Why men are taught to never, ever, ever, show emotions. An excerpt from Chapter Two in Noah Brand’s and Ozy Franz’s book about masculinity.
From boyhood, men get one lesson drilled into them over and over. Their peers, their parents, their toys, their television, every joke and jibe and playground game tells them one thing, the single most important thing they must do to perform masculinity, to be a big boy, to be a real man: men must at all costs never show, or if possible never even feel, emotions.
Boys don’t cry. Toughen up. Quit whining and man up. Lose and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about the loss. Walk it off. Get over it. Chuck Norris’s tears cure cancer, too bad he never cries. Nobody cares about your problems. Quit being such a little bitch. (Bitch, or pussy, or mangina, or “might as well have fallopian tubes.” The nice thing about gender-enforcing insults is how predictable they are.)
Picture two guys in a painful situation, and the first guy is openly showing his pain and vulnerability, and the second guy is sitting there stoically, one eyebrow cocked. Notice how you can’t help feeling that the second guy somehow won. How he’s somehow cooler, better, more masculine, than the one who’s not hiding his feelings. The first guy is a wimp, the second guy is Sean Connery.
Heartbreak comes to most of us sooner or later. From the first time we fall dizzyingly in love in adolescence, heartbreak is waiting for us. If it weren’t such a universal human condition, there wouldn’t be so many really good songs about it. But where a woman who’s just lost her love is encouraged to bond with friends, express her pain, take some time to process her feelings and recover, a man will be actively shamed for those things. Indeed, a man who expressed too much pain at having lost his love will be called a “whiny little bitch” or “a pussywhipped loser” or “dickless” or whatever other terms are locally in vogue for expressing the idea “you are insufficiently performing masculinity, sir.” Perhaps that’s why some studies show that men feel more pain upon a breakup than women do.
The damage inflicted by this societal idea is incalculable. Add up all the suicides, the stress-induced heart attacks, the alcohol-induced liver damage, and the deaths in fights between guys who weren’t allowed to not be angry, and all you’ve done is scratch the direct mortality rate. The subtler forms of damage, the loneliness, the uncommunicative relationships, the desperation, the repressed pain and regret and fear that no one must know about… there’s no way to measure all that.
There’s no way to tell when someone is suffering in silence.
Men suffer from a “social capital gap.” Men’s sense of connection is not a subject of a great deal of research, but according to one comprehensive British study, women are more likely to feel fully engaged in their social group, while men are more likely to report complete disconnection and lack of support. Men are less likely to contact their friends often, less likely to be attached to their neighborhood, less likely to feel social support. The majority don’t feel comfortable talking to their friends and family; only half feel comfortable talking to a romantic partner.
Worse, the best predictors of whether a man will feel a lack of social support include a strong masculine self-identity. Refusing to admit you have emotions makes it difficult to get and give emotional support, which means that your friendships are far shallower and less meaningful than they could be. However, because of gender enforcement, men feel—often with some justification—that if they admit to any feeling outside of the narrow range of feelings acceptable for a man, they’ll be mocked by their friends instead of supported.
Men with depression or suicidal tendencies tend to express their depression differently than women. Men tend to act out; women tend to act in. Suicidal boys are more likely to experience trouble with the police, use substances, withdraw, or smash things; essentially, they express their depression through the few options available for boys. Depression is seen as the one thing a man cannot have or admit to: a weakness. Typical signs of depression—such as crying, self-injury, and talking about one’s suicidal feelings—would simply add the stress of being not properly masculine to the feelings of depression. Too often, mental health professionals are not trained to look for male-pattern depression, which means that it tends to be underdiagnosed and undertreated.
The consequences are dire: men living with mental illnesses are less likely to seek psychiatric help; however, they are far more likely to end up in rehab centers for alcohol or drugs or even in prison. Men make up the majority of suicides. Seeking psychiatric help is, of course, unmasculine: not only are you talking about your feelings, but you’re asking for help! How are you supposed to be the big strong provider man if you’re asking for help? Better to just pretend that everything’s fine until one calm summer night you go home and put a bullet through your head.
A man is strong, we are told, and emotions are weak. Emotions make you vulnerable. Emotions make you less able to fulfill your roles as a protector and a provider. Emotions mean that someone might be called upon to take care of you, instead of you being self-reliant and self-sufficient and independent the way men are supposed to be. Emotions prove you are a human being, instead of an unstoppable success robot.
And men, naturally, must always be unstoppable success robots, so that means that all feelings of fear, sadness, loss, regret, love, pain, weakness, uncertainty, and damn near everything else must be repressed. Expressing any of these is a failure to sufficiently perform masculinity, and this will be enforced. All you’re allowed to feel are anger and, if you must, wry detachment. For example, Michael Dukakis was widely criticized in 1988 for responding to an emotionally loaded question without anger. If you dare to experience something more… well, the most common word to call a man who is expressing inappropriate emotions is a “pussy.” That’s right: if you express your feelings, you are so little a man that you are literally a vulva. (Bonus sexism: genitals define gender in all cases! This can be taken completely for granted!)
This repression of emotions causes untold and unnecessary suffering for billions of men across the planet. Emotions are a vital tool for decision-making and help us communicate and form stronger friendships; ignoring emotions can lead to men not getting treated for mental illnesses, psychosomatic symptoms, and other serious consequences.
Even beyond the instrumental advantages of acknowledging emotions, emotions are part of what make us people—the ability to grieve a death, regret a mistake, feel elation at the sunrise over a mountaintop, fear a scary noise at night. In exchange for the bitter blessing of having more hegemonic masculinity, men are systematically cutting themselves off from their own humanity. It’s a devil’s bargain, and men should not have to strike it.
It shouldn’t be necessary to stop being a person in order to be a man.
 Simon, Robin W., and Barrett, Anne E. “Nonmarital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Does The Association Differ For Women and Men?” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51:68 (2010): 168-182.
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 Young Men Speak Out. 1999: London; The Samaritans.
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The gender ratio of prisons can be discovered in the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Correctional Population in the United States, 2010. Prisoners have a rate of mental illness two to four times higher than that of the general public (Doris J. James and Lauren E. Glaze, “Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2006).