Are you guys watching the Olympics in little unsatisfying chunks, like me? I’m not sure why, but every two years I swear that I will have a enough of a handle on my schedule to see more of them. This time around I got to lie to myself in new ways, claiming to be within hours of figuring out how to download the BBC feeds. You know, being cooler than the average fan.
Thankfully I was able to catch the recap of men’s gymnastics. Max Whitlock, the young man from Great Britain, was able to take the Gold. My attention however, like yours, was on the Silver and Bronze medal winners.
Brazilian competitors Diego Hypolito and Arthur Nory won the Silver and the Bronze, respectfully. If you are a more savvy sports fan than I am (and I pray that you are) you probably figured out long ago that you can predict who will medal by keeping track of the scores as they roll in.
Turns out the athletes know this as well, and in between sets the cameras flashed over to show the reactions of these two men. As the possibility of medaling became a reality, Nory became increasingly emotional, tears trickling down his face. Hypolito became so emotional that, as the final deciding score was being tabulated, he knelt on the floor and covered his head with his arms.
Once the score was in, cementing his place on the medal stand, he was at once so emotional that he couldn’t speak. Tears streamed, and he tightly hugged his countryman. Then they strode out onto the mat, their shoulders wrapped in the flag of their nation. The crowd chanted “Brazil.” It was a powerful moment and the reason many of us semi-sports-illiterate folks watch these games.
Their backstory is apparently the thing Olympic NBC moments are made of. Hypolito gave his all for two previous Olympic Games without being able to medal. Although he was the world champion in men’s floor exercise in 2008, he finished sixth in the Olympic finals. This couldn’t compare to the heartbreaking events of 2012, when he was unable to participate in the finals due to a fall in qualifying. The beauty of the moment today was of course magnified by the fact that he was competing in and for his home nation of Brazil.
So yeah—plenty of justification for a heavily emotional response. Duh, you might be saying. Great article. But why bring it up here?
Because it isn’t always OK for men to behave this way.
Time and time again I see men shutting down similarly important moments of emotional release. As a psychotherapist I often find myself prompting men to stop apologizing when they drop a tear or two while telling me about deaths of children, loss of a marriage, or an experience of molestation.
“It’s not only OK,” I will say, in reaction to crying. “It’s important. If you can’t cry about this, what could you cry about?”
We often see emotionality as weakness rather than strength. We shame ourselves for our emotional moments, and even use it as a weapon towards others. Every time we tell someone to calm down, buck up, or stop taking it so much to heart, we are telling them that it isn’t OK to express emotion.
Men are often socialized to only show anger, with the occasional expression of cool happiness. Just so long as it isn’t too exuberant. Above all, we are often taught to be tough and strong, no matter what happens. We are, in fact, quite emotional creatures. We just become experts at not showing it.
Frank Pittman, in his book Man Enough talks about the danger of men denying emotion until it can become “Masculopathic,” a pathological avoidance of emotion. This usually takes the form of aggression, over competition, or self-destructive patterns.
I hear more and more people lately mourning the perceived loss of masculinity and gender roles. I even see many people within my own profession talking about how schools are set up against the behavior of boys. Mental health professionals beating this drum always seem to specify aggression, fighting, and distractibility to be the defining hallmarks of being male. Kindness, emotionality, and an ability to focus are sold to us as feminine-only traits. I love when I see any examples that break these man made molds.
After watching the wonderful display of athletics and emotional prowess, I did a little research into the expression of emotion by men within the Brazilian culture. While my quick internet research is shallow in comparison to any of you that have actual experience in this area (see the comments section for that), I was lucky enough to find some work that has been done in this area.
A study conducted by Dr. Martins, a researcher from King’s College Institute of Psychiatry in London, was researching emotional expressivity within family members of Schizophrenia patients. When he studied Brazilian families, he was surprised to find that a higher than anticipated amount of individuals within the study, 59% in fact, showed high emotional expression and engagement.
This led me to think that perhaps Brazilian men may have an advantage in this area. However, researchers from the University of Wisconsin did research into this assumption in 2012, and found that Brazilians “do not significantly differ in self-reported emotional expressivity,” from individuals in the USA. Their findings did indicate that men in Brazil may feel more comfortable expressing nervousness or anger than men in the US. This makes me like these two athletes even more. Seeing these strong and powerful men hugging each other while crying, and expressing joy without shame, made me wonder; could this become part of our perception of masculinity? I can only hope the answer to that is yes.
Did you know these guys are on Twitter? You can find them @hypolitoginasta and @arthurnory if you want to follow, Heart, or RT their thoughts. Or better yet, give them some well-deserved props. I want to get on there tonight and thank them. Not only for their physical sacrifice and dedication, but mostly for showing me, my children, and the whole world the strength of being emotional.
Photo: Getty Images