Is It Really Harder To Be A Man? SNL's 'Man Park' Skit Makes Us Wonder...

Photo: NBC's Saturday Night Live
pete davidson and two SNL actors in Man Park, a skit about male loneliness

I let out a little scream of delight this weekend when I watched the "Man Park" skit on SNL, wherein Pete Davidson romps around a dog park looking for friends.

It felt like validation. 

No, I'm not a lonely man, nor am I a Pete Davidson stan (though I do admit he is oddly appealing...). I'm just a mom of boys and a feminist writer who covers issues facing men and boys in our society.

For years, I've felt like I've been shouting about the challenges men face, and it often seemed like people aren't all that interested.

In fact, talking about the problems with modern masculinity often results in hate and harassment — from both men and women, and people of all political backgrounds. 

Turns out, talking about the specific ways in which men are actively harmed by our societal definition of masculinity can make you a little unpopular! 

But seeing this issue addressed in a way that went viral, reaching 12 million views in just 2 days on YouTube alone, was exciting. Especially since it was so, so funny. 

But not everyone loved it. 

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The skit opens with Pete's character on a couch, listless and bored, until his wife (played by Ego Nwodim) walks through the door. He bursts toward her, anxious to tell her a whole load of facts and stories.

"According to studies," says the narrator, "many men say they have no close friendships" and they receive all their emotional support from the women in their lives.

SNL's solution? The Man Park, a delightful satire of an urban dog park filled with men taken there by their partners. 

The manly stuff they do at the Man Park is delightfully diverse — it's not just sports and cars. They talk about Marvel and Rick & Morty, they play acoustic guitar in a circle and hold each other in long, caring embraces. Davidson's factoid about Vin Diesels' twin brother finally finds an audience and he is happy.

Is it silly? Yes. But do they have a point? Absolutely! 

Men are lonely — and the effects of that loneliness are profound

Prescriptive masculinity often limits the types of things guys can talk about with their friends. According to our society, it's manly to watch sports, pursue a tandem activity like surfing or golfing, or talk about work or movies over your lunch break from work. 

Men aren't afforded the luxury of nights on a couch under blankets talking about their relationship issues, past traumas, or their hopes and dreams for the future, like many women are. 

I know, on a personal level, that when I'm most upset or scared, I can pick up the phone and call my best friend Rebekkah or text my friend Lisa Marie and just spill everything I'm going through.

Last summer I hung out with my friend Jessica for the first time in two years, and, despite our time apart we talked about everything from body image to how aging has affected our libidos.

These types of friendships are a gift, and I'm grateful for them.

But my husband, a sensitive and thoughtful guy, doesn't have friendships like that. He's lucky to be close to his brothers, who are always ready with a hug in a crisis, but even having a brother like that is rare. 

My friends who have teen daughters that date boys have found that once some boys feel comfortable enough to open up to their girlfriends, it's hard for them to respect healthy boundaries.

It's almost as if it's their first experience with intimacy and honest, open conversations. And that type of support is such a relief that they can become clingy, jealous, or controlling. Many very kind boys may simply come to expect a type of patient-therapist relationship with their partner, which is often stressful and unfulfilling to the support partner. 

There are always exceptions, of course, but it seems to be a trend that speaks to something our boys aren't getting from their friends — and possibly even their families — once they reach a certain age.

Looking at these situations with empathy, it's easy to understand why a teenager wouldn't want to let that intimacy go and how it could inspire a sort of desperation inside of them. 

It's not healthy for anybody. 

Men are at a crisis point

Being lonely goes deeper than simply having nobody to talk to about Vin Diesel's supposed twin. And the effects are profound. 

In the United States, women have higher rates of depression, but many mental health experts suggest that this statement may not represent the full picture.

Joseph Harper, who has spent 25 years as a mental health professional, writes in The Washington Post that while women have higher documented rates of depression, they are also significantly more likely to seek treatment than men.

"This poses interesting questions," writes Harper. "Are men truly experiencing fewer mental health problems, or are they more likely to ignore them and hope they go away?"

When men do seek treatment, he notes, it's often after suffering for a very long time and after they've been urged to find treatment by the women in their lives.

"I have watched mothers and wives literally drag the men they love into my office," he writes, adding, "I often struggle with some male patients to pull information about their emotional issues out of them because they are so reluctant to speak. Others simply downplay their problems saying things like, 'It’s not really a big deal,' or 'My wife is blowing this out of proportion.' Then there are the men who are simply embarrassed and ask, 'Nobody will ever know I was here, right?'"

Untreated depression and other mental health concerns may also contribute to men having higher rates of drug addiction and a higher risk of death by suicide

Ultimately, the effects of toxic masculinity run deep and touch everyone, in some way. 

As one of the women in the skit notes, "It's not their fault masculinity makes intimacy so hard!" Though it is the result of living in a patriarchal society, of course. 

The good news is, things are changing for men. Dads are more involved with their kids' daily lives than ever, male survivors of sexual violence are being offered community and shame-free resources, and Millennial and Gen Z guys like Harry Styles are pushing the limits of what's expected of men. 

But it's still hard to shake the effects of generations of harm that prescriptive masculinity has caused — not just to men, but everyone. We have a long ways to go. 

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Critics of 'Man Park' have a point, too

Reddit user Saccharo made the following points, which feel very valid:

I'm torn about whether this skit is being insightful or not. On the one hand, it acknowledges the difficulty men have forming platonic relationships, but on the other, they're:

-Comparing men to dogs couped [sic] up in the house

-Saying the men have nothing worthwhile or important to talk about

-Showing men as simple minded e.g. barking a single word over and over

To me this feels like the usual "men are dumb, lol" trope.

I think we can all agree that nobody should be compared to a dog, and that's a fair point. It's also insulting to imply that women may "own" their male partners in the same way we own our pets. 

That being said, I can't help but wonder if this positioning is less about objectifying men by comparing them to animals and more a comment on how women are expected to be everything to the men in their lives. We are supposed to fulfill them, control them, and, as I said above, be their only source of emotional support and intimacy. 

That's not a healthy relationship based upon equality. 

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Another Redditor, MethylatedToSeeYou, called it a "cheap shot at men," but mentioned he did like that, at the end, one of the women acknowledged that in this way, men might have it worse than women.

And that's where gendered commentary often gets sticky. 

Talking about men's issues doesn't have to undermine feminism

One thing I've noticed as a writer and editor, starting early in my career with my time at The Good Men Project, was that people often think you have to choose between who's more oppressed: men or women.  

The moment I'd say, "Here's an issue facing men," there were people who would jump up and say, "Women have it worse!" 

Many people thought that talking about how male survivors of sexual violence were often unsupported meant that I thought male survivors had it worse. 

But that's all garbage. 

We can talk about issues facing men without undermining everything women have to deal with. 

In fact, it's necessary. Even if you only cared about women, helping men and boys live healthier lives will also help women — it'll make our lives easier and probably safer, as well as others whose oppression often stems from the more toxic aspects of masculinity and patriarchy — like LGBTQIA+ and disabled folks. 

But men's and boys' wellbeing should matter for more reasons just than the benefit it offers to women and other marginalized groups.

Humans matter. People's humanity matters, regardless of their gender.

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Intersectionality also plays a part

Every person is unique and experiences different forms of oppression and societal influence at different levels. In 1989, academic pioneer and attorney Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the phrase "intersectionality", which she describes as "a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects."

In other words, there isn't just one thing that causes oppression, or one group who "owns" the title of being the sole oppressed group. 

Crenshaw describes why that difference is key by saying, "it’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things."

So, one may imagine that a straight white cisgender man experiences no oppressions, but if he were, say, physically disabled and using a wheelchair for mobility or if he were Autistic, he very well may experience oppression. But intersectionality also asks us to look at how another person, perhaps a Black man in similar circumstances, may experience what the white man does, but in addition also experiences racism or colorism. 

Talking about gender and mental health is never simple — nor should it be

Put simply, none of this is easy to discuss, since topics touching on mental health and gendered expectations are so full of nuance. That's why I think, in the end, that the positive aspects of this skit far outweigh the negative, and I'm glad SNL took on the issue of male loneliness and created such a funny, compelling conversation starter. 

Because nobody should be forced to bury their emotions deep down and keep quiet.

Nobody should feel limited in what they're able to say to friends. Nobody should have to keep the abuse or violence they survived a secret.

Nobody should ever feel like they cannot ask for help — or even a hug, when it's desperately needed. 

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Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Esquire, Vox, and more. She has a degree in gender studies from UCLA and is raising three very busy kids while working from home. Follow her on Twitter or visit Joanna Schroeder's website for more.