No Crying, Be a Man

By on January 9, 2014

Recently, I saw a trailer for the documentary The Mask You Live In, a film that explicitly states the destructive nature that our society creates, especially for young men. It caused me to think about the number of times I’ve heard it said to other men, specifically or in any variation of the phrase itself. It’s not only in the context of man-to-man, but sometimes, when the father of the house is either not around or not available, males are told to be “the man of the house” from not just men, but from their mothers.

The problem lies in the fact that by using the phrase, there’s a specific construct that is being told to be used. The phrase “Be a Man” explicitly negates all aspects of emotion that come within the human psyche, and replaces it with a homophobic, misogynistic, and particularly constructed vision for the lives that young men use to progress within our society.

Young men hear it all the time, especially during the period where young boys are trying to find themselves and place themselves in the world. Moments where an intense emotional whirlwind can drive young boys to tears. Young boys during these periods are told things like “crying is for girls,” or that it’s blatantly unnecessary for the public show of emotion, because it’s generally not accepted. Ever. I should also clearly state that for these young boys, there’s a difference between crying for attention and crying because there is truly an upsetting situation occurring. Disney World will clearly show you this upfront, whether you like it or not.

For example, if you’re at Disney World, and you hear a young boy crying and screaming on the ground because he can’t go meet Peter Pan because today is the last day that the family is spending at the parks, and it’s time to leave because everyone needs to pack and head to the airport immediately because the plane leaves in a few hours, that’s a lack of understanding on behalf of the young boy.

If a young boy trips over his shoelace and scrapes his knee and is crying in pain because there’s sand and oils and new germs crawling about in his small knee, that’s the moment where you’re most likely going to hear “Son, get up and be a man, your knee is fine.” That’s negating the pain that the boy is experiencing and creating the “men don’t show outward emotion” portion of masculinity. That’s labeling something completely unrelated to being a man as something that defines a man as a whole, for the rest of his life.

Maybe the example doesn’t show the scope of how the issue of the phrase “Be a Man” shapes men as a whole, but my point is that we see men as being stoic, unnerving, unmoved humans, and any deviation from this “perfect” picture is seen as unacceptable for men.

Serious issues come along with this informal conditioning that people use on their young boys, because it tells them that having normal human emotions are unimportant and unnecessary. But why is this method more accepted? Is it the fact that we as humans dislike dealing with people that are vulnerable? Is it because we simply don’t know how to deal with people with obvious issues?

There’s no telling what the answer is, but because of the way boys and young men are conditioned, we see a surge in “escapes” that are becoming more persistent and normal in our society. Violence. Anger. Suicide. Problems don’t go away easily, so it only makes sense to transfer those emotions that “aren’t allowed” into a more permanent escape.

The fact that we choose to normalize emotion as being feminine and therefore unnecessary for males to be able to have means that a spike in more absurd outlets of anger are what has become the way to release. These problems lead into even bigger social issues, such as misogyny and homophobia, which tells us that by preying on those who are seen to be more likely to show emotion means that those people are to be unaccepted also. Domestic violence and hate crimes are clear examples.

We can’t keep teaching young boys that they aren’t allowed to be human. Young men are missing a vital human escape for the sake of being masculine within a society where masculinity has been defined in such an overtly unhuman pinpoint, that they are finding other, more destructive ways to reach clarity. We’re cheating them that they don’t have the right to feel. They don’t have a right to show it. They only have a right to the mask that is handed to them that shows other men that they are the same as the other men that they have to encounter. And that isn’t human.

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