Callum, 17: ‘I put a poker face on my anxiety’

Boys will be boys? For men, “a lot of the fear… is about being able to be who you want to be.”

Why do boys struggle to show their emotions? Callum has an offer from Cambridge University. But in our new series on gender and young people, he says he finds it hard to show his excitement…

Callum is 17 years old, with a bright future ahead. He has offers to study psychology from top universities, including Cambridge. He describes himself as shy, with a lot of feminine traits. But “I do think I’m very competitive, I do fall under a lot of the stereotypes of masculinity,” he says. “Not being very good at showing my emotions is also one of them.”

He is a cisgender boy, meaning he was born with a biologically male body, and thinks of himself as male. Like many men, he finds it hard to express how he is feeling. “People tend to think I’m quite relaxed,” he explains, “when in reality I could be quite anxious or excited. It’s just that I don’t really know how to express that.”

He remembers being told to “stop being such a cry baby” when he was younger. “It does have some kind of impact later on,” he says. And although he enjoyed traditionally “male” toys, he remembers his brothers’ disapproval when he was playing with his sister. “I would play with her more than my other brothers… I remember them making fun of me. It’s not necessarily adults who are doing all of the gendering.”

But he thinks young people’s ideas about gender are changing.

“I think teenagers are more sympathetic to not having rigid gender expression. So we’re more open to the idea of people being non-binary, or having masculine and feminine traits.”

For boys, that means being encouraged to talk more about mental health problems, although he says there is always room for more. When it came to his own self-esteem issues, there was “not necessarily the support to help me grow in confidence, as much as there is for girls. So a lot of the things that I’ve done... are things that I’ve forced myself to do, to push myself out of my comfort zone.”

That includes joining his school’s debating club. “I didn’t want to continue to have to struggle in social situations. I thought, if I push myself to talk more in front of people, then hopefully I will gain the confidence that I need.”

How important is gender to society?

“I think gender is and maybe always will be important to society,” he says. “I think that in the past, gender has been about allowing people to easily identify with other people. But I think that’s shifting now. People are less sympathetic to the idea of putting themselves in boxes. I think for some people at least, gender has become less important in their lives. But in order to have conversations around things that specifically affect one gender more than the other, we need the concept of gender in our lives. So I think currently that gender is still important for our society, and for us, to make strides towards equality and the fair treatment of all people.”

You Decide

  1. Why do boys often find it harder to talk about their feelings?
  2. What is the biggest issue facing teenage boys in 2018?


  1. Write down all of the characteristics and stereotypes that you can think of which are associated with masculinity. Then discuss: Are they mostly positive or negative traits? And do you think they accurately reflect the boys that you know in real life?
  2. Write down your own response to the question at the end of this article: How important is gender to society?

Some People Say...

“Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing.”

Mahatma Gandhi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to research by Time To Change in October 2016, around 49% of 16- to 18-year-old boys in the UK would not feel comfortable talking to their fathers about mental health. Over a third said this was “because their dad doesn’t talk about his feelings,” and 31% said they did not want to be a burden. Of those whose fathers did encourage them to talk, 70% felt comfortable discussing mental health issues.
What do we not know?
What is driving the shift in attitudes towards masculinity, gender and mental health. For Callum, there are more expressions of what it means to be masculine in the media than ever before. He also thinks that openness around gender has been “transferring downwards” through generations, so that young people are increasingly more open than their parents.

Word Watch

Someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth. The word comes from the Latin prefix cis- meaning “on this side of”, and was created to be the opposite of transgender. (Which comes from the Latin trans- meaning “on the other side of”.)
Many men
In 2014, a UK psychological study found that men who identified with more masculine traits also tended to be less likely to seek healthcare services, including for mental health.
Associating something with a particular gender.
Gender expression
How you present your gender to the outside world, such as through your clothes, voice, speech, actions, hair and movement.
Not identifying as male or female. This could mean identifying as both, neither, or switching between the two.
Mental health problems
The Millennium Cohort Study follows 19,000 British children born in 2000-01. When the children were aged 14, 12% of parents of boys and 18% of girls said they had displayed emotional problems. In contrast, 9% of 14-year-old boys and 24% of girls said they had depressive symptoms.

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