As Aotearoa enters Mental Health Awareness Week and nears the end of Suicide Awareness Month, a Māori duo is to launch a kaupapa to encourage emotional dialogue and vulnerability among Māori and Pacific Island men.
‘Soften Up Bro’ was inspired by the phrase ‘Harden up bro’ and was founded by John Kingi and Heemi Te Waa Kapa-Kingi, with an aim to normalise important conversations with tāne ma who are keen to be agents of change.
“We’ve all heard this [Harden up bro] growing up,” Kingi told Te Ao Tapatahi, “it’s time to flip the narrative.”
“It’s ok to show the side where things aren’t ok.”
The duo, who appeared on Māori Television with shirts labelled “Boys can cry too” are looking to open a safe space for korero in hopes that men can create change within their families or social groups.
In a society where it is difficult to unlearn the stigma over emotions, the korero is often “shunned and put aside.”
Kingi works as a mental health coordinator alongside Ngāti Whātua and says many of the cases he’s confronted with are associated with cultural discourse.
“Not understanding where you’re from or who you are, that plays a large factor in a lot of the mental health issues I’ve run into,” he says.
The ‘Soften Up Bro’ initiative is also seeking to unlearn patriarchal and western influences, not only to support one another but also to understand how to encourage wahine around them.
“We’re making sure that we’re aware of the oppression that wahine face,” Heemi Te Waa Kapa-Kingi said.
“Patriarchy affects men as well and the toxic masculinity that comes with that.”
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