What’s wrong with you? Why are you crying? Man-up and stop being a B!#&*. Our boys hear statements like this and many other phrases like them every day. Society has taught our young boys and young men that emotion equals weakness, and “real men” do not show weakness. I am a product of that mentality, especially coming from the military. But I will be the first one to say we are wrong. I understand that men have filled a specific role in our society and considered the foundation of the family structure, but as our world evolves and our issues (no matter what they are) become more and more challenging. Society as a whole needs to reevaluate our humanity and the way we deal with our emotional response. Hypermasculinity has become the action but is not the answer. Hypermasculinity is a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality. Burying deep emotional distress is a part of hypermasculinity, and I would contend creating an angrier man.
I recently heard a news report where the interviewer asked our young boys in Parkland, Florida about the recent shootings and how they were coping with the tragedy. Many of their responses were, “I’m fine” or “I’m cool.” And yet, when pressed further many of these kids said they were sad and had a myriad of emotions, but would not show those feelings because it was not what men do. Some of the kids stated that it was “not normal,” not normal for men to cry. When reflecting on that remark, I thought to myself, that response is the problem. Our society has made it so that it IS normal for men to bury emotion deep within themselves and it IS the reason why we have such anger in our world. It perhaps could be a more significant contributor to many of the mental health problems we see today.
Imagine a teapot. Think of this pot as it begins to heat up and the liquid within starts to boil and turn to steam. As the steam builds and creates more pressure within, the expanding gas must find a way to escape. If that gas cannot escape and the pot is not removed from the heat, what is the result? Boom! Consider that buried emotion is that expanding gas in our youth, and there is nowhere for that pent-up (you name it; sadness, frustration, anger) to go, what is that result?
I believe that we (teachers, faith leaders, civic leaders) should be changing the narrative around how our youth cope with emotion. We need to make it standard for our youth to feel empowered to share their feelings with others. We should have more counselors in our schools. We should allow our emotion as adults to show. I would contend that men can show strength by enabling others to see their sadness and grief. The power is in how we rebuild and grow from our pain. It is okay to cry; it is okay to say I am hurting, and it is okay to be human. Don’t be afraid to cry. Set the example for the sake of our children.