Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A man ain't supposed to cry

A few weeks ago, the friend and I were at the cinema watching Inside Out.  To my left was a boy who was about eleven or twelve years old.  His father was on his other side and then the mother and the sister.  The kid was certainly animated during the funny scenes.  During one particularly emotional scene, I wondered how the boy would react.  I saw him slowly raise his right hand to his eye and wipe away the tears--it was clear that he didn't want even his father to know that he was crying.

I could relate to him; I, too, right from the time that I was a kid, was told not to cry like a girl.  Oddly enough, the ones who urged me to man up, so to speak, were women, which is no surprise because, after all, it was women who raised us while the older men were busy being useless!  I knew I did not want to be a sob story.

Not that the women who took care of me were the crying kind anyway.  I have no memories of my grandmothers or my mother ever crying, .  They did not come from any steely stock either--perhaps they shed tears when they were by themselves or when we kids were not around.  Which is all the more why I felt like the worst son ever when I made my mother cry by telling her about my marriage having collapsed.

Real men don't cry--that's what we are always told.  But, apparently not so, argues this essay, which asks:
History is full of sorrowful knights, sobbing monks and weeping lovers – what happened to the noble art of the manly cry?
Even the Indian movies, in whatever language it was, never shied away from portraying the male character crying a big cry.  So, what gives?
But actually, the gender gap in crying seems to be a recent development. Historical and literary evidence suggests that, in the past, not only did men cry in public, but no one saw it as feminine or shameful. In fact, male weeping was regarded as normal in almost every part of the world for most of recorded history.
Not having read that essay, you are perhaps thinking that the men cried only at the huge manly events--like the death of a fellow soldier at the war.
Men might cry in this ritual manner over weighty issues of death, war and politics, but surely personal tears of love and frustration were still confined to women?

Wrong, argues the author.  Here's an example:
In medieval romances, we find innumerable instance of knights crying purely because they miss their girlfriends. In Chrétien de Troyes’ The Knight of the Cart, no less a hero than Lancelot weeps at a brief separation from Guinevere. At another point, he cries on a lady’s shoulder at the thought that he won’t get to go to a big tournament. What’s more, instead of being disgusted by this snivelling, she’s moved to help, and Lancelot gets to go to the tournament after all. 
Visualize that--Sir Lancelot crying because of being away from Guinevere.  Didn't anybody tell the knight not to cry like a girl? ;)

So, what happened?  Boys and men being conditioned not to cry is something recent, modern?
The most obvious possibility is that this shift is the result of changes that took place as we moved from a feudal, agrarian society to one that was urban and industrial. In the Middle Ages, most people spent their lives among those they had known since birth. A typical village had only 50-300 inhabitants, most of them related by blood or marriage; a situation like an extended family stuck in an eternal reunion in the middle of nowhere.
But from the 18th through the 20th centuries, the population became increasingly urbanised; soon, people were living in the midst of thousands of strangers. Furthermore, changes in the economy required men to work together in factories and offices where emotional expression and even private conversation were discouraged as time-wasting. As Tom Lutz writes in Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears (1999), factory managers deliberately trained their workers to suppress emotion with the aim of boosting productivity: ‘You don’t want emotions interfering with the smooth running of things.’
Has this brainwashing to make us less human and more productive helped us?
Labour productivity might be enhanced; we’re spared the dramas of strangers; and men (and women, in the workplace) are constrained in their use of emotional manipulation.
However, human beings weren’t designed to swallow their emotions, and there’s reason to believe that suppressing tears can be hazardous to your wellbeing.  [Research has] found a relationship between a person’s rate of stress-related illnesses and inadequate crying. Weeping is also, somewhat counter-intuitively, correlated with happiness. ... Finally, crying is an important tool for understanding one’s own feelings. 
Anything else?
Taboos against male expressiveness mean that men are far less likely than women to get help when they’re suffering from depression. This, in turn, is correlated with higher suicide rates; men are three to four times as likely to commit suicide as women. Male depression is also more likely to express itself in alcoholism and drug addiction, which have their own high death toll.
We modern humans are crazy, is all I can conclude.  There is a huge difference between crying as a temper tantrum, which both girls and boys do in order to get their ways, versus crying as a genuine emotion.  If we humans can laugh and laugh heartily to emote, the yin-yang means that we would cry to express the other set of feelings, right?  Maybe the least we can do is stop telling male kids not to cry like a girl.


Anne in Salem said...

Funny timing. Just yesterday a man at work cried on my shoulder. His daughter ran away early this summer, and he was terribly worried about her. She finally called him, and his tears were a release of emotion. He cried only one other time during this ordeal, and that was when I told him I would pray for them. That time, he did not cry in my presence but went home first. I think he underestimated how much we care about him.

Is it easier - less damaging to one's manliness - to cry in front of women?

Sriram Khé said...

A grown man shedding tears in your presence is solid evidence of how much he has confidence in you, Anne. A confidence that you sincerely wish nothing but the best for him. I bet that came from your actions and behavior, for mere words can never build such confidence in the other. Good for you.

As the author of that essay put it--and I agree there--we adults of whatever gender don't usually like to cry in front of strangers. For men who have been conditioned into thinking that crying is for sissies, it is terribly damaging to reveal to women the weak spot within.

Ramesh said...

Well, if you want to cry, go right ahead .... !!!

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