Eric Henney thinks it’s great that society is more accepting of men crying, but thinks there are still too many conditions upon when it’s okay for boys to shed tears.
Parents who stifle their emotions in front of their children, argues the New Canaan columnist and mother of four, risk teaching their kids to repress their feelings, which could in turn lead to emotional stunting and low self-esteem. Instead, parents ought to teach their children that sometimes crying is appropriate and therapeutic—and they ought to so by example.
Evans’ argument applies more heavily to the emotional development of young boys than young girls for the fact that stoicism is built into the archetype of the strong, active man. And in fact, there is some evidence to suggest that emotional suppression attendant to the fearless and stoic male figure encourages masculine hegemony. By contrast, a recent study of college football players found that those men who were more willing to cry in certain situations had higher rates of self-esteem than those who weren’t.
The underlying premise of Evan’s piece, and the one that is most salient here, is that there are legitimate situations in which boys and men can cry, and that they shouldn’t feel bad about that. I wouldn’t say this argument is novel, but it’s one worth hearing. And fortunately, it’s gaining traction. Recent studies have suggested that both men and women are starting to soften their once harsh attitudes toward male crying.
I’m still not sure why disapprobation towards men who cry didn’t abruptly fold after Roy Orbison wrote a song about it. But these new developments seem good to me if for no other reason than this: the effectiveness of teaching your child to accept his or her feelings is more dependent on public acceptance than parents may realize. Set aside for a moment the stereotype reinforcement that children undergo watching movies and TV. When you teach your kid that men who cry are sissies, they tend to call the children of parents who teach otherwise sissies. (Trust me on this one.) Such a rift between what you’re told by your parents and what you’re told by the people from whom you crave acceptance is rarely healthy.
But if I’m glad about our progress, I’m still not convinced of its character. For in place of a blanket ruling against public crying we now seem to have substituted a strict list of conditions which comprise the only times a man can cry and stay manly. For example, a man can cry at the birth or death of a loved one, or he can tear up over a national tragedy, or maybe if his arm has just been crushed. But he still can’t really cry if he’s moved or scared or just really sad. Men who cry under those circumstances are still girly.
Setting up asymmetrical lists of conditions under which men and women can acceptably cry, as we are doing, says to me that we’re still not really alright with the image of a watery-eyed man. Not yet, anyway. And while this fact does smack of transition over permanence, it is still one we ought to remember, especially when considering the unspoken (and therefore usually unconsidered) lessons we pass on to our children.
But what about you? Did you cry as a child? Did your parents let you? Do you think that men still shouldn’t cry or should only cry under extreme circumstances?
Photo courtesy of Chris Robertshaw