This stereotype is reflected in the title of the 1999 crime drama Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank. This is undoubtedly one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen, and I would not watch it again if someone paid me. It was so disturbing that a scene from the movie was played on a loop in my college campus’s rendition of the Tunnel of Oppression (a makeshift museum to either educate or traumatize students, depending on whom you ask) in order to illustrate the gravity of sexual assault.
Suffice it to say that the violence is about as graphic as it gets, and what’s worse is that it’s based on a true story.
I bring this up because this film made me cry, and I consider myself a man (not a boy anymore).
I did not necessarily cry the way I cried when Old Yeller was shot (as a boy). Tears were not streaming down my face, but I cried in a much more profound way. My heart sank into my feet, and I lost all hope in humanity for at least a few hours. I was beyond sad: I was disgusted.
I had nightmares, and I awoke the next morning already in a somber state. Although this was five years ago, I still remember talking to my then-girlfriend and a male friend about how upset I was and how much I regretted watching the film despite its noble attempt to raise awareness about the oppression of transgender folks and the rape and murder of Teena Brandon in particular.
In short, boys and men do cry.
And they don’t just cry about movies. I witnessed several former male roommates crying about breakups, deaths in the family, white supremacists winning elections, and other things that any healthy human being should cry about. Young boys cry when they fall or stub a toe but are often scolded for it instead of soothed (unlike girls). Once those young boys get to middle or high school, they can expect to be called “sissies” or even “pussies” for daring to shed a tear.
What’s behind the stereotype that men don’t cry is not only the false view that men are so different emotionally from women that they don’t need to cry but also the tendency of men to cry only privately or among close friends and loved ones in order to avoid real or perceived derision. For example, I cry almost every time I talk about my uncle, who died a year ago on Black Friday, and therefore will abstain from mentioning him in any public or professional environment. In fact, I am so careful not to cry publicly that I would imagine that only about five people have seen me cry in my entire adult life. I never even cried in front of my therapist.
It would be more accurate to reconstruct the stereotype as follows: ‘men don’t cry in public or in professional situations.’ It just doesn’t have the same ring to it, though. Just for fun, here is a notable exception.
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