Posted by That Other Mike on 15/01/2008
There’s a post at Feministing at the moment about crying men and how we view it in our society, although given the speed that the site operates at, it may have dropped off the front page already.
The way our society is structured1 makes little allowances towards male feelings which are not prone to being destructive – aside from anger, greed and desire (of various kinds), most men and women alike frown upon displays of men’s emotions.
Why do we legitimise these three? Primarily because our society is so tied to aggressive acquisitiveness, I think, and these emotions are often filtered through an aggressive matrix. Thus, anything outside of these emotions is seen as less legitimate or worthy.
We can speculate as to other reasons why crying is taboo among men: adulation of physical strength and conflation of it with emotional strength. Displays of other emotions are supposedly a sign of femininity and thus, according to the sexist paradigm, physical and mental weakness.
There are certainly some interesting comments about it there (as well as some from the poster called 88mph which I personally find deeply disturbing; he also discusses it further on another blog here), both in terms of personal experiences and society-wide views and commentary on the issue of men’s publicly displaying emotions outside of anger.
I used to be very emotionally closed off with my girlfriend, particularly with issues of conceding when I was wrong or had been hurtful. I put that down less to being a man than being the child of unpleasant parents2.
My childhood wasn’t some long round of beatings or what-have-you; rather, I was more an afterthought a lot of the time, and when I was being given attention, it was often of the negative kind. So I withdrew, became shy and stopped showing much in the way of feelings.
I remember clearly being about 8 or 9 years old, when I had been scolded in a particularly strident and unpleasant way by my mother, thinking that I would not give her anything. She wouldn’t ever have the satisfaction of seeing me being upset, no matter how badly hurt I was feeling, and I shut it all away, and it became my default tactic in an argument – I would hide how I felt because my parents and siblings would find some way to turn it against me. It basically became a liability to show emotion, so I stopped.
Before I broke the habit, if I was arguing with my girlfriend, I would immediately go blank and cold and remote, clinging to every scrap of ground I could claim, right or wrong, casting blame everywhere but at my own feet.
I would also not say if there were something wrong with me, but simply internalise it, keep it out of sight. Not for fear of being thought weak, exactly, but in case someone used my emotions as a weapon against me in some argument.
I’m over that now, more or less. If we argue these days, it’s sometimes a right old dingdong, but it’s more likely to be over sooner, because I don’t drag my feet so much. And as a consequence, I’m much less likely to do things to argue over.
All to the good there, really. I’m fine with showing her my tears and everything else; and why shouldn’t I be? We’re getting married, after all. We’re already as married as you can be without a certificate, and we’re very emotionally close and linked to each other.
One thing I don’t do, though, if I can possibly help it, is cry publicly. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because to me, that’s private. If I’m upset about something enough to cry about it, you can be damn sure it’s a big deal. That kind of upset I don’t want to share with anyone whom I don’t have a strong emotional connection with, because it won’t do anything helpful for me or even alleviate the sensation temporarily. In short, I’ll be as upset for as long as if I hadn’t “shared” in the first place, and I won’t have to deal with letting someone into a private matter.
Sometimes I don’t want to share, and I think that’s just fine.
1 I flat out refuse to use the term “patriarchy” or its teeth-gnashing cousin, “The Patriarchy”. It’s simplistic, reductionist rhetoric which I will have no truck with. The world is not so simple as to be reduced to single words, especially not political slogans.
2 I’m sometimes disappointed to be an Atheist – when I consider that my parents won’t be going to hell, for example.
This entry was posted on 15/01/2008 at 9:49 pm and is filed under Odds and Sods. Tagged: crying, crying men, examining, feminism, feministing, gender, gender role, men, self-exploration, social mores. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.