The margins between being a ‘man’ and being a ‘woman’ are blurred. Culturally, we’ve been force-fed the idea that women are supposed to be sensitive. We’re meant to show our pain, show our feelings, we’re meant to cry. Men are not. They’re supposed to be strong which is why phrases like ‘be a man’ and ‘grow some balls’ continually get banded around. Through phrases like these, society has subliminally lead us to believe that men are born emotionless, feeding in to the nature/nurture debate. This may come from some of the innate differences between men and women, like increased testosterone levels in guys. But, testosterone shouldn’t dictate our expectation of men in society and society alone shouldn’t dictate the way we think. Little boys shouldn’t be pulled aside for wanting to play badminton instead of football or skipping instead of rugby. They shouldn’t be called a ‘big girls blouse’ when they fall over and cry in the playground. And, when guys do have the courage to show how they feel, we shouldn’t tell them to ‘grow a pair’.
These gender issues don’t only apply to men; ‘stop acting like a girl’, points the finger at women. It assumes we’re at the mercy of our emotions and that we’re weak. It takes great strength to break this and be an empowered woman, in a society which teaches you that you’re not.
Many men fear weakness, a symptom they associate with crying. The disconnection between a man’s heart and mind, begins at such a young age, and so a large majority of guys (especially in my generation) hide their vulnerability. Crying reveals too much emotion and confuses their ideas of masculinity. I think this is the problem. Men will openly tell you that they don’t cry, because it shows weakness and weakness for a man shows vulnerability. Vulnerability leads to exposure, exposure to negativity and negativity to weakness. Expressing pain is not a weakness. Showing sad emotions is not a weakness. Crying is not a weakness.
If we accept pain as a weakness, we create more issues. A lot of guys ignore their physical pain and would rather avoid going to the doctors, where they have to acknowledge it. Going to the doctors breaks the gender norms; it disrupts the ‘idea’ of masculinity. It means entering an environment, where you’re forced to accept that you need someone else’s help, which men may find uncomfortable. But, not going to the doctors for something which may only be a small problem, creates bigger problems; likewise, not addressing this smaller societal problem, will lead to a larger problem for generations to come.
Women also face this same issue. The taboo for men is crying, but for us it’s anger. When we get annoyed we’re often called ‘hormonal’ or people joke about whether it’s ‘that time of the month’. Clearly, society demands that we don’t react with anger unless there is reason for it – our period; as otherwise, it’s not very ‘ladylike’ and it doesn’t fit our submissive stereotype. We aren’t recognised as being assertive and we get labelled as ‘drama queens’ when we voice our strong opinions. Doesn’t it make you wonder why we don’t have any ‘drama kings’? This double standard is the problem; men and women should freely be allowed to express all their emotions.
I think, we need to address the problem head on. We need to dissect the image of what it is to be ‘male’ and ‘female’ and rethink ideas of the incorporation of gender role norms and expectations in society.
Andrew McMillan, ‘The Men Are Weeping In The Gym’; a poem about the struggle men go through to mask their interior whilst maintaining their exterior, from a male perspective: