Joe Rogan, the UFC commentator and podcaster, recently had TV show host Adam Conover on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. Conover is the creator and host of the truTV comedy show Adam Ruins Everything, which is based on the CollegeHumor series of the same name. On Joe Rogan’s podcast, the two discussed a number of topics relating to gender, including issues in the trans community. Conover and Rogan also found themselves disagreeing on the topic of toxic masculinity. Conover offered some of his opinions on the ways in which male stereotypes negatively affect men, with Rogan criticizing some of the claims he made.

It would be useful to break down this discussion, as it helps to shed light on the concept of toxic masculinity. As we will see, the debate between Rogan and Conover highlights the different ways in which men perceive masculinity, including its effects on the lives and well-being of men.

The Narrow Idea of What a Man Is

During the discussion on male stereotypes, Conover highlights that “there are ways that men are being harmed by the sort of narrow idea of what a man is”. In support of this claim, Conover then draws listeners’ attention to the high male suicide rate. Indeed, certain standards of masculinity seem to be driving the male suicide epidemic. This would include the expectation for men not to open up, show vulnerability, or seek help for their mental health issues or other life struggles.

Do Men Suffer From a Lack of Deep Friendships?

Conover then goes on to point out that many men, especially older men, suffer from loneliness. Researchers have found that older men show a tendency to be reluctant about speaking to others – many men felt embarrassed to tell others that they were feeling lonely. Conover, reflecting on his own father’s situation, believes it’s quite normal for men to lack deep friendships. He argues this comes down to the fact that “men are socialized to not have close relationships with each other”.

Rogan, however, seems perplexed by this claim. So he asks Conover to elaborate, who goes on to state:

From an early age, researchers have found this, that little boys, when they’re very young, form very close friendships, that are physical friendships. They’ll hug, they’ll kiss, you know, kiss on the cheek… And then they reach an age where that starts to become not ok. And girls are still doing that their friends. They’re still holding hands with their friends. They’re still having close relationships like that. And boys start to build a little bit of distance.

Conover says this happens before boys reach that teenage stage where being gay is stigmatized, which is another reason men might grow up with a lack of intimate bonds with other men. So, in Conover’s view, men are socialized from a very young age to be emotionally distant from each other.

Rogan, in contrast, says the idea that men are put under pressure not to be friendly with other men seems “ridiculous”. He goes on to underscore how traditional male values like camaraderie and brotherhood play an important role in men’s lives. Nonetheless, while these values may allow men to form close bonds, masculine values can still prevent men from bonding with each other in the emotionally vulnerable way that Conover is getting at. And he emphasizes that this kind of intimacy is what leads to long-lasting, deep friendships.

Manning Up

Rogan agrees that there is value in being intimate, vulnerable, and expressing how you feel. But he adds that it’s a balancing act, urging men not to be a “bitch” and just complain about things, and instead “man the fuck up and go do something”. Conover reacts, asking the podcast host if he doesn’t think that puts “a little pressure on men”. But Rogan asserts that men “need some pressure”.

Of course, the masculine ideal of resolutely bearing struggle without complaint and taking action to overcome it is valuable – but within certain limits. And Conover makes this point in the context of mental health. For example, he talks about the experience of a military vet with PTSD who heard the phrase “be a man” bandied about a lot. But the meaning behind this phrase (don’t complain too much and solve your problems on your own) was damaging for this military vet. It stopped him from reaching out for help.

Rogan agrees that this notion of masculinity is harmful in this context. However, he maintains that, for men, it’s healthy to be vulnerable and honest with friends but that there are also times men should know when they’re “being a bitch”.

The disagreement between Rogan and Conover shows that many men still equate ideas of toughness and stoicism with masculinity. And sometimes, this can have positive outcomes, like when it comes to overcoming certain challenging situations. Other times, this notion of masculinity can impact men’s relationships, as well as their mental health. Whether you side more with Rogan or Conover during this debate, their discussion certainly provides food for thought about the positive and negative effects of masculinity on men today.