By L. R. Zimmerman
It seems modern society often confuses masculine identity with the insensitive capability to hold back tears. It is my belief that men withhold emotion as a defense mechanism in fear that others might view it as a sign of weakness because the patriarchy assumes that emotions are related to femininity and women are viewed as weak. In my opinion, a man’s capacity to cry is an indication of his honesty and integrity. There are appropriate times to publicly express yourself and times to withhold emotion. I believe it is important to recognize that society has stigmatized men expressing emotion, especially through crying, and now is the time to discover the impact this has on young men and to raise awareness of this toxicity.
I have three stories in which I witnessed boys and men who were discouraged from expressing emotion. These instances had an impact on me and made me consider how these societal conceptions might be problematic. The first story is about a young boy being shamed for crying. Another scenario involves a man whose inability to release emotion in a healthy way led to some pretty out-of-control situations. And I have a story to prove that boys do, in fact, shed tears.
- The Boy in the Market
A few weeks ago, I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. There was a young boy and his father standing behind me. The kid was clearly upset about something, and I overheard his father harshly say, “Suck it up, boys don’t cry.” It was heartbreaking to see this young man being publicly shamed for expressing emotion. I bit my tongue and tried very hard to not express my thoughts to the father of this horrendous parenting tactic. I mean, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to address the reason why he was crying? Don’t get me wrong, kids sometimes use crying as a way to get what they want. Maybe he wanted an impulse buy while standing in line and was sad because of his father’s rejection. Maybe it was almost dinner time and he really didn’t need that irresistible candy bar, but don’t blatantly lie to your child, because boys do cry. They are human. Maybe the dad was using this jargon as an easy way to silence his child’s tears. I strongly believe that as a parent it is your job to decipher if those tears are valid and to educate your children on what’s worth crying over.
2. The Aggressive Coworker
I used to work at a bar with a guy who would pride himself on eating steak, lifting weights, and never crying. I found his behavior quite repulsive. After being around him for an extended period of time, I began to notice how taxing bottled emotions can be. Throughout the night he would become more frustrated, aggressive, and quite violent. I could hear him grunting and mumbling, “Fuck me. Fuck me.” under his breath. He would blast insults at the patrons, referring to them as drunks and telling them to GTFO. He also caused physical confrontations such as putting customers in choke holds, throwing them out the door, and even punched a guy in the face. As a result, this unnecessary agro-behavior had a negative reflection on our place of work. Customers would stop returning, and working with him became a terrifying chore. His actions were unpredictable and, although crying on the spot wouldn’t resolve his aggression, I imagine that a good cry at home would have done him a world of good. There are more appropriate ways to release pent up emotion that don’t result in raging out on others.
3. The Reflex Tears
A few years back I went to watch my nephew play soccer. I was watching a group of boys on the other field warm up before the game. The kids were running and kicking the ball around. A teammate ran up to the soccer ball and successfully kicked the ball right into another kid’s nose. Almost instantly, tears started pouring out of his eyes. The coach was standing nearby and witnessed the same thing I did. He told the other boys to settle down, turned to the kid that had just been kicked in the face and said, “You’ll be fine, boys don’t cry.” I’m unsure if the coach was this kid’s father or not, but his response was appalling and ridiculous. It was apparent that the young boy was hurt, and the fact that it’s impossible not to cry after being hit in the nose made it perfectly okay for him to be crying. After hearing the coach’s impersonal response, the boy’s reflex tears turned into psychic tears and the entire team just watched him be humiliated, twice. Why would someone degrade an adolescent in front of his peers? Fact, he is crying. Fact, he’s clearly a boy. Are you suggesting he’s a girl? I often question if people realize how impactful words can be, especially at such an impressionable age.
World history and literature is filled with male leaders who have publicly cried, using their sentiment to demonstrate passion. To show that they cared enough to cast stoicism aside during times of tragedy. Past presidents and celebrities have used strategic tears while addressing the country during times of mourning and turmoil.
I wanted to learn more about what actually happens to your brain when you cry. I did some research and found out that crying has many health benefits. Chemicals build up in the body during times of elevated stress. When we allow ourselves to cry, our body is able to rid itself of these toxins. Stifling emotion can cause many psychological issues and serious health problems such as heart disease and hypertension. The chemicals that are released after crying send endorphins through the body to help reduce pain and improve mood. I was discussing this topic with a friend and she had a profound thought about the correlation between how women openly express emotion and how women generally have a longer life expectancy. I am a woman, and I am exceptionally emotional. This comment made me feel so good that I don’t hold back my tears, and her thought resonated with me after studying the benefits of crying.
I feel it is no longer an overstatement that toxic masculinity is tarnishing the world. “Boys Don’t Cry” are three very powerful words that can have a serious impact on men later in life. Using nonsense statements such as this can have an extreme adverse effect on the male ego. Men are subject to emotional and physical pain just like women. It isn’t necessary to hold back tears in order to appear “manly.” So boys, if you begin to feel that phantom lump in your throat, it’s totally okay to grab a box of tissues, cue the Bon Iver station, turn on that sappy Lifetime Channel drama, and have a good cry. It might totally change perspective and, in return, your body will thank you.