A man expressing his emotions truthfully is a rare sight in our society. If a man so much as sheds a single tear in front of anyone, they fear they will be stripped of their “masculinity.” But what is masculinity and what effect is it having on the world?
Not so long ago, Professor Green appeared on Newsnight to talk about his latest documentary “Suicide and Me”. During the interview, he was moved to tears as he was asked what he would say to his father, who committed suicide seven years ago.
Only when discussing a topic as raw and sensitive as this is it just about acceptable for a man to cry. But most of the time, tears aren’t an option. It has come to be expected that they keep it to themselves and just “man up.”
Emotions are considered to be ‘feminine’ – an experience reserved for women, as if men are unable to feel anything. Crying, one of the most genuine emotional reactions next to laughter, has been made something a man should be ashamed of; something to be buried deep and ignored.
How it starts
In school, if a boy shows any sign of weakness, he is automatically “gay,” or a “pussy.” While the terms homophobia and sexism have yet to be fully comprehended by school children, the use of them points towards society’s casual prejudice towards women and LGBT people – a sign of things to come.
From a young age, boys are conditioned into suppressing their emotions for fear it will make them appear weak or “girly.” Those who do otherwise will likely be bullied and mocked. It’s easier just to keep your emotions bottled up and maintain your street cred – a sad reality.
This is the birth of what later becomes the cause of a great deal of inequality, prejudice and pain in the workplace, in government, at home and in society as a whole.
Because repressing emotions doesn’t make them vanish – they will just find other modes of expression, as they always do. As Sigmund Freud said, “Unfortunately, repressed emotions do not die. They are silenced, but they continue to affect the person.”
Anger, aggression and arrogance, these are three emotional outlets that although damaging, are readily accepted by society as simply “masculine” attributes. It’s an acceptable way for men to be emotional.
But is it not this form of emotional expression that has caused countless atrocities and instances of violence? Bullying, domestic abuse, war, oppression and misogyny are just a few examples of the effect expressing emotion in this way has.
Throughout history, it is clear to see that men channelling their emotions through anger has wreaked havoc on the world. Because for men, it obviously makes more sense to punch someone in the face than it does to cry in front of them.
What happens when these outlets don’t work?
Many men are not predisposed to violence or aggression however. It’s just not an outlet they can express themselves through, which can be nothing but a good thing. But it leaves them with few options – depression often being the outcome.
This is why 78% of suicides during 2013 in the UK were men – a startling figure when considering that more cases of depression in women were recorded the same year.
Are men so committed to manning up, so entrenched in masculinity, that they will keep quiet, even when they feel like jumping in front of a train? The answer seems to be a resounding yes.
What is masculinity anyway?
The idea of masculinity is the reason most men don’t cry, so to speak. They fear being stripped of the idea that they are powerful, dominant and strong.
But what is ‘masculinity’ really? While there may be some substance to the term, in our society it seems like it is used as a socially constructed image that creates sexism – giving men a platform to stand on from which they have been allowed to treat women (and anyone else they deem as weak) as their inferiors.
Even the phrase “man up” has these connotations. As if men have a duty to prevent their perfectly natural emotions from interfering with their duty as mighty providers and protectors. What is the opposite of “man up”? “Woman down”?
Time for a shift
Men haven’t been taught to deal with their emotions, only to hide them out of sight. It’s no coincidence that men are responsible for the large majority of wrongdoing in this world – thinking that any problem can be solved with some form of violence or another.
Emotions will always find a way of expressing themselves; no matter how hard you try to push them back down.
Right now we are dealing with a chaotic, unbalanced and unfair world where the governments and the ruling elite seems to be exclusively dominated by emotionally repressed men.
That is all that “masculinity” has created – a world on the brink of self-destruction. It’s not something to aspire to, or a reason to hide how you really feel.
It’s time to redefine the term “man up”- to be rid of our misguided idea of masculinity. Instead of expecting men to keep their tears to themselves so that they can protect all the vulnerable women, it’s time to recognise both genders as equals. Equally capable of feeling emotion, equally capable of independence and, well, just equal in general.
To cry is the most masculine thing a man could do – to challenge what is expected of him and show that he too is capable of feeling. Maybe if more men did that, the world would be a more peaceful place.
While feminism is an important movement for women, it won’t have enough of an impact while men also feel limited by society’s crippling expectations. Gender stereotypes need to be dissolved on both sides of the fence. In fact, there shouldn’t even be a fence at all.