By Acharya Samaneti
What does it mean to be a boy? To be a man?
How have we been taught to perform our masculinity? I don’t know about you, but I have had been told my whole life what it is to be a man. I have struggled most of my life understanding that I don’t necessarily fit this traditional mold; I have been emasculated by being told over and over to “man up” the moment that I showed emotion.
It felt like the only time I was allowed to cry was when a parent dies or your sports team wins the championship (and that last one is pretty much just that we are allowed to wipe away a tear). I often welcome men in my chaplain’s office who just want to come so they can cry, it is a safer space for them to be vulnerable and they can benefit from the release of their tears.
My office is that safer space, because they are not able to cry in their cell from fear of being seen as weak that they will then become the targets of violence and taxing (for those of you not familiar with prison culture, taxing is a fee that one must pay to avoid violence or problems. One could say that it is a protection tax.) etc. I can’t imagine being sentenced many years in a penitentiary for an action that I feel remorse for, and not be able to be vulnerable for a few moments and sit in my remorse and sadness, which is usually expressed by way of tears and crying.
They come, they sit down, and they cry—I mean, they ugly cry.
We are able to witness the release of all this pent-up sadness and remorse, and I always tell myself how this can’t be healthy. Toxic masculinity hurts men. Because of these “standards” that we are given for what is a “real” man, we have many men that suffer in silence because they must uphold an image that is not who they are and creates a lot of suffering for them.
This is just one of the many aspects of toxic masculinity and how it effects us, but I feel like this one is a big one. It also opens the conversation towards developing, nurturing, and teaching positive masculinity for our fathers, brothers, and sons. Anyone who is male should be able to cry when they feel it is necessary; we have to start a movement that normalizes men needing emotional support. Most importantly, we must normalize men crying.
Crying is good for us; there are many benefits that come from crying and men should utilize it as much as women.
Crying detoxifies the body, helps to self-soothe (it is considered your best mechanism to self-soothe), dulls pain, improves our mood, rallies support, helps us recover from grief and it restores emotional balance. So, if there are all these benefits to crying; why are men told not to cry and that it is seen as a sign of weakness? Why is strength translated to the non-expression of emotions for men?
Why is toughness the ideal characteristic that we must exude as men and why is toughness translated as the lack of emotion?
Bottling up emotions is central to masculinity—emotional stoicism is the essence of masculinity. The strong silent type is the ideal masculine feature; traditional masculinity is expressed through this toughness and stoicism. This lack of emotional expression is the hallmark of our masculine identity.
Women and girls are traditionally seen as being much more likely to express their emotions openly while men are told that it is not very manly to express one’s emotions. This gendered difference is taught to us from a young age. As boys we are told to value traits like aggressiveness, dominance and competitiveness. This emotional indifference however makes men more impulsive and prone to more intense emotional highs and lows.
This is why (among a list of other factors) men are more likely to respond with impulsivity and violence.
It only takes a quick Google search to see the statistics about men and violent attacks. So, if we want this trend to change, how are we to do that? I don’t think that I have the answer, but I think that there are a few little changes that we can do that can begin the road towards a more positive masculinity.
How are we to shift toxic masculinity?
Well, first of all, let’s normalize certain outlooks that we have about men and what is seen as a normal masculine trait—let’s normalize men needing emotional support and most importantly (for me) let’s normalize men crying. Boys cry. Whether we want to admit it or not, or that we do it away from others in the privacy of our own rooms or cars, we cry…and that is a masculine trait. Let’s normalize crying in the list of masculinity.
I know that there are big issues that have to be addressed about male violence towards women, and I don’t want to minimize this in any way. I think that men have to be an integral part in this fight, because like I have said before, this is a men’s problem. It is also important that we create positive masculinity models for men to follow and align themselves with.
I dream of a world where men feel comfortable to cry; that they do not see this as emasculating but an action that leads them to positive masculinity.
I feel privileged to witness men crying on a daily basis; it makes me hopeful for a world that will normalize men crying. I hope to one day live in a world where we have been able to soften masculinity, that many things which are considered weaknesses are now seen as normal characteristics of masculinity.
So, if you need to cry, I am there to witness your example of positive masculinity. May we build a new definition based in emotional balance, tenderness, kindness and care.
May we normalize male emotional health
May we normalize male vulnerability
May we normalize male crying
May we normalize male affection
Editor: Dana Gornall