomena they represent. Feminist scholar Rossi (2015), who researches visual culture
along with gender and queer studies, states that representation combines meaning,
language, and culture, and both shape reality and influence our ways of understanding it.
Rossi argues that representation can be seen to display, represent, and produce reality.
For example, a young male character in a television show depicts an individual young
man as well as represents young men as a group. These representations, when repeated,
produce reality and construct the impressions of what young men are like. As such,
representation is performative, construct reality, and create patterns about gender
expression and sexuality in a significant way.
Consequently, the relevant question about representation is not how well it reflects reality,
but how and what kind of reality it produces. Representations raise the questions of who
can represent whom – who is being represented and who can represent said group. Placing
an individual to represent an entire group of people comes with the risk of diminishing
the entire group of people into a stereotypical, homogeneous group. (Rossi, 2015.)
Representations both repeat and shape cultural schemes, affecting the ways gender is
talked about (Butler, 1997). De Lauretis (2004) states that gender as a representation
system is politically distinct, as gender constitutes meaning, status, and position for
individuals in society. Acknowledging representation as constructing reality through
iteration, it provides a way to create new previously invisible meanings and
understandings in discourses. Furthermore, challenging the gender system and gendered
representations contributes to the struggle of gender’s meaning (Rossi, 2015).
Representations utilise the codes and conventions within our reach that both limit the
meaning of representations and enable them to be understood (Rossi, 2015). Following
poststructural discourse theory (Laclau & Mouffe, 2014), I understand representation as
discourse, and therefore, like any discourse, holds power as a productive and constraining
force. As such, power relations control which representations will be seen and heard and
what kinds of norms they produce (Karkulehto et al., 2012). However, it is essential to
remember that power is multidimensional, and the construction of meaning is done by
both the producer of the message as well as the viewers, listeners, or readers – the
interpreters are also active in the process of creating meaning (Rossi, 2015).
Representations can work to hold up certain ideals of masculinity. I understand different
masculinities as discursively produced, challenged, and changing, socially constructed
concepts tied to power-knowledge systems and historical and local contexts. I want to
acknowledge that “masculinity” is not a synonym for men. Identifying and categorising
some behaviours as “masculine” or “feminine”, and associating them with particular
genders, comes with the risk of reaffirming prevailing gender binaries. Francis (2008)
describes that when examining gender as performative instead of biological, this kind of
categorisation, yet inherently problematic, is demanded for an analysis of gender
performance. Francis argues that “if gender is to be identified, but is not linked to the
categorisation of the body, it must be linked instead to categorisations of
expression/behaviour” (p. 214). Even though this kind of categorisation is at the heart of
my thesis, I still argue that, in the light of poststructuralism, this is not demanded but
current practice, which can reproduce constraints and categorisation of gender, and could
be challenged with new research approaches and methodologies.
Next, I discuss the concepts of hegemonic masculinity and hybrid masculinities. I
understand masculinities as sets of characteristics often associated with the behaviour of
men, although not only available to men. I see hegemonic and hybrid masculinities as
examples of discourses creating conditions of possibility for young men in Finland, to
which men position themselves to.
2.2.2. Hegemonic masculinity
For over 30 years, the concept of hegemonic masculinity has been an essential,
widespread notion for research about masculinity and masculine gender norms (see
Connell 1987, 2000; Connell & Messerschmidt 2005). Examining the concept, I follow
sociologist Connell’s and Messerschmidt’s (2005) distinguished theorisation.
Connell (2008) explains that the concept of hegemonic masculinity was constructed “to
try to grasp the dynamics of patriarchal gender system” (p. 244). Patriarchy, used to refer
to the long-term structure of men’s domination in society, is conventionally considered a
universal structure, assuming stable principles of gender hierarchy. Thus, the concept fails
to take into account the cultural contexts in which it exists. Echoing several scholars
before me (e.g., Butler, 1990/2006; Liljeström, 1996), I see a conflict with the concept of
universal patriarchy within the poststructural research paradigm, containing the
conception of discourses as shifting, contextual power-knowledge relations. In addition,
as Butler (1990/2006) states, the claim of universal patriarchy no longer holds the same
credibility as it formally did. Morgan (2006) argues this is due to many social processes,
such as the transformation of women’s position in the worklife, division of labour, and
the impact of feminism. Therefore, I chose not to examine the concept of patriarchy
further, although acknowledging it as an essential concept in research about gender
hierarchy and gendered social structures.
Hegemonic masculinity refers to social practices and norms that legitimize men’s
dominant position in society, idealising the conventionally masculine traits as the cultural
ideal (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). Thus, masculinity and femininity are reproduced
in social and cultural structures. Similarly to Laclau and Mouffe (2014), Connell and
Messerschmidt (2005) understand hegemony as a consequence of the situation where
society in different, iterative ways upholds the idea of a specific type of men as ideal.
This “ideal man” is constructed and reiterated in intricate ways; for example, in cultural
products, representations in movies and literature, promoting a certain idea of what a man
should be like, accompanied by noticeable success of certain types of men who are
accessing leading positions and gaining wealth in society.
Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) state that hegemonic masculinity is not a fixed
character nor an outside force that compels men to act in certain ways to gain access to
power or “cause” for men’s behaviour. Instead, it should be understood as constructions
of gendered practices, which grant power to certain men through social practices, and as
contextual ideals that change over time and cultural context. As Hyvönen argues (2021a)
hegemonic masculinity traits are something that men stand in relation to, from which they
both benefit and suffer. By reiterating collective discursive practices claiming certain
masculinities positive, these masculinities become idealised, which, when repeated, may
become hegemonic norms (Butler, 1993). Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) state how
“Hegemonic masculinity was understood as the pattern of practice (i.e., things done, not
just a set of role expectations or an identity)” (p. 832), which I connect to Butler’s
theorisation of gender as performative and relational, reaffirmed in gendered actions and
ideals which are imposed, actively taken on, and resisted by individuals.
However, Jokinen (2000) argues that hegemonic masculinity is most commonly
associated with five western ideals of manhood: power, strength, success, emotional
restraint, and heterosexuality. On a similar note, Collier (1998) states that hegemonic
masculinity has often come to be associated with traits such as being unemotional,
independent, nonnurturing, aggressive, and dispassionate. Nevertheless, Connell and
Messerschmidt (2015) argue that while such characteristics imply dominance, it is
difficult to see how a cultural model containing merely negative characteristics could be
formed into a hegemonic ideal. Thus, they suggest many accounts of hegemonic
masculinity also include characteristics such as bringing home a wage or being a father.
For the sake of analytical clarity in this research and its data analysis, I use the term
“traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals” to refer to the characteristics mentioned
above, which have come to be associated with the concept of hegemonic masculinity.
However, I recognise that all these traits might not actually hold a hegemonic position in
contemporary Finnish society. Moreover, referring to hegemonic masculinity as a specific
type is contradictory to the poststructural notion of fluidity and contextuality. As a
discursive construction, hegemonic masculinity should be understood subject to change.
Hegemonic men are described as independent, assertive, authoritative leaders,
dispassionate, and un-emotional, which are associated with strength and rationality,
highly appreciated traits in western societies, in contrast to women seen as kind and warm,
associated with weakness and emotionality (Collier, 1998). This way, hegemonic
masculinity as a social structure strengthens the hierarchical gender order, where
traditionally feminine traits, such as emotionality and empathy, are perceived as opposite
and less valuable compared to traditionally masculine traits, such as rationality and
dominance (Ikävalko & Brunila, 2019). Hegemonic masculinity ideals endorse this
asymmetric admiration of masculine and feminine traits, reaffirm the hierarchical gender
order, providing certain types of men advantage in society, endorsing certain men’s
dominance over other groups (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005).
An important concept in traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals is men’s domination of
other genders and subordinate men. A “real man” is physically bigger than a woman,
assertive, and strong, and these characteristics allow men’s dominance over women to
continue. Aggression and violence are seen as significant attributes of masculinity, even
though not all types of violence are accepted or expected from men. However, hegemony
does not mean violence, although sometimes it can be supported by force. (Connell &
Hegemonic masculinity is normative and relational, not descriptive; the majority of men
are not able to live up to its standards (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). However, it
shapes the image of the “ideal” man, not only defining what society sees as manly, but
shaping the conditions of possibility for men by defining ways men are expected to
behave, talk, and feel. Man’s ability to fulfil these norms and expectations defines their
worth as men and human beings. This “ideal” man is something that men must strive for.
Hegemonic masculinity reaffirms the understanding of gender and masculinity as socially
constructed; masculinity is not something men are born into, but something to selectively
grow into and even something to earn. (Jokinen, 2003.) Although the hegemonic
masculinity ideals are not fixed but in constant flux, and dependent on cultural and
historical context, they marginalise the ways of being a man.
However, as already discussed, masculinities or gender hierarchies should be understood
as plural and subject to change, with many concurrently existing within a single society
and varying in different social settings (Hyvönen, 2021a). Moreover, Connell (2014) has
practised self-criticism by rethinking the concept of hegemonic masculinity to suit local
perspectives and gender politics. Hegemonic masculinity has been argued to describe the
power relations between men and other groups successfully, yet insufficient in illustrating
men’s reflexive subjectivity, agency, and possibilities to act within the pre-existing
models of masculinity and social expectations without reproducing these models
(Hyvönen, 2020; Hyvönen, 2021a). A more contemporary approach to masculinities, the
concept of hybrid masculinities, is discussed next.
2.2.3. Hybrid masculinities
Hegemonic masculinity has been criticised for being insufficient to explain the
multidimensionality of different masculinities and men’s behaviour, neglecting to
acknowledge men’s subjectivities (Hyvönen, 2021a). Like any other social construction,
masculinities should be understood to be subject to change, and masculinities and
masculinity ideals have been shown to be in a constant state of flux (Bridges & Pascoe,
As Hyvönen (2020) states, recent studies on Western men and masculinities signify a
shift towards a wider societal criticism of conventional masculinities and men’s
willingness to distance themselves from these conventional models of being a man. As
an outcome, new plural concepts, such as “hybrid masculinities” (e.g., Bridges & Pascoe,
2014; Hyvönen, 2021a) or “caring masculinities” (see Elliott, 2016), have come to
constitute men’s behaviour. In this chapter, I focus on the concept of hybrid masculinities,
which is defined as “the selective incorporation of elements of identity typically
associated with various marginalized and subordinated masculinities and - at times -
femininities into privileged men’s gender performances and identities” (Bridges &
Pascoe, 2014, p. 246).
Hybrid masculinities acknowledge the plural ways of being a man, characterised by
avoiding and doubting conventional masculinities and precise gender differences. Hybrid
masculinities are constructed by men questioning the prevailing gendered expectations,
exercising resistance, and questioning norms and the power relations through which they
are constructed. This instability of power relations in hybrid masculinities allows
reflexivity and multiple subject positions for men. (Hyvönen, 2021a.) I see the emergence
of the concept of hybrid masculinities to display both a change in the masculinity
discourses and the conditions of possibility for men, as well a shift in the theoretical
standpoints in research about men and masculinities, acknowledging men’s subjectivity
and agency in these discourses. However, even though the theorisation of hybrid
masculinities is built on the notion of men’s agency and active resistance, it can be
interpreted to produce a new set of standards that men should strive for in society.
In Hyvönen’s study (2021a) about Finnish men’s work-related self-care, men identified
more with hybrid masculinities than conventional masculinities. In addition, they felt less
regulated than previous generations of men about their engagement with practices
previously associated with femininities and subordinate masculinities. Men had been
enabled to modify and react to gendered expectations as a result of their awareness of
masculinity as something men do and the understanding of multiple available
masculinities. As such, men’s self-care practices were mediated through plural localities,
such as the workplace, instead of certain masculinities. Hyvönen argues that the
discursive practices providing men with examples of the various ways of being a man
have diversified, and this pluralisation of masculinities downplays the significance of the
social category of men, allowing other elements of individual subjectivity to take place.
Hybrid masculinities challenge the theorisation of masculinities as something that
regulates men’s behaviours, as the concept emphasises men’s negotiation and agency as
a reaction to the various power relations affecting them (Hyvönen, 2020). These plural
conceptions of masculinities have been adopted by many scholars, with the objective to
recognise the diversity of subjectivity and widen the meanings of masculinity. However,
these “masculinity categories” have also been criticised by feminist scholars (see Francis,
2008; Waling, 2019a), arguing that these different kinds of categorisations of masculinity
indicate imaginary stability of these characterisations. Even though plural, they still
denote a fixed nature of masculinity, which is contradictory to the poststructural notion
of fluidity. Social scientist Waling (2019a) argues that with these typologies of
masculinity, we continue to position men as “victims of a broader vague entity” instead
of emphasising men’s agency in performing gender. In addition, both Waling and Francis
(2008) argue that the evolving categories of masculinity promote masculinity as the only
gender expression men can engage with, and ask why we refuse to name traditionally
feminine gender expression, when produced by men, as feminine, but instead include
them in new typologies of masculinity. Bridges and Pascoe (2014) discuss how several
scholars have examined hybrid masculinities, which has led to argumentation that instead
of challenging the gender hierarchy, hybrid masculinities represent a change in
expressions of power systems and inequality. As such, I understand hybrid masculinities
to be a multifaceted societal reaction to the prevailing gender equality discourses, values,
and shifting societal conditions of men.
On the one hand, echoing Hyvönen (2021a), the concept of hybrid masculinities can be
seen to both dismantle the social category of men and open up the meanings of “being a
man”. On the other hand, hybrid masculinities can be interpreted to uphold the gender
hierarchy and the dominance of masculinity as more valuable than femininity. Although
I am utilising these typologies of masculinity in my research, I find this critique highly
valuable and address it further in the discussion chapter.
In addition to men’s engagement with these more contemporary masculinities and
feminist critique of this typologisation, these various, shifting masculinity discourses
have caused a variety of reactions among men, discussed next.
2.3. Masculinity in crisis
As previously stated, the new typologies and meanings of masculinity can be interpreted
as multifaceted reactions to the changing societal conditions of men and the gender
equality discourses. Men have expressed how through engagement with hybrid
masculinities, they have succeeded to distance themselves from the restricting models of
masculinity and feel less regulated by societal models of being a man (Hyvönen, 2021a;
2021b). Simultaneously, as stated earlier, new forms of masculinities can be interpreted
as men adapting to the widening gender equality demands in society. Therefore, new
masculinities can be seen as adapting to these demands while concurrently maintaining
the hierarchical gender order and gendered power relations. The shifts in gender order
and masculinity discourses have provoked many kinds of reactions. In this chapter, I
examine some of the social movements these discursive shifts have kindled.
When engaging with previous research on men and masculinity, it is common to come
across the notion that masculinity is in crisis. Many scholars have stated there is an
ongoing “crisis of masculinity” due to the depreciation of the traditional hegemonic
masculinity ideals and the diversification of the ways of being a man (see Lehtonen, 1999;
cf. Nieminen, 2013). I am cautious towards the notion of crisis, as I see this rhetoric to
reiterate the notion of men as victims of masculinity instead of promoting their agency in
gender performance and gendered ideals. Moreover, as Blais and Dupuis-Déri (2012)
state, this “crisis of masculinity” discourse often surfaces at times of economic, social,
and political turmoil, and I argue that the historical and local context of this crisis
discourse should be more critically examined. However, as Morgan (2006) states, the
crisis rhetoric can be useful in illustrating the links between the broader societal changes,
such as the gender order, economy, and family, and the individualised effects these
structural changes have evoked. The uncertainty over social roles, identity, and
relationships may lead to feelings of unease of how to act as a man or, more broadly, what
it even means to be a man.
The shifts in the masculinity discourses, ideals, and gender hierarchy, leading to
uncertainty of men’s position, power, and identity, have provoked diverse responses and
reactions in men and men’s communities. Gender sociologist Messner (2016) states that
the shifting social conditions and expanding gender equality demands have brought up
various responses in men within the last century, ranging from outright hostility to
enthusiastic support. One of these reactions has been the rise of various men’s rights
movements in the past twenty years. These contemporary men’s rights movements are
frequently intertwined with an anti-feminist stance, often combined with the worry about
the emergence of multicultural activism as a mainstream political force, and as such,
concerned about the diminishing social status of cisgender
white men, or seen even to
threaten the very existence of men (Marwick & Caplan, 2018). However, it is essential to
acknowledge that not all “men’s movements” are motivated by antifeminism and that
antifeminism, like feminism, is a heterogeneous movement consisting of several
ideologies and concurrent on various fronts (Blais & Dupuis-Déri, 2012).
Messner (2016) states that the internet has played an important role in popularising men’s
rights activism and anti-feminist discourses. One example of the digital responses to the
changing social conditions is the online extreme men’s rights advocacy network, referred
to as the manosphere. The manosphere focuses on men’s victimisation - claiming men as
victims of various forms of social discrimination and cultural prejudice - usually with a
strong anti-feminist stance (Venäläinen, 2021). This “men’s victimisation” is also visible
rhetoric in what Blais and Dupuis-Déri (2012) refer to as “masculinism” (as in counterpart
for feminism), a trend within the broader men’s rights or antifeminist countermovement.
Blais and Dupuis-Déri argue that the masculinist discourse rests on the notion that men
are in crisis due to the feminisation of society, placing men as “victims of feminism”.
Women, feminists in particular, are alleged to dominate both the public and private
spheres and men, which has caused an “identity crisis” of men. This success of women is
believed to deprive men of what is assumed to be their rightful place and ability to secure
the things they consider their due. As such, masculinist discourse claims that the reason
for men’s problems is women and feminism, instead of “targeting the true causes of their
problems, such as the transformation of the labour market” (p. 21). Therefore, the solution
to men’s problems is claimed to be “revalorising masculinity” and suppressing the
influence of feminism in society.
Cisgender: being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified
as having at birth (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)
Although masculinist counter-movements often operate within societies where men are
predominant in positions of privilege and power, the men’s victimisation discourse is
often reasoned with statements that “equality already exists” or that “feminism has gone
too far”, causing a sense of reversed discrimination (Blais & Dupuis-Déri, 2012;
Venäläinen, 2021). This is in line with Messner’s (2016) argument that due to the public
values of fairness and equality for women, the anti-feminist rhetoric is often implicit in
order to appeal to, particularly, the embattled, middle-class, white men, as aggressively
anti-feminist stances are often seen as outmoded and misogynistic. What I found
particularly noteworthy within the masculinist movement and as a result of the notion of
men in crisis, as stated by Blais & Dupuis-Déri (2012), is the explicit declaration that
feminists should take care of men and solve men’s problems, usually presented as an act
for equality. Masculinists often claim to be opposed to feminist “extremists”, even though
Blais and Dupuis-Déri argue that, in reality, the content of their websites proves to be
critical of even moderate feminists. Moreover, Venäläinen (2021) argues that these
discourses of men as victims of feminism cultivates and justifies feelings such as
sympathy, anger, and resentment.
As I have explored in this first part of the theoretical framework, masculinities can be
seen as discursively constructed social concepts that create and uphold conditions of
possibility for men. Thus, this research focuses on the consequences, reactions, and
reiterations of the various masculinity and the mental health discourses and the presumed
connections between these two. In the next chapter, I examine the extensive wellbeing
and mental health discourses in Finland and the significance of gender in these discourses.
3 Youth wellbeing discourses and mental health in Finland
The objective of this research is to examine young men’s views on masculinity and how
masculinity ideals are considered to be connected to one’s mental health and wellbeing,
as well as to explore how young men react to public discourses about mental health.
Therefore, my objective has not been to study whether young men’s mental health has
deteriorated or improved but to examine what kind of reactions and consequences the
gendered conditions of possibility and mental health discourses create among young men
in Finland. Like McLeod and Wright (2016), instead of defining what mental health is, I
have been more interested in what the concepts of mental health and wellbeing do, how
are these concepts talked about, and with what kind of consequences. However, I first
want to point out that mental health and wellbeing have been difficult constructs to grasp
due to the ambiguity and ubiquitousness of the concepts, and thus, I found it challenging
to start writing this chapter.
In this second part of my theoretical framework, I examine mental health and wellbeing
from three different perspectives. First, I address mental health as a concept within the
broader wellbeing discourses and the therapeutic ethos. Second, I discuss gender and
mental health and explore the importance of addressing gender in mental health and
wellbeing discourses. Last, I examine mental health services in Finland and look into the
position of third sectors service providers in the field.
3.1. Mental health as part of wellbeing discourses
Like gender, mental health and wellbeing should be understood as a socially and
discursively constructed concepts. I understand the concept of mental health as a part of
the wider “wellbeing discourses” and use the overarching concept of wellbeing to refer
to discourses of health-related behaviour, which comprise mental health and other areas
of ones’ health. As McLeod & Wright (2016) argue, wellbeing is an overarching concept
in youth studies used to examine youth identities, pathways, and personal determinants
of wellbeing, especially concerning youth mental health. Therefore, I use both concepts,
wellbeing and mental health, as partly synonymous, within similar ethos, with similar
As Morrow and Mayall (2009, p. 221) state, wellbeing is a “conceptually muddy” yet
pervasive concept in youth studies. Wellbeing, often associated with physical and mental
health, has become a keyword in youth policy and a measure of “good life”, generally
reflecting an ideal state of being (McLeod & Wright, 2016). As McLeod and Wright
(2015) argue, wellbeing is now such a common and widespread keyword in social life,
that it can “mean both everything and nothing” (p. 1). Like wellbeing, mental health is
this kind of “empty signifier” - a multifaceted, equivocal concept with several cultural
meanings attached to it, tied to particular contexts, individual subjectivity, and different
objectives of the use of the term, acquiring many meanings in everyday discourses and
used to rationalise and justify many kinds of youth policies and support systems
(Aneshensel et al. 2013; McLeod & Wright, 2015).
Youth wellbeing is a common concern in public discourses and policy objectives, and
due to the ambiguity of the concept and measures of wellbeing, it can be used in various
ways for numerous purposes (McLeod & Wright, 2015, 2016). For example, in Finland,
young people’s social exclusion and unemployment are some of the main focuses of youth
policies (Mertanen et al., 2020). Brunila (2020, p. 304) states how the “political
pessimism about declining psychological and emotional wellbeing” of young people has
outlined the policy imperative of young people as psycho-emotionally vulnerable, which
has steered the ideas of youth training and young people’s subjectivity as diminished and
deviant. As a result, an increasing number of young people are drawn into the sphere of
psychological management and support systems, which often may not meet the own
interests or views of young people themselves (Brunila, 2020).
Examining the concepts of wellbeing and mental health has been fascinating. As such, it
is hard to argue to support and improve youth mental health. While these objectives at
first can be thought to enable a variety of actions and broader positions for individuals, a
closer examination reveals a more complex reality. As previous research shows, and is
evident in everyday life, “mental health” can be used to promote very diverse causes,
sellable products, and forms of governing. Moreover, with the objective of reaching an
ideal individual state of being, what happens to discourses of social justice issues and
structural inequalities. As my research has evolved, so has my understanding of how the
individual positions, actions, and experiences are unquestionably interconnected to the
surrounding social structures and norms. Therefore, I find the focus on individual
wellbeing worrying and worth of critical examination.
The agendas and reasoning behind the rise of wellbeing discourses are numerous. While
a fuller elaboration of the neoliberal imperatives behind the wellbeing discourses is
beyond my scope in this thesis, it is essential to note that “youth wellbeing” and “youth
mental health” are aligned with the neoliberal rationalisation for governing and
responsibilisation of young people, and a part of the broader social processes of
individualisation of society and therapeutic culture (e.g., Kelly, 2001; Madsen, 2014;
McLeod, 2012; Wright, 2008). With neoliberalism, the political reference point is the
autonomous, competitive, consumer human subject, and the economic self is the very
core of the society (Madsen, 2014). The self is also the centre of therapeutic culture, a
“particular psychotherapeutic ethos that shapes social practices” (Rimke & Brock, 2012,
p. 183), discussed next.
3.1.1. Therapeutic ethos
Sociologists Rimke and Brock (2012) argue that therapeutic ethos reflects the
pathological approach in Western cultures, in which personal problems are assumed to be
individual and caused by biological and/or psychological factors. They state that common
feelings and practices, which most of us experiences at a point in our lives, are classified
within a normal/abnormal dichotomy and might provoke a crisis in individual’s sense of
“normalcy” and thought they are suffering from an emotional or mental disorder, which
could be treated with professional help. Therefore, struggling with the self and
questioning ones’ personal traits, skills, or inner strengths has become a key theme of
modern life. The diversity of the “psy-complex” is what makes it so compelling – when
we are constantly critical towards ourselves and others, no one is ever really good enough.
Ahonen (2020) argues that the most concerning aspect of the therapeutic paradigm is that
it is unable to distinguish serious traumas from, for example, ordinary mental
Similarly, Brunila & Siivonen (2016) argue that therapeutic discourses and the language
of disorder, addiction, vulnerability, and dysfunction have discursively and institutionally
entered social and cultural life. Therapeutic vocabulary and practices have become an
integral part of society and societal phenomena, and Brunila et al. (2021a) argue that this
“therapeutic power” pervades all society. It combines practices, values, and vocabulary
from psychological expertise and therapy practices, used to govern people, and especially
guiding people to self-govern. In therapeutic ethos, individuals are perceived as subjects
making autonomous choices who are anticipated to transform themselves and their lives
through therapeutic discourses and practices. This way, therapeutic power both limits and
enables individuals’ possibilities to act, feel, and self-govern. Concurrently, different
kinds of indicators and discourses examining wellbeing can be utilised to explain and
justify the actions of countries, individuals, and different groups.
Examining support systems aimed at at-risk youth in Finland, Mäkelä and Brunila (2021)
argue that by both encouraging young people to be active, and placing the problems upon
their individual traits, young people are turned into subjects of therapeutic power.
Consequently, they are assumed to take responsibility for themselves as autonomic,
individual subjects, while simultaneously identifying themselves as psycho-emotionally
vulnerable, flawed individuals who need to actively improve themselves. Thus,
therapeutic power requires its targets, individuals or groups, to not feel adequately happy
or being well, strengthening the position of different support systems and forms of
therapy. Brunila et al. (2021a) state that the symbol of our time is an individual feeling
inadequate to fulfil the widely recognised ideals of self-responsibility and being active
Therapeutic power justifies itself with the aim of empowering, activating, and improving
the wellbeing of individuals, but concurrently ignores societal problems and structural
inequalities, and sees these as problems individuals can solve through their behaviour.
Focusing on individual traits and capabilities works to decontextualise and individualise
problems, and turns social problems and inequalities into psychological, rather than
structural, political, societal, and economic issues. (Brunila et al., 2019; Brunila et al.,
2021a; Klein & Mills, 2017.) Therefore, therapeutic power ignores issues of normative
power, such as gendered expectations, that limit and enable individuals’ possibilities to
act, but rather places focus on individual traits, risks, and capabilities, which can be
improved through therapeutic discourses and support systems.
In addition, Brunila argues that therapeutic ethos has permeated the education system in
Finland (see Brunila, 2012a, 2012b; Brunila et al., 2021b). Ahonen (2020), who has
studied mental health policy and human rights in Finland, states that one example of this
is the increasing number of courses for students in educational institutions focused on
matters such as emotion- and self-management or increasing communication skills,
utilising a wide range of psychological, therapeutic, and positive pedagogy methods. As
Taylor (2011) states, to some extent addressing wellbeing is to be welcomed, and the
promotion of wellbeing can be seen to focus on social values such as personal
relationships and participation, rather than economic values. However, Taylor (2011)
argues that the “preoccupation with individual wellbeing alone has the potential to detract
from the continued importance of collective welfare and the social provision of the
material conditions in which much individual wellbeing is lived and felt” (p. 779).
As Brunila et al. (2021a) argue, therapeutic power is simultaneously a regulating and
producing form of power. Therefore, it is essential to recognise that in addition to its
negative regulative power, it can also have productive potential. For example, Ikävalko
(2021) argues that while different forms of therapeutic power uphold an idea of an ideal
mind and ability, they can help challenge and redefine these ideals. Thus, therapeutic
power can provide a way to challenge prevailing gender norms and enable individuals to
free themselves from the shame of these gendered expectations (Brunila et al., 2021a).
The significance of gender in wellbeing discourses is discussed next.
3.2. Gender and mental health
Social scientist Will Courtenay (2000) asserts that social practices, like health-related
beliefs and behaviour, are a way for individuals to socially structure gender and
demonstrate femininities and masculinities. Conformity to masculine norms is defined as
meeting the social expectations for what society sees as masculine. Courtenay argues that
masculinity norms cause men to undermine their health, causing men to be more likely
to engage with high-risk behaviour, to exhibit self-reliance, and not show weakness or
vulnerability. However, Courtenay’s theorisation has been criticised by numerous
scholars for proposing singular masculinity and neglecting the variety of intersecting
identities affecting men’s health behaviours (see Hyvönen, 2021a).
Hyvönen (2020) points out how Finnish working men saw traditional ways of being a
man conflicting with their wellbeing in the context of work-related self-care. Hyvönen
argues that men’s relationship with health-related help-seeking is undergoing significant
change, as help-seeking has become intelligible, yet not always materially possible for
men. Valkonen and Lindfors (2012) state that men are less likely to seek
psychotherapeutic help for depression than women, which seems to be more related to
sociocultural factors and traditional masculinity ideals than the prevalence of depression.
Men who are strongly conforming to traditional masculinity ideals have been studied to
see help-seeking more stigmatising than others (Valkonen & Hänninen, 2013; Valkonen
& Lindfors, 2012). In addition, diagnostic tools may be insufficient in identifying men’s
sociocultural ways to express or conceal their distress (Valkonen & Hänninen, 2013).
Even though men’s attitudes towards help-seeking, and how men position themselves in
relation to hegemonic masculinity are vastly diverse and individual, the social identity of
being a man is largely built in relation to these socially constructed ideals. Therefore,
Valkonen and Hänninen (2013) argue that even though there is not a single kind of
association between masculinity and depression, the concept of masculinity can be useful
in understanding men’s depression and mental health. For me, this underlines the
significance of acknowledging gender and addressing the traditional masculinity ideals
and gendered expectations, such as self-reliance or shame, in wellbeing discourses and
mental health services.
Consequently, it is evident that the wellbeing discourses and therapeutic ethos contribute
to upholding and dismantling gender ideals. Finnish sociologist Kolehmainen (2021)
describes how “feeling rules” – what is appropriate for individuals to feel or not to feel in
certain situations to be socially accepted - create gender differences in subtle ways. For
example, the discourses about the different needs of men and women in relationships, and
by placing emotional responsibility and communication on women in (hetero)sexual
relationships, attributes associated with traditional masculinity, such as emotional
restraint, are reinforced. This way, therapeutic power contributes to upholding the
prevailing gender hierarchies, as emotion discourses and reflecting, diagnosing, and
managing one’s emotions is strongly interwoven in therapeutic power (Kolehmainen,
However, Hyvönen (2021b) argues that men use mental health vocabulary to dismantle
traditional roles of masculinity and free themselves from gendered expectations. In
Hyvönen’s (2021b) study about Finnish working men’s wellbeing, men negotiated with
masculinity norms and questioned the traditional norms of masculinity, presenting them
to harm men by exposing them to health issues and diminishing their experienced
wellbeing. As promoting one’s health has previously been associated with femininities,
engaging with one’s wellbeing and health discourses can be seen as challenging
traditional masculinity (Hyvönen, 2021a; Pietilä, 2008). Discourses and practices
intertwined in therapeutic ethos provide men with tools and concepts to examine one’s
and earlier generations’ behaviour and identify causes for behaviour they deem to be
caused by “negative masculinity”. Therefore, therapeutic ethos contributes to the way
men perform and uphold gender roles, critically examine gendered expectations, and
strive to free themselves from the former idealised masculinity. (Hyvönen, 2021b.) To
conclude, it is evident that the gendered consequences and reactions to therapeutic ethos
and wellbeing discourses vary and work to both enable and limit one’s actions.
3.3. Mental health services in Finland
Sociologist Elina Ikävalko (2021) states that recovery orientation has become a
significant trend in Anglo-American mental health services in the 21st century, and thus,
in Finland in recent years. Recovery orientation emphasised the individual's subjective
experiences in recovery in terms of a meaningful life and maintaining hope and resources
regardless of the mental health diagnoses. The recovery orientation is also connected to
critique towards professional-led interventions and expert power, emphasising collective
approaches and peer-to-peer support (Harper & Speed, 2014; Ikävalko, 2021). In their
dissertation about Finnish mental health politics, Ahonen (2020) argues that preventative,
self-help based mental health work is suitable for those who are well enough to take
responsibility for their recovery. Therefore, the ethos of wellbeing and focus of good life
has steered attention away from the position of the seriously ill, which has resulted in
them being forgotten in the seemingly inclusive outpatient care.
In the past 20 years, mental health services in Finland have expanded in both quantity and
quality. The need for treatment has increased, especially among young people, as well
with adults also receiving treatment for less severe diagnoses than before, such as
depression or anxiety. The qualitative shift is visible in mental health policy and work,
where preventative work and support for mental wellbeing have become significant
objectives. However, at the same time, funding has been consistently cut, and an
increasingly smaller share of public funding is directed at mental health services. The lack
of resources has contributed to the service system’s inability to meet the mental health
service need of the population. As a result, third sector service providers complement the
fragmented health care system and insufficient resources in mental health services.
(Ahonen, 2020, p. 21; Ikävalko, 2021.)
Many third sector service providers focus on preventative and rehabilitative mental health
services instead of treating actual illness. Echoing the preventative care objectives,
different kinds of chats and online peer-to-peer support have emerged to complement
poor access and resource shortage of the mental health services, as the amount of digital
mental health services seem to be constantly rising (Helén, 2011; Ikävalko, 2021).
Ikävalko (2021) states that in Finland resource-oriented and positive psychology
approach to mental health permeates especially the third sector mental health services,
and this recovery orientation is connected to many forms of therapeutic power, again
turning gaze to the individual, their struggles, and abilities, instead of the structural
problems in society or the service system. However, Ikävalko also argues that these
organisations have contributed to diversifying and democratising mental health work.
Social scientist Salo (2019), who has long studied mental health services in Finland,
argues that market-logic has spread to mental health care, and an economic rationalisation
is expected of mental health services. Ahonen (2020) states that policy programs have in
various ways emphasised the meaning of employability in mental health care, placing
more interest in the job market instead of the basic rights of those with severe mental
illness. The economic rationalisation is visible in the official objectives of the third sector
services, especially visible when applying for funding, which is usually to increase the
functioning ability of young people so that they could enter or re-enter the job market or
education (Ikävalko, 2021; Salo, 2019). However, in Ikävalko’s study (2021), many
actors and employees in the third sector mental health services questioned the
employability rationale and attempted to actively resist it.
One of these third sector mental health organisations is Nyyti ry, from which my research
data is. Nyyti ry is a Finnish non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting students’
mental health and their ability to study. On their website, Nyyti ry offers different kinds
of low-threshold services, such as various chats, online groups, webinars, and written
material, such as personal stories about student life and tips for mental wellbeing. (Nyyti,
4 Research task and research questions
Following the theorisation of Foucault and Laclau and Mouffe, the starting point of the
analysis was the understanding of masculinity and mental health discourses as constantly
reproduced in social practices, which constitute gendered conditions of possibility and
subject positions for individuals. Thus, the objective of this study was twofold. First, to
examine what kind of masculinity discourses young Finnish men produce and reiterate,
to analyse how these discourses are constructed, and how men position themselves to and
within these discourses. Then, by analysing these discourses, my interest was to explore
how the gendered expectations and ideals of masculinity were presented to be connected
to the presumed mental health of young men in Finland.
Second, I wanted to understand the types of reactions the public mental health discourses
elicit in young Finnish men. Utilising a discursive approach, I examined what kinds of
positions young men consider the mental health discourses in Finland to constitute for
them, what kind of reactive discourses they stimulate, and how young men align
themselves to and within these discourses.
To summarise, my objective has been to analyse the reactions and consequences of the
prevailing masculinity and mental health discourses in Finland. To that end, my research
1. What kind of discourses of masculinity and gendered expectations do young
Finnish men produce, and how are these discourses constructed?
2. How are the gendered expectations presented to be connected to the presumed
mental health and wellbeing of young men?
3. What kind of reactions do the public mental health discourses elicit in young
The research results are divided into two chapters. The first two research questions are
answered in chapter six, the third research question is answered in chapter seven. To
answer these questions, I applied a thematic discursive approach to data from a
questionnaire targeted at young men in Finland about their mental health and the general
atmosphere towards men’s help-seeking for mental health issues. The questionnaire was
conducted by a Finnish third sector mental health organisation, Nyyti ry, and the Family
Federation of Finland in November 2020. The research work is discussed in detail in the
5 Research work
In this chapter, I describe and justify the methodological choices of this study. First, I
discuss the research design, including a description of the used data. Then, I outline the
selected analysing method, thematic discursive approach, and illustrate the analysing
process in detail. I conclude this chapter by examining the ethical considerations of this
research and my position as a reflexive researcher.
5.1. Research design and data
This research is a qualitative study within a feminist, poststructural paradigm (Denzin &
Lincoln, 2018), viewing the social world as constructed through discourses and
discourses being fundamentally tied to power. I have been interested in examining the
gendered conditions of possibility for young men in Finland, and the reactions and
consequences of the mental health and wellbeing discourses. As Kurki et al. (2016) state,
qualitative research allows one to examine the individual perspective within a wider
societal framework and move between these two perspectives. The analysis was
conducted applying a thematic discursive approach to the open answers in a young men’s
mental health questionnaire by Nyyti ry and the Family Federation of Finland. The
analysing method will be discussed more thoroughly in the next subchapter.
Nyyti ry is a Finnish non-profit organisation supporting students’ mental health and
ability to study (Nyyti ry, n.d.). In November 2020, in cooperation with the Family
Federation of Finland, they conducted a questionnaire called “Young men – How are
. The questionnaire was targeted at young men about their experiences and views
about their own mental health and the general atmosphere towards young men’s mental
health. The data was gathered anonymously.
The questionnaire reached 975 individuals, of whom 895 identified as men, 65 as women,
and 15 chose either “other” or did not want to specify their gender. Over 83 per cent of
the participants were aged between 15 and 29. As the intention was to examine how young
people, who fall under the social category of men, view the relations between mental
Originally in Finnish “Nuoret miehet – Mitä kuuluu?”.
health and masculinity in Finnish society, the answers by women were left out in the
analysis. The answers by non-binary participants and those who did not specify their
gender were included in the data, as I consider it important to include the voices of those
who felt that this questionnaire was targeted at them, and might face the gendered
expectations of masculinity, but do not identify as men.
The questionnaire consisted of four Likert-scale matrixes, four multiple-choice questions,
which all had an open “something else, what?” option, and three open questions. The
research data consists of the answers to these seven open questions, transcribed below.
All questions were related to mental health and help-seeking. The original answers were
most in Finnish, some in Swedish and English.
The multiple-choice questions with an open answer option were (for original questions in
Finnish, see Appendix A):
- What issues do you consider the most significant obstacles for receiving and
applying for support for young men?
- What factors do you think affect the possible deterioration of mental health among
- What do you think are the most effective methods/services for promoting young
men's mental health?
- What do you think about the public discourse on young men's mental health?
In addition to these questions, the data included the answers to three open questions:
- What else do you consider important for the services provided [in addition to a
question matrix above]?
- How important is the anonymity of the service/activity? Why?
- What else would you like to say about men’s mental health?
5.2. Thematic discursive approach
The first step of the analysis was carefully reading and rereading the data. Familiarisation
with the data made it apparent that the answers revolved around specific discursive
themes, with numerous similarities in the answers. As my aim was to interpret the
discursive repertoires found in the data, I chose the thematic discursive approach as the
analysing method. My analysis process consisted of two concurrent phases: thematising
the data and analysing the constructed themes with a discursive approach. For me, this
meant analysing both the data and the questionnaire itself with a discursive lens. The
analysing process was a dialogue between theory and data, which enhanced the analysing
process and enriched the theoretical framework, as the themes discovered in the data
raised a need to broaden the included literature. (Jokinen et al., 2016; Phillips & Hardy,
My first objective was to comprehensively illustrate the data by using thematic analysis.
Braun and Clarke (2012) describe thematic analysis as a flexible method to systematically
organise and analyse a set of data by identifying repeated themes and patterns across data.
It provides a way to make sense of the commonalities and differences within a dataset
and interpret what is meaningful in relation to the research question. According to Braun
and Clarke, a thematic analysis consists of six stages: familiarisation; coding; generating
initial themes; reviewing and developing themes; refining, defining, and naming themes;
and writing up. For me, thematising was mainly a means to handle the extensive data and
make it more manageable and organised for further analysis.
Guided by the research question, I started familiarising myself with the data. My initial
aim was to comprehensively code the whole data and identify recurring themes within it.
First, I removed all the redundant answers (for example, “Don’t care”) and was left with
approximately 400 answers. After carefully reading and rereading the answers and
reflecting on previous research, I started to generate initial codes of the data, where one
code consisted of a single thought or idea. After initial coding, I continued by renaming
the codes to more accurate ones, merging conceptually similar codes, and assessing the
relevance of infrequent codes (Saldaña, 2013). The trustworthiness of the research was
improved with inclusive, systematic coding of the data, iterating this analysing process
several times, and modifying the codes to best reflect the answers in the data (Bryman,
2015). This descriptive coding (Saldaña, 2013) produced a categorised inventory of the
answers, summarising the data, and was essential for further analysis and interpretation.
The reiterated coding process led to codes such as anonymity, attack on men, bad
healthcare experiences, call for diversity, lack of discourse about men’s problems,
emotionally cold fathers, expressing feelings, the Finnish stereotype, lack of resources,
limited wellbeing, masculine stereotypes, media discussions, no one cares, privilege, self-
reliance, shame, social media, stigma, toxic feminism, and trouble to reach services. All
data passages were extracted from the main body of data and reassembled in separate
files, categorised to initial themes, clustering together similar codes.
After initial thematisation, guided by the research questions and previous research, I
examined the commonalities, differences, and relationships throughout the coded data
with a discursive lens. I have been inspired by discursive reading (Brunila, 2016; Brunila
& Ikävalko, 2012; Lanas et al., 2020), which is not a clearly defined method, but a way
to construct meanings of the data. Discursive reading entails the understanding that
discourses and discursive practices produce reality with certain effects, instead of being
just a neutral description of something. Discursive approach allows to analyse the ideas
and practices that produce social reality, limit, and enable what can be done, thought, and
said. Gender, masculinity, and mental health can be understood as discursive categories
that produce conditions of possibility to talk about and align oneself to these phenomena.
(Lanas et al., 2020.)
Concurrently with the thematising, I read the answers with a discursive approach to
define, interpret, and construct the themes. My aim was to trace similarities and
differences in how men’s mental health, masculinity, and views on public mental health
discourses were constructed in the answers. This guided me to redefine and condense the
categories and discard an irrelevant category, which consisted of answers describing
difficulties to reach mental health services. Finally, I classified the data under six
categories, relatively similar in size, each illustrating consistent discursive repertoires and
subject positions described in the answers.
The second objective of the analysis was to use a discursive approach to discover
meanings in the constructed themes. This was done by analysing the discourses displayed
in the data and examining how these discourses were constructed. For research within the
poststructural paradigm, analysing discourses provides a viable method to explore the
data, as the socially constructive nature of reality assumes our experiences and meanings
constituted in and through discourses data (Jokinen et al., 2016). Therefore, as Taylor and
Ussher (2001) emphasise, analysing discourse observes meanings as shifting and multiple
and aims to unravel the practices of how individuals construct their understanding of a
phenomenon through discourse. My objective was to analyse the diverse, recurring
discursive repertoires used to describe and construct meanings and understanding of men,
masculinities, and mental health. Additionally, I wanted to analyse what kinds of subject
positions these discourses are presented to create and how young men align themselves
to and within these discourses. This approach encompasses understanding the meanings
of discursive categories both as patterned and fluid, and the role of individuals in
meaning-making simultaneously agentic and guided by prevailing discourses
Moreover, the discursive approach allows to critically examine the subject position the
questionnaire creates for young men, where they are assumed to need mental health
services or at least experience a decrease in their mental health. This questionnaire
premise can be interpreted to justify the position of organisations like Nyyti ry as a
support system (see Brunila et al., 2021a; Mäkelä & Brunila, 2021). The underpinnings
of the questionnaire will be discussed further in the next subsection.
With valuable reflexive help and feedback from fellow scholars, I combined the six
discursive categories I had constructed into two overarching themes. Each initial category
is presented in the research results as a subsection. The first theme comprises of repeated
repertoires about men, masculinities, and mental health. Then, I utilised the discursive
approach to analyse these repertoires, how are they constructed, and the subject positions
young men adopt within these discourses. Interpreting these masculinity discourses data
with a discursive lens, I examined what kind of connections were constructed between
masculinity and mental health. This theme is discussed in chapter six and answers the
first two research questions.
The second theme focuses on public mental health discourses. This theme consists of
reactive discourses addressing different lines of public mental health discourses and the
positions young men are offered in these discourses. I analysed these themes discursively
with the objective to illustrate how men react and position themselves to and within these
discourses. This theme is discussed in chapter seven and answers the third research
I want to acknowledge that the analysing process is active work. The selected codes and
discursive themes do not emerge from the data but are constructed and selected by the
researcher (Braun & Clarke, 2012), requiring reflection on the meanings and outcomes
of the data (Saldaña, 2013). Discursive themes are actively sought out, and therefore the
extraction, ordering, interpretation, and presentation of the data are contingent on the
subject position of the researcher (Taylor & Ussher, 2001). Therefore, I find it essential
to reflect on my positionality and the ethical considerations of this research, discussed
5.3. Ethical considerations and positionality
Sociologist Ryen (2004) lists three main ethical issues often raised in Western research
practices. The first one, consent, refers to participants' right to know they are being
researched and the nature of the research. As the answers in my data were anonymous, I
could not contact the participant to inform them about my research objectives. However,
the participants were informed in the questionnaire that the answers could be utilised by
Nyyti ry and the Family Federation of Finland and other research and development
projects. The second one, confidentiality, was also secured in my research, as all answers
were gathered anonymously so no participant could be identified from the data. The third
one, trust, refers to the researcher's relationship to the participants and data. As I did not
have personal contact with the participants, the issue of trust meant that my objective was
to stay loyal to the data in my reporting. However, as Ryen (2004) states, this alone is not
sufficient from the perspective of research quality or ethics. Equally important to
assessing the accuracy of reporting is assessing what is excluded. In my research, sporadic
answers were left out of the analysis for the sake of analytical clarify and time constraints.
However, the research results represent the most common repertoires constructed of the
data. The constructed discourses are not thoroughly unified but circle around a common
theme, which allowed me to include even the contradictory answers within one theme,
widening the constructed discourses and data included.
However, as feminist scholar Davies (2018) points out, research ethics are often reduced
to this kind of technical "box-ticking exercise", where ethical issues are listed and then
marked as complete. Instead, Davies advocates the researcher to ask how we are involved
in, in particular, the unethical research practices and what kinds of practices of knowing
and being are we producing and mobilising with our actions. As Ikävalko (2016, p. 83)
argues, when knowledge is understood as discursive, the possibility for neutral or
"innocent" knowledge is lost. Although Davies (2018) emphasises how words can never
truly capture what the researcher observes or how stating or being aware of one's position
does not delete the forces that influence our research, she emphasises the meaning of
Sociologists Koivunen & Ylöstalo (2017) describe reflexivity as being sensitised, 'turning
the analytical gaze to yourself', and reflecting on how your position and beliefs affect the
research, data, interpretation, and reporting. Thus, feminist poststructural research has
abandoned the idea of a neutral researcher and instead recognise the tentative and partial
nature of knowledge (Gaybor, 2022). As in any discourse, power and knowledge are
inseparably intertwined in research (Ikävalko, 2016), and Kurki et al. (2016) state that
research and knowledge are always political. Therefore, all knowledge should be assessed
critically, as there is no neutral or "pure" knowledge.
For me, this meant critically assessing my assumptions throughout the research. It does
not mean that I could think myself out of them, but reflecting has made me aware of my
position as a researcher. As a woman, what does it mean to examine men and
masculinities? Although I have not experienced the gendered expectations of masculinity
ideals, as researchers, we can study phenomena we have not personally experienced.
Although personal experience would bring a different kind of perspective into the
research, it cannot be the starting point or requirement for research. By understanding the
mechanics of power and knowledge, we can examine the gendered conditions of
possibility created by various societal norms.
Reflexivity has also made me consider the limitations of my research. My objective has
been to formulate a comprehensive analysis of the contemporary lines of masculinity and
mental health discourses in Finland, while simultaneously understanding my research as
an imperfect construction of these discourses. As social constructions, discourses are
always fluid and shifting, and therefore it would be impossible for any research to
represent all possible ways to talk about masculinity or mental health. Therefore, this
research should be understood as a reflection of some of the prevalent discourses in
In addition, an important realisation has been the understanding that, as a researcher, I am
not a neutral observer but a part of the gender and mental health discourses, both adopting
and producing these discourses with this research. Getting acquainted with the previous
critical theorisation of masculinities has made me question the theoretical standpoints of
my research and, at times, made me question the whole research process. In the discussion
section, I address the conceptual challenges and questions I have had during this research.
In addition to analysing and reflecting on my position and assumptions, I find it essential
to examine the underpinnings of the questionnaire through a discursive lens. Denzin
(2013) states that language does mirror experience but creates it. As such, research and
its data can be interpreted to create reality, while data gathering also transforms what is
being described. Denzin notes how data or evidence are never morally or ethically neutral
(p. 354) and describes how the politics of data define who can decide what methods
produce the best forms of data or whose standards are used to assess the quality of data.
Therefore, the ethics of data are inseparable from the politics of data. For this reason, it
is crucial to critically assess the data gathering method, as the premise of the questionnaire
can be interpreted to guide the answers provided.
First, I find it essential to disclose that the questionnaire did not define "mental health".
By doing so, the questionnaire leaves room for multiple interpretations of what is asked.
As stated earlier, mental health is a multifaceted, ambiguous concept that acquires many
meanings in everyday discourse (Aneshensel et al., 2013; McLeod & Wright, 2015;
Morrow & Mayal, 2009). Therefore, the respondents' interpretations and understandings
of the term and the questions could have impacted their answers. It also strengthens the
belief that we all share a common conception of the meaning of mental health or
experience the surrounding world in a similar way.
Second, the questionnaire itself is a discursive practice, which moderates the plausible
subject positions available for the respondents. The questionnaire can be seen as part of
the therapeutic ethos (e.g., Brunila & Siivonen, 2016; Rimke & Brock, 2012) and with
the question setting to consider young men in need of mental health support. The
questionnaire creates a certain kind of discursive reality, in which men have to participate
and attach themselves to the therapeutic and gender discourses to become part of said
reality (Mäkelä & Brunila, 2021). This strengthens the position and various agendas of
mental health organisations, such as Nyyti ry, and the broader mental health discourses
in society (Brunila et al., 2021a). Moreover, it demonstrates how producing research
knowledge is not a neutral act but creates reality while trying to capture it. This
understanding has enriched my analysis and made me assess the bias the questionnaire
has possibly created.
6 Masculinity discourses in the lives of young Finnish men
This chapter answers the first two research questions. To answer the first research
question about the masculinity discourses young men produce, I discursively analysed
the data for repeated repertoires about men and masculinity. To answer the second
research question, I examined how the constructed masculinity discourses are described
to be connected to the presumed mental health of young men. In addition, I analysed how
are the masculinity discourses constructed and how young Finnish men position
themselves to and within these discourses. As the two first research questions and the
corresponding discourses were largely overlapping and strongly interlinked, I discuss
them concurrently in this chapter.
This chapter is divided into three subchapters, which were formulated by analysing the
similarities and differences in the constructed discursive themes. First, I address the
repertoire about the masculinity ideals limiting young men’s possibilities to act. Second,
I focus on discourses of men negotiating with the concept of weakness. Third, I examine
discourses criticising the insufficient representations of masculinity. I conclude this
chapter by considering how these three themes are interconnected, and examining some
of the suggestions for addressing gender norms and advancing more inclusive masculinity
discourses in the future.
The selected extracts are individual answers but have been selected because they reflect
something essential from the presented discourses as a whole. The original answers were
most in Finnish, some in Swedish or English. All translations of the extracts into English
were done by me, with reflective help from fellow students and scholars.
6.1. Restrictive masculinity ideals
A repeated discursive repertoire in the data illustrated how the multifaceted expectations
from society create gendered conditions of possibility, limiting young men’s possibilities
to act and express themselves. Some respondents clearly stated how these expectations
come from women, other men, or upbringing. However, most commonly, these
expectations were attributed to “society” or built on the notion that they simply exist
among men, as exemplified in the following extracts:
“Society’s expectations of men as strong individuals. The idea that you have to
make it on your own, always.”
“Society pressures men to not talk about mental health problems and endure them
like a man. There is still a disappointingly broad idea among men that “men don’t
cry or that men don’t feel”.”
These norms were repeatedly illustrated as omnipresent and almost self-evident or
untouchable. The abstract notion of society indicates well the subtle and intricate nature
of gender norms and how they govern our behaviour (Davies & Gannon, 2011; Denzin
& Lincoln, 2018).
It was typical in the data to see references to the characteristics associated with hegemonic
masculinity, such as self-resilience, not showing emotion or weakness, and being strong
(Collier, 1998; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Jokinen, 2000). These characteristics
were mainly illustrated as harmful and to create narrow positions for men to act from.
Some associated the stereotype of Finnish men being self-resilient and emotionally
withdrawing (see Pietilä 2008, 2013) to be harmful and upholding restricting gender roles
(“The Finnish culture of self-resilience combined with the very narrow male model. There
is still the impression that those struggling with their mental health are weak (which a
man should not be), that seeking help is weak and that a man should be strong.”).
On the one hand, men were positioned in these discourses as victims of masculinity by
neglecting men’s agency in upholding performative gender roles (see Waling, 2019a).
This discourse was constructed by reiterating how the traditional ideals of masculinity
create narrow positions for young men to act, express emotions, or admit to needing help
from others. (“Men are still pushed into a too narrow mould, whereupon stereotypes feed
themselves.”) However, on the one hand, men were positioned to actively criticise the
traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals and to act outside of them:
“Men are also openly challenge and question society's expectations and the
norms of public discourse about manhood and mental health, and they are
liberated from them and are not just trying to implement some “yellow press
vision” from their fathers and grandfathers’ times of real manhood and hanging
Aligning with previous research (Bridges & Pascoe, 2014; Hyvönen, 2021a), this
repertoire can be interpreted to indicate a change in the social conditions of manhood and
masculinity ideals. However, although there was a strong tendency in the data to criticise
and question the restrictive gendered expectations, there were only a few indications of
men aligning themselves with hybrid masculinities, acting outside of traditional norms,
or adopting elements associated with femininities. This raises an interesting topic for
further research to examine how this critique transforms into men’s lived experiences and
actions. The critique was constructed by addressing the feeling of being restricted by the
limited possibilities to act, feel, and express oneself and referencing to masculinity as
“toxic”. This is in line with Waling (2019b), who states that in the past decade, the
masculinity discourses have increasingly included the concept of “toxic masculinity”.
Toxic masculinity is often seen to be the cause for men’s aggressive behaviour, the
suppression of men’s emotions which leads to mental health issues, men’s physical health
problems, and men’s engagement with various men’s rights activist movements. Echoing
Waling, the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’ often implies men being victims of broader,
ambiguous entity, dismissing men’s agency in the reproduction of masculinities, which
can also be interpreted from the data.
The rhetoric of the restrictive, traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals was reiterated in
answers addressing the positions available for LGBTIQ+ men. In line with theorisation
of hegemonic masculinity (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Jokinen, 2000), this
discourse was built on the notion of heterosexuality as the norm in society. This
heteronormativity was indicated to construct even narrower positions for LGBTIQ+ men,
who may find it especially difficult to adapt to these traditional ideals of masculinity, as
illustrated in the following extracts:
“Heterocentrism; somehow the identities of a lgbt+ man have decreased access
to humane services. Emphasis on a stereotypical “Man’s life story”, which
doesn’t take into account all kinds of men. At worst, a complete blindness to
culture, different life situations, etc; the advice from a female middle-aged school
nurse didn’t usually really meet the needs of a closeted teenage boy.”
“Heteronormative culture may highlight the need for a man to be strong and
capable and not to show emotions. In gay circles, it might be easier to talk about
feelings and also show weaknesses. On the other hand, gay men probably have
more mental health problems due to heteronormativity and experiences of being
This highlights the importance of an intersectional
approach to mental health and
masculinity, acknowledging that “men” are a vastly diverse category and men's various
positions and identities affect how they experience and align themselves with the
expectations of society.
Similarly to Hyvönen’s research (2020), there was a strong tendency in the data to
illustrate the limited conditions of possibility the traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals
create, which were deemed to be connected men’s mental health by reducing their
possibilities to sustain their mental wellbeing, express oneself, or ask for help. In addition
to the previously mentioned components, this discourse was constructed by questioning
the usefulness of addressing men’s mental health without addressing gender norms, and
accentuating the presumed interlinked nature of mental health and masculinity, vividly
evident in the following extracts:
“Dismantling toxic masculinity and social roles plays an essential role in
improving men's mental health”
“Societal “norms” of what a man should be like also bring along anxiety.”
Intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) acknowledges that identity is not one-dimensional, but perceives
individuals having multiple, interconnected social identities that overlap in complex ways and coexist in
relation to power structures in society. One’s experiences with privilege and oppression vary due to the
multiple combinations of these identities. While Crenshaw’s original works examine the intersections of
race and gender, the term intersectionality has been later expanded to include several aspects of identity,
such as gender, ethnicity, race, disability, sexuality, religion, and social class.
“The biggest problem is society and its attitudes towards gender. Mental health
is an important and serious issue, but managing it in this environment is, in my
opinion, like discussing a stearin-burnt finger in the living room while the house
around you is on fire.”
These discourses display a critical position towards traditional hegemonic masculinity
ideals, which can be interpreted to remain strong in Finnish society. Like Valkonen and
Hänninen (2013), young Finnish men underline how examining masculinity ideals could
be significant in understanding young men’s mental health. However, it remains unclear
how this critical position is displayed in the actions of young men.
6.2. Negotiations with weakness
Another prevailing discourse in the data revolved around weakness. Weakness has
conventionally been associated with femininity and showing weakness clashes with the
traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals (e.g., Collier, 1998). The weakness discourse in
the data can be interpreted as men’s negotiation with masculinities and to display
uncertainty of the socially acceptable roles for men in society.
There was a strong tendency in the data to associate displaying emotions or mental health
issues with weakness. However, the positions men adopted within the weakness discourse
were divisive. On the one hand, young men indicate how they wish showing weakness
would be socially acceptable for men (“Being weak is too big of a taboo [among men].”).
On the other hand, young men describe how they wish men could talk about mental health
or emotions without being portrayed as weak. This was built on notions of how some
young men wish they could display traditional masculinities even when expressing their
emotions, while others promote discarding of these traditional masculinity ideals. As
such, the data illustrates young men’s conflicting interpretations of the meaning of
weakness within masculinity discourses and reluctance to associate their actions with
weakness. This illustrates the ambivalent and fluid nature of masculinity ideals or the
conception of “traditional masculinity” (see Hyvönen, 2020), and was well demonstrated
in the following extracts:
“Starting from childhood, men should be taught that showing emotions is a good
thing instead of weakness.”
”I think many young men can’t process emotions, as it’s seen as a weakness.”
“Asking for help isn’t weakness, it’s a strength. Admitting that you can’t make it
on your own and you need help isn’t shameful, we are not meant to walk alone.”
I interpret this to echo similar elements to the crisis rhetoric (see Morgan, 2006). The
weakness discourse displays uncertainty of what it means to be a man or to be “manly”,
and what kind of behaviour is socially acceptable for young men in Finland.
Simultaneously, young Finnish men align themselves with and outside of the traditional
hegemonic masculinity ideals. The weakness discourse was constructed with references
of wanting to show emotions or weakness, while concurrently wishing to hold on to the
traditional masculinity ideals. This illustrates the changing social conditions of
masculinity, and the conflicting positions and expectations young men encounter in
society. The weakness discourse can be interpreted as a conflicting reaction to the ideals
of hybrid masculinities. Echoing previous research (Bridges & Pascoe, 2014; Hyvönen,
2021a), young Finnish men avoid and doubt conventional masculinities. As such, the data
included frequent expressions of positive alignment toward hybrid masculinities.
However, concurrently young men are reluctant towards the notion of incorporating
displaying weakness in what is seen as masculine behaviour.
The weakness discourse contained frequent notions of shame and stigma when talking
about mental health or mental health services. It is important to acknowledge that shame
or stigma are not necessarily related to masculinity or gender, but the overall atmosphere
towards mental health issues in society (e.g., Link & Phelan, 2013). However, there was
a strong tendency to highlight how men, in particular, are in a difficult position when
seeking help or expressing having troubles with their mental health. As such, gendered
expectations of masculinity were again illustrated to limit the actions of young men. As
in the article by Valkonen and Lindfors (2012), the data indicates a connection between
conforming with traditional masculinity ideals and the likelihood of seeking help for
mental health problems. The gendered expectations were illustrated to narrow young
men’s possibilities to seek help, viewing help-seeking as intelligible, yet not necessarily
possible for young men due to gendered expectations and masculinity norms (see
Hyvönen, 2020). This was built on the notion of the fear of stigmatisation, not appearing
“manly”, or not wanting others to know about their problems, as illustrated in the
“Talking about mental health problems is still stigmatised, and we live in a world
where a man seeking help is undoubtedly weak and perhaps even a little less of a
“[Anonymity is] Very important as long as it’s not socially acceptable to show
that you are in a weaker position as a man.”
The weakness discourse is strongly interlinked with the restrictive masculinity discourse,
as both revolved strongly around notions of the traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals.
However, the way these two discourses differentiate from each other is the positions men
take within this discourse. As the restrictive masculinity discourse displays a negative
stance from young Finnish men towards the traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals,
which are seen as harmful and restrictive, the weakness discourse displays a more
complex reaction to these ideals. Within this discourse, men wish to broaden the available
positions yet simultaneously wish to uphold the traditional masculinity ideals, illustrating
an ongoing crisis about the gendered expectations and alignments towards them.
6.3. Insufficient representations of men and masculinity
Another discourse in the data revolved particularly around media representations, which
were illustrated to uphold and create gendered expectations for young men. This
discourse was constructed with references to the lack of diverse representations of men
and men’s mental health in the media. Moreover, it was built on the notion that
representations of masculinity create pressure to look and act a certain way. As Laclau
and Mouffe (1985/2014) and Connell & Messerschmidt (2005) argue, society iterates and
produces an idea of an “ideal man” in several intricate ways, for example, in cultural
products and representations. A significant element to generate pressure about appearance
and social status was stated to be media, especially social media:
“Everywhere you get these models of what you should be like. Successful,
handsome, career-centred, and so on. In my opinion, social media is one of the
key factors for why men are lost with themselves.”
Men aligned themselves as reproving of these one-sided representations. This was
illustrated with men calling for media representations of “ordinary men”, wishing for
more relatable representations and open discussion about the diverse ways of being a
man. The current representations can be seen to produce a certain kind of reality,
providing gendered conditions of possibility, and creating patterns about gender
expression (Alhanen, 2007; Butler, 1990/2006), which were seen to limit the way men
act and express themselves. This discourse comprised of critical notions of whether these
representations truly reflected reality and emphasised how the prevailing representations
produce a reality with gendered outcomes (Butler, 1997; Rossi, 2015). There was a strong
tendency to demand for public discourse about how the ideals of masculinity and
gendered expectations influence the way men express their emotions, describing
representations of characteristics similar to hegemonic masculinity (Connell &
Messerschmidt, 2005). This was well exemplified in this extract about “survival stories”
– media articles of men who have overcome mental health issues and are now willing to
talk about them – to be counterproductive and enhance the hegemonic masculinity ideals
of men as strong and self-reliant, as these stories often emphasise how these men have,
for example, survived depression and are “no longer weak”:
“The topic [men’s mental health] comes up when someone's already survived
something. Men come public afterwards with stories “I beat depression”, but no
one talks about it when they’re suffering from it. It's also used in a way to boost
your own manhood, cause they’re afraid to be weak and talk when things are going
badly, but bring it into your success story and tell how I'm doing well right now.”
These representations were seen to create a reality where men are positioned with limited
possibilities to act. This was construed with repeated repertoires of how narrow
representations prevent young men from verbalising mental health issues, needing
support, or having trouble coping with the expectations of being strong and independent.
Thus, the one-sided representation was illustrated to be connected to men’s presumed
mental health. This can be interpreted to create a vicious cycle, where the gendered
expectations inhibit men from expressing the need for help or disagreeing with the
traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals, reproducing representations of men as self-
sufficient and strong. This makes it evident that representations both shape reality and
influence the way we understand it, creating gendered conditions of possibility in society
(Karkulehto et al., 2012; Rossi, 2015).
Diverse representations dismantling the traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals was
seen as a way to normalise asking for help. This was built on the critique towards the one-
sided representations, and with expressing positive feelings about the times they had
encountered representations they felt they could identify with, speaking openly about
men’s mental health, or normalising showing weakness:
“For example, Yle Kioski’s actions have been great. Movies, such as “Men’s turn”
(Miesten vuoro), that deal with what it’s really like to be a man and it’s okay to be
The lack of diverse representations of masculinity and men’s mental health was seen as a
key factor in creating and upholding harmful gender norms. The prevailing
representations were deemed hard to identify with and to limit men’s possibilities to ask
for help for their plausible mental health problems. Moreover, these representations were
described to narrow the understanding of the diverse experiences of being a man. Young
Finnish men question the gendered positions the existing representations create, and
indicate a need for more diverse, relatable representations of masculinity. This can be
seen as young men’s way to negotiate with and resist traditional hegemonic masculinity
ideals, wishing to see representations associated more with hybrid masculinities (Bridges
& Pascoe, 2014; Hyvönen, 2020).
The three discourses constructed in this theme highlight how young Finnish men view
the traditional hegemonic ideals of masculinity to be prevalent in Finnish society, upheld
with narrow representations of masculinity. These ideals are portrayed as restricting,
limiting the actions of young men, and creating gendered conditions of opportunity to
show weakness, ask for help, and talk about mental health. The three discourses display
similar rhetoric to the theorisation of masculinity in crisis (Morgan, 2006), as young
Finnish men concurrently wish to uphold and dismantle the traditional ideals of
masculinity. This can be interpreted to represent a conflict between the positions deemed
socially acceptable for men and the ways men wish they could express themselves.
However, young men position themselves to and within these discourses in various ways.
Echoing Davies and Gannon (2011), the respondents can be seen to both actively take on
and question prevailing gender norms. In line with previous research, it can be argued
that young Finnish men do not completely regard masculinity as an entity that regulates
their behaviour but regard the ideals of masculinity as something that can be negotiated
with and reacted to (Hyvönen, 2021a). However, as suggested by previous research (see
Courtenay, 2000), there was a strong tendency in the data to position men as limited and
governed by masculinity ideals. By using the singular form “man” in their answers, most
respondents constitute this as the position of everyone who belongs to this category.
Furthermore, although the discourses were mostly explicitly critical toward the traditional
hegemonic ideals of masculinity, it remains unclear whether men see it possible to choose
to act outside of these norms or how this criticality transforms into their everyday actions.
It is also important to acknowledge that by positioning themselves as limited by gender
norms, men simultaneously reinforce the gendered positions for themselves to act from.
All three discourses are strongly interlinked and mutually reinforce the discourses and
subject position available for young men. The lack of representation works to uphold and
create the prevailing gender norms and concepts of masculinity, which the respondents
felt are creating gendered conditions of possibility, limiting young men’s possibilities to
express emotions and talk about their potential problems. This, in turn, can make men
withdraw from conversations about mental health or behaviour associated with weakness,
or publicly address the issues of masculinity, reinforcing the lack of representation.
These three discourses clearly display young Finnish men’s dissatisfaction towards the
gendered expectations in society and the insufficient representations of masculinity. The
discourses contain a clear need to discard the traditional ideals of masculinity, which are
deemed harmful and reduce young men’s wellbeing and possibilities to act. As stated
earlier, more inclusive and diverse representations of masculinity were illustrated as a
significant way to widen the conditions of possibility, masculinity discourses, and ideals.
Additionally, although men do not clearly state what forms of active resistance are
available for them, the data did include some suggestions on how to widen the masculinity
One line of suggestions within these discourses revolved around gender equality. This
was built on notions of the need to include men’s mental health problems as part of the
gender equality discourse, and a few remarks placing the responsibility for talking about
the issue explicitly outside of men:
“That’s why it’s important that women bring these issues up more extensively,
even if men would disagree. I believe that many men subconsciously try to fit into
conservative masculinity and don’t understand that that is why they are doing
poorly, as we have been taught from a young age “how to be a man like this and
This is similar to the research of Blais and Dupuis-Déri (2012), stating how the
masculinist movement portrays it as feminists’ responsibility to solve men’s issues.
However, unlike Blais and Dupuis-Déri, this argumentation was not built on an anti-
feminist rhetoric. Instead, this repertoire positioned men to have such limited possibilities
to act and resist the conventional gendered expectations that other groups should take on
the tasks to dismantle and challenge these masculinity norms in society.
Another suggestion revolved around education. This was constructed by emphasising the
role of education to teach skills that can be interpreted as supportive of men’s mental
health and emotional wellbeing. (”Skills of the mind should be [included] already in
kindergarten. Luckily, that has happened, but still, there’s a long way to go.”). As Taylor
(2011) argues, these therapeutic and positive psychology methods can, to a certain extent,
be beneficial in promoting student wellbeing. However, it can be interpreted to echo the
therapeutic ethos and turn education’s focus ever more onto the individual students’ traits
and capabilities (Ahonen, 2020). As illustrated earlier, there was a tendency in the data
to question whether it is constructive to address men’s mental health without addressing
gendered expectations, which was also displayed in this education rhetoric. (“Schools
should add teaching about how it’s okay for men to talk about their feelings to each
other.”) This emphasised the importance of addressing structural issues and norms in
order to advance the wellbeing of individuals.
As asserted earlier in the ethical considerations, it is important to acknowledge how the
premise of the questionnaire might have guided the given answers. Analysing the
questionnaire itself with a discursive approach, it became apparent how the positions
constructed for young men in the questionnaire were limited. As young men were
positioned as in need of mental health services, the answers also revolved around the
reasons deemed to weaken men's mental health. Therefore, the answers serve to validate
the premise of the questionnaire, and as such, masculinity, weakness discourses, or
prevailing representations should not be seen only to limit young men or decrease their
wellbeing. However, further research is needed about the diverse alignments and
positions the masculinity discourses constitute for young men.
7 Young men’s reactions to public mental health discourses
This chapter answers the third research question about young Finnish men’s reactions to
the public discourse about young men’s mental health. Utilising a discursive approach, I
analysed the reactive discourses young men produce in relation to the public mental health
discourses. In addition, I examined how are these reactive discourses constructed and how
do men align themselves with the positions made available for them in the public mental
The chapter is divided into three subchapters. Each subchapter represents a repetitive
discursive theme constructed of the data. First, I examine the reactive discourse, which
perceives public discourse of men’s mental health as too simplified and insufficient to
describe the reality of men’s mental health problems. Second, I address the critique young
men construct as a response to the therapeutic and individualised mental health
discourses. Third, I analyse the anti-feminist discourse men produce as a reaction to
mental health and gender equality discourses. I conclude by discussing this theme as a
whole, examining how the reactions are interconnected and, at times, contradictory.
7.1. Insufficient discourse of men’s mental health
The first reactive discourse consisted of repeated repertoires of how the public discourse
about men’s mental health is insufficient both in quality and quantity. This discourse was
built on statements of how there is not enough media discussion about men’s mental
health problems in the media, and if there is, the talk is negative, placing blame on men,
or understating the importance of the problem. (“As if men couldn’t have mental health
problems, or if they do, they are self-inflicted.”) However, there was a tendency in the
data to emphasise how the public mental health discussions have increased in the past
years, although not to a sufficient level.
This reactive repertoire contained notions of how there is a need for discourse specifically
about men’s mental health problems, as most of the public mental health discourse were
seen not to reach men or to be aimed at women (“I think there is enough talk about mental
health, but it’s maybe not very well targeted at men specifically.”). As suggested earlier
(Valkonen & Hänninen, 2013; Valkonen & Lindfors, 2012)., the sociocultural ways men
express or conceal their distress may differ from the diagnostic tools of some
psychological disorders. Following this, I believe the everyday ideas of mental health
echo the diagnostic tools. These, in turn, can produce gendered, sometimes latent,
discourses of mental health and beliefs of the prevalence of mental health problems.
Hence, as suggested in the data, this implicates the importance of male-specific
approaches to mental health in public discourses.
Even though there was a strong tendency to reference to “men’s mental health” as
something that most men share, it was typical within this discourse to underline how the
mental health discourses should acknowledge the diversity and intricateness of men’s
mental health. This was built on the notion that as a society, we should recognise that
one can have mental health issues and still be functioning okay, as these two do not
necessarily exclude each other. As such, the mental health discourses were seen to create
a position for men where they are deemed vulnerable and at risk of social exclusion,
limiting the possibility to talk about potential problems and concerns outside this position.
This exemplifies how the concern for youth wellbeing and unemployment have become
a central focus in youth policies and public discourse, positioning young people at risk
(Brunila, 2020; McLeod & Wright, 2015; Mertanen et al., 2020). The critique toward
these mental health and youth-at-risk -discourses is well illustrated in the following
“There are discussions about the socially excluded, but not about the causes of
the phenomenon or about being a man in general.”
“I am concerned about the unilateral nature of the debate on the mental health
problems of young men. We are talking about social exclusion, even though many
young men carry a huge burden within them without being marginalised. Lack of
discussion causes young men to think that they are alone with their problems,
which is a huge problem.”
This reactive discourse indicates a divisive approach to the social category of men from
young Finnish men. On the one hand, men were deemed a unified group who could not
relate to mental health discourses that were gender-neutral or targeted at women. On the
other hand, men were understood as a diverse category with varied positions and
experiences in society. This reactive discourse downplays the significance of the social
category of men, as other elements of subjectivity are accentuated (see Hyvönen, 2021a),
whilst it also emphasises it.
Moreover, there was a strong tendency in the data to describe how media acknowledges
men’s mental health problems only when they become extreme or harm others, such as
references to incel
men or severe violent behaviour. These extreme representations were
considered to uphold and create gendered positions for men, stereotyping all men into a
unified, problematic group (Rossi, 2015). Moreover, these harmful representations were
illustrated as difficult to identify with and position men with mental health issues as
harmful to others. As such, these discourses were seen to limit men’s willingness and
possibilities to open up about mental health issues, as they fear they would be
characterised as such stereotypes. Overall, the discourse about men as a unified group
was seen as problematic and to reinforce gendered expectations. Additionally, this
discourse was built on the notion that media mainly acknowledges men’s problems as
harming others or being a danger to others, not discussing what it does to men themselves:
“Men’s problems are not talked about much. The everyday nature and
commonness do not come up. There is talk of violence and problem behaviour,
but not much about how the harsh demands imposed by society, loved ones,
ourselves, and biology can make young men confused about their own direction.”
To summarise, as a reaction to the insufficient discourses of men’s mental health, young
Finnish men wished the public discourses would acknowledge that men can have diverse
mental health issues, which do not necessarily mean they are harmful to others or
incapable of functioning as part of the society. Young men illustrated a need for mental
health discourses to men, instead of about men. Whilst young men portray “men’s mental
health” as something most men share, “men” were also acknowledged as a diverse group.
Incel, meaning “involuntary celibate”. Incels are a virtual, antiwomen community,
predominantly comprised of young men, openly advocating violence. Incels “assail what they
believe are the social injustices wrought by genetic determinism and female preferences that have
relegated them to the margins of society” (Hoffman et al., 2020, p.565) and “must act to take
control of their lives and exact revenge for the dismissive and derogatory way they were treated”
7.2. Critique towards individualised discourses
Another reactive discourse revolved around individualised mental health discourses. This
reactive discourse was constructed with notions of how the public mental health
discourses are too simplified and how mental health problems are seen as the individual’s
fault. This is in line with Ikävalko (2021), who argues that the resource-oriented mental
health services in Finland have placed the individual and their struggles and abilities at
the centre of wellbeing discourses.
This reactive discourse reiterated the notion that when men’s mental health is publicly
discussed, there is a lack of action and possible solutions. Most frequently, the solution
was indicated to be men themselves, echoing the therapeutic ethos and focus on individual
improvement (Brunila et al., 2021a; Rimke & Brock, 2012). Young men’s demand to
include discussion about the reasons or solutions to mental health problems are vividly
evident in the following extracts:
“The topic [men’s mental health] is discussed, but often the man himself is seen
as the reason and the solution.”
“Problems are recognised in ways such as “Young men also suffer from mental
health problems”, but discussions tend to stop at that. Reasons, methods, or
solutions are rarely considered beyond that.”
Moreover, this reactive discourse illustrates how mental health is a common concern in
public discourses, acquiring many meanings and reasonings (McLeod & Wright, 2015),
but does not necessarily transfer into material reality as plausible solutions:
“There is a big headline every six months about the topic [men’s mental health]
announcing “something must be done”, and then, nothing is done.”
“Concern for young men’s mental health is often publicly expressed, but less often
you see any means to improve the situation.”
The individualised mental health discourses were deemed to position men as individually
responsible for their mental health, ignoring structural issues or norms creating conditions
of possibility. Moreover, this reactive discourse contained critical rhetoric towards the
mental health discourses deemed to place guilt on individual men because “this is how
men are”. This was illustrated to create narrow, gendered positions for men, placing them
as victims of an ambiguous entity that regulates their behaviour. This positioning can be
interpreted to reinforce the idea of singular masculinity dominating men’s behaviour
(Courtenay, 2000; Waling, 2019a), downplaying men’s agency in performing and
reproducing gender, and adapting to the gendered expectations (Butler, 1990/2006).
This reactive repertoire can be interpreted as critique toward the therapeutic ethos, which
emphasises individuals’ responsibility in governing and improving their wellbeing
(Brunila et al., 2021a; Rimke & Brock, 2012). This reactive discourse was critical towards
the way individuals are placed as the ones solely responsible for their wellbeing and the
way the therapeutic language of disorder has become to constitute social life (Ahonen,
2020; Brunila & Siivonen, 2016). This discourse contained notions which were critical
towards the way common feelings and adversities are displayed as personal,
psychological problems, which should be fixed by professional help or by improving
oneself. This was most evidently exemplified in the following extract:
“Concepts related to mental health disorders are often used when talking about the
problems of ordinary people, which often unintentionally weaken the importance
of these problems and intervening in them.”
However, this reactive discourse consisted of conflicting alignments towards discussions
about structural issues. On the one hand, the data contained notions of positive encounters
of mental health discourses acknowledging the role of structures. As illustrated above,
young men were also explicitly critical towards the way mental health problems are
placed upon individual traits and capabilities. This repertoire included notions wishing
the public mental health discourses would include more debate about the strict
masculinity ideals, strongly interlinked to the masculinity discourses presented in the
On the other hand, this repertoire illustrated frustration towards the way men’s mental
health problems are addressed as caused by masculinity and, as such, would not be
“serious mental health issues”. This displays similar rhetoric as the theorisation of hybrid
masculinities (Hyvönen, 2020) with dissatisfaction with how men are placed as “victims
of masculinity”. However, examining men’s mental health as intertwined and connected
to masculinity ideals and normative power should not devalue the importance of
subjective experiences and hardship. Following poststructural theorisation of how
gendered discourses produce gendered subjectivities, and the omnipresence of power
(Alhanen, 2007), examining structures can help explain and broaden the understanding
of the individual circumstances and their consequences. As normative power works to
produce a set of standards which we actively take on and resist, shaping and limiting our
behaviour (Brunila, 2019; Davies & Gannon, 2011), we are fundamentally intertwined in
structures. Therefore, even if we examine mental health through a gender normative lens,
it does not mean the material consequences individuals experience would not be real
The individualised discourses were illustrated to create a position that hinders men’s
willingness to discuss about their mental health problems, as they were positioned as the
cause and solution for them. Instead of placing responsibility on individuals, young men
illustrated a need for more concrete solutions and addressing the structural conditions of
possibility limiting and enabling the behaviour of individuals.
7.3. Men as victims of feminism
The third reactive discourse echoed strong anti-feminist rhetoric and revolved around the
notion that nobody cares about men, as the public mental discourses only focus on other
groups than men. This was built on descriptions of how the respondents feel that
masculinity and manhood are seen as merely harmful, problematic things in society:
“Society has changed to contempt men.”
”It feels unfortunate that one has to be ashamed of being a man.”.
There was a strong tendency in the data to blame media for the disregard towards men,
marginalising men’s purpose in society. This was built on notions of how media is part
of the “public attack towards” men by allowing misandry. In addition, the respondents
considered that the strive for gender equality has left men in the margins and the way men
are talked about is unequal. This reactive discourse included frequent expressions that
men are being replaced, have no place in society, or are no longer needed, exhibiting
similar rhetoric to the men’s rights movements examined by Marwick and Caplan (2018).
The respondents described how society considers men merely a “necessary evil”. These
answers can be understood to engage with the “manosphere”, displaying an anti-feminist
stance where feminism is seen as the reason for positioning men as disregarded by society
“Society is changing, and many “traditional” men in my circle feel that there is
no room for them in society anymore. Masculinity has turned into a vice, and
nowadays, you have to think about everything you do and say for a week, just so
maybe someone won’t get hurt and destroy your life with some kind of social
This reactive discourse described feeling that no one cares about men or their problems,
or that men’s problems are not considered to be as important as women’s or minorities’
(”As a sign of the times, men’s problems are underestimated/they don’t matter (because
it’s a man).” / “Women’s problems are everyone’s problems, but men’s problems are
their own.”). These rhetorical notions of inequality were prevalent across this reactive
discourse, claiming men as victims of social discrimination and prejudice (See Blais &
Dupuis-Déri, 2012; Venäläinen, 2021). Although, men aligned themselves with this
antifeminist discourse in various ways. Some respondents described how they would not
want to detract attention from women or minorities but wish for more public discourse
about men’s problems. However, there was a strong tendency to describe mere frustration
over this state of public discourse, illustrating an either-or -approach.
There was a strong tendency to accentuate the binary division between men and women,
seeing discourses about women or minorities, and their issues, as one of the reasons for
men’s problems. Echoing Blais and Dupuis-Déri (2012), this positions men to be in crisis
due to the “feminisation of society”. This rhetoric was built on the notion that “toxic
feminism” is a significant problem in society. This was constructed by describing how
feminism asserts men as responsible for all the world’s problems and has created an
atmosphere where men need to be ashamed for being men. This repertoire illustrates how
young Finnish men view feminism to claim that men and masculinity are inherently bad,
especially how the “white, heterosexual men” are the root cause of countless problems
(see Marwick & Caplan, 2018). This is well exemplified in the following extracts:
“I feel sorry I have to be a little ashamed of being a man. In many social
discussions, “a white straight man” is a demon, even though he has not done
anything wrong. If a man posts #notallme on social media, he is demanded to be
burned on the stake and confess to all the bad deeds of the male gender. At the
same time, other groups must be treated as unique individuals. Of course, we must
recognise our privileges, but I wish men would have more of the same pride that
we talk about womanhood with.”
“In the dominant view, everything evil in the world is caused by a white man, and
that cannot be corrected. Therefore, a white man is something most inferior in
today’s society. When the quality of public debate is like this, I wonder what it
feels like to young men or boys.”
This reactive discourse illustrated disappointment towards the way men are talked about
as being privileged. The respondents considered the privilege discourse to move the focus
away from men’s problems, as if privilege would erase all their problems, or that because
of privilege, men will still manage their problems on their own without help or attention
“Discussing men’s problems is almost despised in today’s culture that always
focuses first on the problems of minorities, which are often important, but it has
led to an idea in which a man is always privileged and therefore his problems are
Echoing Venäläinen (2021), the answers in this theme portray feminism as an anti-men
movement, framing men as the victims of feminism, highlighting the prejudice directed
at men, and women’s societal advantage due to feminism. Interpretations of men as
victims of feminism cultivates frustration and worry about the degeneration of traditional
masculinity ideals. Additionally, this reactive discourse creates a subject position for men
as victims of gender equality discourses, where feminists are held responsible for both
the lack of discourse around young men’s mental health and the deterioration of young
men’s mental health.
“Men’s mental health seems to be an insignificant issue for the “promotors of
equality” and “feminists”.”
“Feminism and oppression of men’s rights make you feel like you should be
ashamed because you’re a man.”
The discriminatory mental health discourses were illustrated to create a subject position
for men where they either have no problems, or if they do, their problems are inferior to
other groups. This was deemed to limit men’s possibilities to act, seek help, or discuss
their problems, as the constructed position cultivates worry about the way they would be
treated or whether they would be belittled. Moreover, following Blais and Dupuis-Déri
(2012), the focus of placing blame on women and feminists moves attention away from
the normative social structures and societal changes, such as the transformation of the job
market and the increase of precarious work, which can cause uncertainty about the future
Young Finnish men produce diverse, interlinked, and sometimes contradictory reactions
to the public mental health discourses. The data illustrates three critical stances towards
the public mental health discourses. First, young men demonstrate discontented to the
way men’s mental health is addressed and call for further mental health discourses
targeted to men, not of men. Second, young men construct critique towards the
individualised mental health discourses, in which men themselves are seen as both the
reason and the solution to their possible mental health problems. Third, the public mental
health discourses are seen as insufficient and discriminatory towards men, eliciting an
All three mental health discourses were illustrated to create narrow, gendered positions
for men to talk about mental health. The available subject positions were represented to
limit men’s possibilities to act, reinforcing the gendered mental health discourses and
representations. Moreover, the way in which men are positioned at risk, as harmful for
others, or as less important than other groups, cultivates apprehension to talk about one’s
problems because of the fear of how they would be treated.
The versatility of the reactive discourses well indicated the ambiguity of the concept of
mental health. Overall, young men produce critical discourses about the prevailing mental
health discourses as too simplified, sporadic, and individualised, which can be interpreted
as criticism towards the widespread and ambiguous wellbeing discourses in society
(Aneshensel et al., 2013; McLeod & Wright, 2015).
The contradictive alignments within these discourses can be understood to display a shift
in the social conditions young men face and uncertainty of how to face these conditions.
Simultaneously, this elicits a need to emphasise men’s mental health as separate from
other groups and cultivates frustration toward men being categorised as a unified group.
Overall, the reactive discourses display similar elements to the crisis rhetoric, as the
societal changes have cultivated individualised effects and uncertainty of the social
category of men (Morgan, 2006). This was displayed in the frequent, contradictory
notions of how the public mental health discourses should address men’s mental health,
and alignments towards gender-neutral mental health discourses.
As several scholars have argued, men should not be understood as a homogenous
category, and men's health-related practices should be examined through the various
intersecting identities and cultural contexts (e.g., Hyvönen, 2021a). This was also evident
in the data. However, young men display a need for male-specific mental health
discourses and illustrate that as a way to broaden the understanding of men's mental
health. The answers display a discursive construction of men’s societal disadvantage
compared to women, placing feminists responsible for the prejudice men face. Through
this, men are positioned as the victims of feminism and gender equality discourses, seen
to produce concrete consequences for men’s mental health and help-seeking, as no one
cares for men’s wellbeing. Echoing Blais and Dupuis-Déri (2012), the expansion of
feminism is seen to cause an identity crisis of men and deprive men of what they are
naturally due. Therefore, the need for gendered discourses of mental health can be seen
as threefold. First, young men wish for discourse about men’s mental health problems in
order to widen the understanding of men’s mental health. Second, with wider discourses
about men’s mental health, the plausible solutions could also be more inclusive towards
structural issues and the sociocultural ways in which men are taught to express their
distress. Third, the lack of discourse specifically about men’s problems cultivates an
experience that no one cares for men’s mental health. However, it would be valuable to
analyse the prevailing discourses and whether seemingly gender-neutral discourses
address gendered issues, and what elements of these discourses draw men away from
While young men display critical rhetoric toward the therapeutic ethos, it was also utilised
to dismantle the traditional, hegemonic masculinity ideals. Echoing Hyvönen (2021b),
some respondents utilised the therapeutic repertoires with the aim to understand the
causes of gendered expectations and behaviour of earlier generations (“With their
behaviour, emotionally cold and distant fathers create young men with mental health
problems” / “Emotional incompetence has come as a legacy from traumatised soldiers,
which has continued from generation to generation. This is understandable but, of course,
not healthy”.) This exemplified well how the therapeutic vocabulary also enables
individuals’ possibilities to act and can help men free themselves of the gendered
expectations (Brunila et al., 2021a; Hyvönen, 2021b).
These reactive discourses illustrate a need to address the diversity of men’s lived
experiences and available positions in society. Similarly to chapter six, the reactive
discourses indicate how the ideals and representations of masculinity should be addressed
and widened in order to broaden the mental health discourses. Moreover, young Finnish
men illustrate how the structural, gendered expectations should be addressed in order to
find useful approaches for supporting young men’s mental health.
The results of this study indicate a clear need for more diverse masculinity and mental
health discourses in Finland. The results suggest that the traditional, hegemonic
masculinity ideals remain strong in Finnish society. These ideals are seen to limit young
men's possibilities to act, express their emotions, and in turn, reduce their emotional
wellbeing. These ideals constitute what men see as possible behaviour for those who
belong to the social category of men, and echoing Butler (1990/2006), the narrow ideals
construct the way young men performatively produce and construct their gender. As
several scholars have argued, norms, structures, and discursive practices constitute our
lived experiences and gendered subjectivities, governing and regulating the way we
express ourselves and our gender (Alhanen, 2007; Bacchi & Goodwin, 2016; Davies &
Gannon, 2011). Thus, the narrow ideals in society are not separate from the material
reality but provide narrow positions for individuals to act from.
The way men are raised, treated, and expected to behave conflicts with the ways young
men wish they could express themselves. Hence, the diverse, sometimes contradictory,
gendered expectations from society can be interpreted to create a kind of crisis of
masculinity in young men in Finland. In addition, the broader societal changes, such as
the shifts in the gender order or family roles, create confusion about the socially
acceptable or desirable ways for men to act. Although young men display negotiating
with the gendered expectations, their actions are still strongly governed by traditional
hegemonic masculinity ideals. This raises critical questions about the limited positions
the gendered structures and practices in Finland produce, whether the gender order is
merely seemingly changing, and which underlying assumptions steer all functions of
However, as Blais and Dupuis-Déri (2012) argue, the crisis rhetoric often surfaces at
times of societal turmoil. These results are no exception, as the data was gathered during
the first year of the covid pandemic. Therefore, the crisis rhetoric young men produce is
not necessarily a product of merely the changes of masculinity but of broader societal
Additionally, the mental health discourses in Finland can be interpreted to cultivate
frustration in young men over the narrow positions these discourses constitute for them.
It illustrates how, even with good intentions, the way we talk about mental health can
narrow the available positions to express oneself and sustain one’s wellbeing (McLeod &
Wright, 2016). However, when structures and norms are understood as the effect of
practice and reiteration, portraying new kinds of representations and changes in the
mental health and masculinity discourses could challenge and break these norms,
allowing new subjectivities to take place (Brunila, 2016; Brunila & Ikävalko, 2012;
Mease, 2017). However, widening and shifting the prevailing discourses would require
extensive, conscious efforts from society as a whole and will not happen without widely
The critical discourses young Finnish men produce, provide several important topics for
further research. To complement the results of this study, it would be important to
research men's reflexive agency in reproducing these discourses. As discourses are always
tied to multidimensional power, young men also play a part in maintaining and
challenging the prevailing norms (Davies & Gannon, 2011). Although there was a strong
tendency to question the restrictive discourses, the data contained only a few notions of
how men can challenge these structures. Therefore, the results indicate a need for further
research of whether this critique transforms into action and resistance in men's lives,
whether men see it possible to act outside these norms, and with what consequences. In
addition, future research should acknowledge men as a diverse group and thus, examine
men's experiences through an intersectional lens instead of grouping men into a unified
Moreover, it would be necessary to study further the connections between gender norms
and mental health practices, as these are strongly interlinked. To provide accessible,
adequate support for everyone, it would be essential to understand how the various
support systems reproduce gender ideals in how they encounter and treat different kinds
of people. In addition, it would be noteworthy to examine how the market-logic and
employability rationalisation of support systems (Ikävalko, 2021; Salo, 2019) is
intertwined in the gendered therapeutic discourses. As Kolehmainen (2021) argues,
therapeutic language and practices can produce gendered outcomes and reinforce the
assumptions of gendered behaviour, which, in light of these results, can decrease
individual wellbeing and self-expression. Moreover, I consider it crucial to examine the
constantly expanding practices in education intertwined in the therapeutic ethos and what
kind of subjectivities these constitute for students in the Finnish educational system.
For education, this research provides reasons and justification to critically examine the
gendered practices and wellbeing discourses utilised in educational contexts. Education
holds the potential to critically examine the hierarchical, normative circumstances,
question power structures, and approach masculinities and mental health as
multidimensional and fluid constructions (Brunila, 2019; Ylöstalo & Brunila, 2018).
Moreover, the results indicate that the gendered treatment of different students (see
Brunila, 2019; Lahelma, 2014) might, in fact, weaken students' wellbeing by upholding
harmful gender ideals. Therefore, addressing wellbeing from the perspective of individual
traits and capabilities might be ineffective without addressing and dismantling the
gendered practices and norms that remain strong in education in Finland.
Throughout my research, I have come across some conceptual questions and dilemmas.
First, reading about men and masculinities has made me critically assess the meaning and
usage of the term masculinity (see Francis, 2008). It has deepened my understanding that
masculinity should not be understood as determining men's behaviour or should
automatically be associated with men. In addition, if masculinities are deemed naturally
harmful or avoidable, what kind of premise does that provide for young men and their
lives? While doing this research, I have tried to be critical and mindful of my actions and
usage of these terms. Even though I started to question the term masculinity, I found the
theorisation of masculinities appropriate for my research, as it was typical in the data to
talk about men's behaviour and available positions by associating them with
masculinities. In addition, it is worth consideration and further research that most young
men who answered the questionnaire could be interpreted to perceive masculinity as a
negative or limiting construct. If young men themselves associate their behaviour with a
harmful construct, what kind of conditions of possibility do they produce for themselves,
and what kind of opportunities do they see to challenge the meaning of masculinity?
Moreover, familiarising myself with the critique of the different typologisations of
masculinities (Francis, 2008; Waling, 2019a) made me question the premise of my
research. However, getting acquainted with the data made me decide to keep the
typologies in my research. In the data, it was typical to address gender norms and
expectations through repertoires which can be associated with the previous theorisation
of the typologies of masculinities. A prevailing way to reference to masculinities was to
associate them with a set of standards that men should strive for, following the
theorisation of hegemonic masculinity. Moreover, the discourses contained elements of
men negotiating with these norms and a strong tendency to continue naming the actions
of men as masculine, implicating a strong connection between men and masculinities,
following both the theorisation and critique towards hybrid masculinities (Bridges &
Pascoe, 2014; Hyvönen, 2021a; Waling, 2019a). Therefore, the previous theorisation of
masculinities provided an appropriate framework to analyse the data. However, I
acknowledge that this is not the only possibility to construct discourses of men's
behaviour, and other approaches could be more efficient in producing new conditions of
possibilities and subject positions for men.
My objective has been to bring new perspectives to previous research and discourses
about gendered social structures by addressing the discourses young men produce.
Echoing previous research, the results of this study indicate how conformity to traditional
masculinity ideals can lessen men’s likelihood to seek help or show weakness (Courtenay,
2000). However, this research provides much more into the conversation, as men criticise,
negotiate with, and offer solutions to dismantle traditional masculinity ideals and narrow
mental health discourses. This research proves that there is still much to be done to
achieve a society where everyone, regardless of gender, can express their feelings,
thoughts, and distress without the fear of being undermined, ridiculed, or doubted.
Moreover, as the concern for youth mental health keeps increasing, this research
demonstrates that addressing merely individual wellbeing will not be enough, but we need
to turn our gaze to the social structures and practices governing our possibilities to act.
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Original Finnish Version of the Multiple-Choice Questions with an Open Answer
Monivalintakysymykset, joissa ”jokin muu, mikä” -vaihtoehto:
- Mitkä asiat arvioit nuorten miesten kohdalla merkittävimmiksi esteiksi tuen
saamiselle ja hakemiselle?
- Mitkä tekijät mielestäsi vaikuttavat nuorten miesten mahdolliseen
- Miten ovat mielestäsi hyödyllisimmät keinot/palvelut nuorten miesten
- Miten julkisuudessa puhutaan mielestäsi nuorten miesten mielenterveydestä?
- Miten tärkeänä pidät palvelun näkökulmasta seuraavia asioita? - Jokin muu tärkeä
asia, jota ei edellisessä kysymyksessä mainittu. Mikä?
- Kuinka tärkeää on palvelun/toiminnan nimettömyys? Miksi?
- Mitä muuta haluaisit sanoa miesten mielenterveyteen liittyen? Vapaa sana. :)