Once upon a time being a “real man” was associated with physical strength and not showing your emotions.
But thankfully, a new survey by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan has found that times have changed.
When both men and women were asked what words they most associate with being a “real man”, around two thirds (66%) of respondents chose the word “caring”.
This came out far ahead of more traditionally masculine qualities such as “tough” (22%), “successful” (26%) and “alpha-male” (10%).
The figures have been revealed to launch the charity’s March of the Men campaign, which aims to get more young men signing up as stem cell donors.
Stem cell donor Mazhar Kusbeci
The survey of more than 4,000 people also found that four out of 10 (40%) respondents believed that real men show their emotions while just 5% said that they don’t.
Interestingly, the only group who didn’t choose “caring” as the top answer was the ‘millennial’ cohort of 16 to 30-year-old men.
Survey participants in this age bracket said “brave” was the word they most associated with being a “real man” (54% compared to 52% who said “caring”).
More than a third of young men (36%) also linked being a “real man” with being “successful”, compared to 26% of the total population – men and women – indicating that there is still a lot of pressure on young men in 2016.
The blood cancer charity hopes the insights into modern masculinity will help it get to the bottom of why there may be a shortage of young male stem cell donors.
Henny Braund, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “This survey proves we can’t make assumptions about men and how they are perceived in the 21st century. The fact that both sexes believe a real man is ‘caring’ above all else is heartening as we try to recruit more male stem cell donors.
“Being a man in 2016 clearly means different things to different people and we should celebrate this diversity. No matter what kind of man you are, simply being a man means you could be a lifeline for someone with blood cancer.”
Stem cell donor Ray Lucus
Someone is diagnosed with blood cancer every 20 minutes. For many of these people, a stem cell transplant from a donor on the Anthony Nolan register is their last chance of survival. The problem is, not enough men are signing up.
Men aged 16-30 are by far the most in demand stem cell donors and are 3.5 times more likely than average to donate once they join the register – but worryingly, they make up only 15% of the register.
When men in the survey aged between 16 and 30 years old were asked what would discourage them from signing up to the register, the top answers included “I’m scared that donating is painful” (34%), “I don’t know anything about it” (22%) and “I’m squeamish about needles and/or hospitals” (27%).
Even the top reason for people to sign up – “if a friend or family member needed a transplant” – was worryingly a motivation for just one third (34%) of all UK adults.
Braund explained: “Sadly the numbers clearly don’t add up and we desperately need more young men to join the register.
“There are so many myths that surround stem cell donation. It isn’t necessarily about being ‘brave’, as the process is so straightforward. All you have to do is fill out a simple form and provide a saliva sample. If you are a match for someone, 90% of the time the process is similar to giving blood.”
After signing up as a potential stem cell donor, Brandon Lawrence got a call to say he was a match while he was playing on his Xbox in his bedroom.
“I ran straight into my mum’s room to tell her – it was definitely a ‘pause game’ moment. Mum was just like me, she didn’t really know to say. The feeling of being a match for someone was just indescribable,” he said.
“The donation just makes you feel like a bit of a hero. Not like a superhero, with a cape saving lives, but you get that feeling like you are doing something really important.”
Lawrence added: “It’s amazing that something so small and simple can make a massive impact on someone’s life. Not just that person who needs you but their family, friends, everyone around them.
“I’m always going to be able to reproduce my stem cells so it’s not going to affect me to give some away.”
Find out more about Anthony Nolan’s March of the Men campaign at anthonynolan.org/MarchoftheMen.