[Opinion-Piece] This is a much-needed conversation as the message that is still being perpetuated everywhere in the world is contributing to the destruction of our societies from the inside out.
Shifting the Messaging
We have all heard, seen, and maybe even said that “Boys don’t cry” in our lives. This statement is saturated with the death of identities of men across the globe who are now a shell of their former selves – all hollow on the inside. A result of years of self-denial and pure utter loneliness that comes with living such a heavy lie.
We have told our male counterparts from day 1 that they are not allowed to be complete. That they are not allowed to be human. That being a “man” means being emotionally invincible. Denying them the very part of who they are as healthy, balanced and complete human beings — with emotions.
And instead, we teach them that the only acceptable negative emotion that they can feel as men is anger, and require that they replace the healthy ability to feel hurt, pain, disappointment, sorrow — with aggression.
We tell them that they are not allowed to be sad but in fact, should get mad when things they don’t like happen. To shove the wholeness of their true feelings aside and only ever be angry whenever negative emotions creep up. Because supposedly this is what being a man is all about — being hard and tough.
Nurture and NOT Nature
A heartbreaking indoctrination that many boys are subjected to at very young ages that ends up compromising their hearts (pun intended) in the long run.
When we teach young boys that feeling non-anger based emotions and expressing them without some sort of violence is “normal” for them as males, we rob them of a significant part of their humanity and potentially create monsters – and problems, for us all in our societies.
A man who believes that he is not supposed to cry — hardens and numbs himself to any feelings that could make him “betray his manhood” in expressing emotional vulnerability in a “non-masculine” way.
This can easily result in a person who is unable to be vulnerable and emotionally extend himself enough to trust someone else and thus unable to truly let himself connect with another person on a significantly deeper, real level. And therefore, incapable of true emotional intimacy and unable to truly love another person completely in a healthy and stable way.
The Truth and Reality
To love is to open yourself up to another person. It is to try and to share. It is also to care. In doing so we give that person some emotional power and influence over us, and with that influence, we are more emotionally vulnerable and could potentially be hurt — voie tears.
There are many who feel that crying is a sign of weakness.
I personally do not even think that crying is necessarily always a sign of true deep emotion. But I do feel that being able to let yourself feel raw emotions — with or without tears, that reveal your vulnerability as a person and human being is Strength in itself.
It takes more to let yourself feel than it does to numb yourself to feeling. It takes more to get to the bottom of your feelings; listen, process, reflect, learn and grow, than it does to shove them aside and pretend that there is nothing there while you distract yourself and others with lies.
Men Do, and Should, Cry!
Perhaps boys don’t cry, but real men do.
And they should be able to do so honestly, unabashedly, completely and freely. As this is a very beautiful part of us all as human beings — the part that FEELS something. That can be touched emotionally. That can be made to feel vulnerable, hurt, uncertain, insecure, depressed and down. Without it being masked as anger and frustration.
Men should feel free to express their negative emotions in saying, “I’m hurt,” “I’m sad,” “You’re hurting my feelings,” “I’m depressed,” and not only have it (sometimes) be permitted when somebody dies or they lose in some sporting competition. But when the pain is all-internal and about them and their emotional vulnerability as human beings.
Vulnerability is where reflection and growth can occur because we evolve when we are strong enough to face ourselves and the most uncomfortable parts of who we are. It is also where trust can be formed and bonds nurtured because we trust ourselves, and perhaps someone else, to see us at our most raw and bare.
At our most truthful because we are not putting up airs to seem perfect or emotionally invincible! When we are temporarily hurting and need a moment to recollect ourselves.
Real Men cry. They acknowledge that their feelings — not just their egos and pride, can be hurt. That the negative emotion that they feel is not anger but pure unadulterated pain.
Gender Roles Only Hurt, Divide and Destroy
I may not be a man, but I am a woman.
And I know that the same way society has told me who I am supposed to be based on being a “girl” or a “woman”…. is not the way I feel 99% of the time. I know that my strength and resilience know no bounds and that I have a voice which I never fail to use to assert my truth.
Before we are men, women, gender-queer — we are people, human beings. And the societal designation of problematic gender roles or ignorant books that highlight human-made imaginary differences between us that are typically not based on actual physiological science need not apply when we choose to be our true and complete selves.
I know from experience that many men in my life are surprised to encounter my strength but then later relieved to be comforted by it when they need a break from being “strong” all the time. When they need to just be HUMAN and have a moment (or more) of doubt, of fear, of uncertainty, of insecurity, of feeling helpless and lost. A moment to despair, to be hurt — and yes, to cry.
I know from experience, many a time over, that these men — after removing the masks that society coldly forced them to wear from childhood, were able to sob, scream, curse and have a REAL gaping moment of realisation with me and their own selves. The person, the woman that they trusted with their egos, their “manly reputations,” their respect, their feelings, their hearts and with their reality as they had known it; the false reality of “boys don’t cry”…. These men were liberated the moment they allowed themselves their right to cry.
Freed from societal chains that do NOTHING but torment their souls and constantly chip away at the wholeness of their beautiful personalities. Chains that damage the way men communicate and force them to cope, to shoulder, to react, to live — emotionally isolated and all bottled up.
Why? This is unfair! This is unnecessary.
Emotional Health is Magic to the Soul
A man who feels is more of a man to me than one who pretends not to. The latter is a person that society has let down and negatively influenced as far as his personal search of what it means to be a “man.” A man: a complete person who tries to be his best, true, self — regardless of appearances and what society has to say about it.
I can tell you as a non-sexist heterosexual woman, that there is nothing more attractive than a man who is complete.
That is a real man to me. A man who assumes ALL parts of who he is. Who is not afraid to admit that he has feelings that can be hurt. Who is not emotionally constipated. Who expresses the deepest parts of his emotions without disguising them in “anger” or “pride.”
It is challenging to have men in one’s life who make a point not to cry for the sake of misguided “manhood” because — especially when you yourself are emotionally whole and balanced as the ideal would be to have someone who complements that energy i.e. an emotionally healthy man.
A man who will be able to empathise and identify with me when you have your own moments where you just need to breathe and feel broken about something. A man who will not be afraid of the raw face that you show him because he recognises it in himself. A man who will be able to support you adequately and not just tell you to “be strong” — or worse, “Man up!”
Tears won’t scare him or make him uncomfortable. Vulnerability won’t make him cagey. Feelings won’t overwhelm him because he will know what that feels like. And he recognises what he would need from others during his own emotional moments.
Get the Tissues Out and Let Yourself Feel
What grace to be able to be with a man who can trust you and your strength — enough to let himself be vulnerable with me. To let you carry him when he needs to take a break. To be able to wrap your arms around him while the tears flow and not feel embarrassed as you wipe them away. To be able to look you in the eye and say he feels awful as he openly expresses his fears, doubts and regrets. To feel comforted and revived by — and not ashamed and resentful of, the emotionally intimate moment he shared with you as his confidant, partner or friend. To not ever feel like less of a man because of it.
Is the picture I am painting unrealistic? I assure you that whole, emotionally available and balanced men like this do exist but I wouldn’t blame you too much if you thought otherwise because our societies are still dreadfully ill; plagued with this “Boys don’t” cry disease in every sphere of our lives.
And what’s more, we are all guilty of giving it life. And as such, we also all have the duty to make it right.
Ending the Vicious Cycle Together
Men and women alike — let’s stop leading, teaching and interacting with hidden and overt messages that state that “Boys don’t cry” and being a man means being a hard, aggressive, tough shell of a person.
No more “Be a man!” or “Grow a pair!” No more “Don’t be a sissy” or “You’re acting like a girl!” — or any other homophobic and misogynistic taunts rooted in the Patriarchy that not only reinforce negative behaviour but promote other derogatory stereotypes which in turn create all sorts of other serious problems within society.
This negative mentality hurts everyone! Both the men and all the other people who have to engage with them.
In trying to be “manly” our men seek to vehemently reject everything that society also falsely labels as the polar opposite of this “manhood”; traits often unjustly associated with women and depicted as bad. Our men then learn to distance themselves as far from these otherwise normal — and not unique to women, traits, in order to not be judged as “less than a man.”
Hence, the mistreatment of women ensues by men within our societies.
This mentality encourages abuse and violence, damages communication and contributes to the plethora of dysfunctional relationships we have in the world. A vicious and unhealthy cycle.
Let’s all be better than this and break the cycle. Let’s create safe spaces for our boys and men to feel like they can express how they feel honestly and openly without having to put their identities on the line or be viciously attacked and ostracised. Let’s stop judging the ones who do dare to show emotion.
Let’s start letting our boys and our men cry.
And look them in the eye and tell them that it is okay, and love them even more for it.
The project explores the pressures linked to ‘being a man’ in Africa and takes a look at how men are changing themselves and their communities for the better.