“Man Up.” “Grow some balls.” Both of these phrases are commonplace in the American vernacular, both are things I’ve heard my whole life, and both are incredibly detrimental to the mental health of men. They describe a basic concept found in today’s society: real men don’t emote. Men are told to live by their actions; they are supposed to be strong, and tough. The weakness brought from emotion is almost singularly viewed as a trait possessed by women. The entire concept of a woman crying isn’t unheard of. Often, women are depicted as over-emotional, but emotions and men are never paired.
In a sense, it is another result of privilege. The reason men are seen as emotionless is a direct result of the idea that men can understand, evaluate, and address situations more objectively than women do. But in the movement towards a world of gender equality, it is important to understand the negative implications of this idea.
Suicide is the second most common cause of death for males between the ages of 10 to 34, with 1/5 of the deaths being suicide. (CDC) A direct cause of this is the concept that men cannot feel emotions. The idea that men are objective and strong leaves those who are going through issues in their lives vulnerable to pain, without a real outlet to express it. A direct result of this is the reason why men are often temperamental and aggressive; it’s how they’re taught to be. It leaves little room for compassion, empathy, and care because from such an early age, men are taught to be tough, mean, and emotionless.
It’s hard for some to understand why women can present themselves as tomboys and it’s so hard for men to show feminine attributes, and it stems from the negative view of femininity in general. It’s easy for a woman to act more like a man because, from a societal view, its a rise from her original station. However, when men try to relate to their more traditionally feminine side, it’s a downstep from their current societal position. Take, for example, the insults people use when men have the audacity to showcase their emotions. Words like sissy, or even just “girl” are used as derogatory terms to equate emotional men with women, who are seen as less than. It’s this same misogyny that a lot of homophobia stems from, as gay men are often seen as more feminine and thus less than.
Growing up, I have clear memories from as early as the 2nd grade of being told not to cry when I was upset, being told to man up, and told that my emotion was a weakness. The results of being told that having emotions is in direct contrast to being a man is what leads to bottling up emotions and suppressing mental issues. Allowing boys to understand and express their emotions is a step in the right direction of both gender equality and mental health awareness.
As a society, we often don’t assume men feel emotions because they are taught not to show them. It’s incredibly troubling, however, that when one looks at suicide rates among men, they are shockingly high. Everyone is familiar with the image of a sullen teen girl, depressed and bullied, perhaps with suicidal thoughts or even actions, but the same cannot be
said about the image of teenage boys. Letting men emote is not simply about making them “feel better”, it’s literally a life and death situation.
The hardest part of solving this issue is its source. The main enforcer of these negative positions of men stems from men themselves. And so it is hard to convince the enforcer that their actions are detrimental to themselves. Even so, these roles are enforced by every other member of society as well, knowingly or subconsciously. Understanding and trying to correct these negative roles is a part of the solution, and as we progress as a society, it is important to look into the causes and effects of gender roles.
Crying, or expressing emotion in general, is a natural and healthy response to stimuli, and when we begin to allow all humans, regardless of gender, the ability to emote, we will move towards a more empathetic and positive society as a whole.