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Boys Don’t Cry: Men, Society, & Toxic Masculinity

Written by Nathaniel Alvino Risa Prima, Content Writer Intern at Project Child Indonesia

 “Heyy, it’s OK. Don’t cryBoys Don’t cry!”

I was maybe four or five, and that was what my father said when I fell from the bicycle.

It might be naturally shocking and physically hurt when anyone (especially, children) suddenly fell off a vehicle and hit the ground. One of any possible natural responses is crying. My father, probably, saw the bottle of tears edging my eyes’ and I was too close from bursting them all. Therefore, being the father he was, he just naturally responded to it; he didn’t want to see his little boy cry.

If you ask me, I actually don’t quite remember the full event. Let alone the sensation of feeling that goes from my chest to my tiny throat at that specific moment. It was just a small piece of my chaotic childhood; thus, don’t interrogate me on “How hurt it was when my knee hit the asphalt?” or “Was I really holding my tears at that time?”. I don’t have any clue and details regarding those in my memory box.

Despite my not-so-good recollection, I want to say that it was apparently my father’s phrase that still echoes on me until today. Strongly and profoundly.

“Don’t cry. Boys Don’t cry!” 

Well, as I grew up older, I naturally relied on the idea that tears or any-showcase-of-teary-eyes by a man is a signaling of weakness. In order to man-up, you have to escape those weaknesses on a daily basis or else, you simply fail as a man. Some might even illogically see you as a “half-man”.

Well… 

This smaller narrative might strongly be rooted in the bigger construction of patriarchy. It is the scenario which later is adopted and internalized by men themselves. As weird as it might sound, the majority of men hide and tone down their emotions due to the constructed norm that men are positioned as “protector” or even “a hero”. It has been normalized that men have to be self-reliant and provide for their loved ones. Therefore, it is rather not appropriate for boys and men to showcase any emotion (MensLine, n.d). 

The masculine traits such as stoic, fearless, and resourceful are the traits which are expected to be owned by each man from a very young age. The purpose is to make them appear strong if not heroic throughout their lives. These are the same characteristics that keep being reproduced by our society through shared values, popular culture, formal education, or even, sports. While, they are also being persistently inherited through families (usually from fathers to their sons).

In short, what my father did in the beginning is realistically an example of preservation of this peculiar construct. He did what most fathers do, so that their son(s) could survive. I rather suppose that most boys and men agree upon this idea to appear strong and deny any showcase of feelings – due to the shared inherited reasons: to not appear weak.

This shared idealization that men are not supposed to appear weak is one practice of what-so-called toxic masculinity

It is the phenomenon and a construct which ‘forced’ men to own certain constructed masculine traits. Beside the containment of feelings and emotions, toxic masculinity might include violence, aggressive behavior, toughness, and abuse of powers. There are peculiar traits that are not only harmful for men themselves, but also, for women and other non cisgenders. 

To understand how harmful toxic masculinity is, let’s jump into an example

Initially, the idealization that men are expected to suppress their feelings, might lead to new psychological issues. The initial norm has made men to be rather prone towards emotional stress and depression because they are reluctant to talk about what they feel to their pals – let alone getting professional help. 

Worsely, it might go accordingly to the fact that two third of worldwide suicide experienced by men (GBD, 2015). The fact that men have to keep their own emotions and feelings might become overwhelming and burdensome for men themselves. Therefore, it instead allows destructive behaviors and decisions to emerge. 

Similar things might also occur within the interaction of men and their external worlds. When toxic masculine traits are being intertwined within men’s self and their behavior, it might be also harmful towards their surroundings.

When men have a tendency to suppress their emotions and feelings, they’re prone to release themselves through violent, abusive, and aggressive actions. This is why most physical fights and abuse involve men. As patriarchal as it sounds, oftenly, women and others have instead become the victims of toxic masculinity by men. 

Through the belief of power internalization and man-made superiority, toxic masculinity has not only mentally abused the psychological side of men. It further perpetuates the cases of gender-based violence and aggravates the patriarchal fallacies. 

Thus, for the men who read this article, have you talked about your feelings today?

There is ultimately nothing wrong for men to talk about their feelings. Let alone to express them publicly. If you need help, you can always reach your close fellows. You can even go to the professionals, too, if it’s really needed. Chill. To figure out a healthy form of masculinity and self-release is a long journey for each man. Take one step at a time, buddy.

For me, since I started to question the phrase “boys don’t cry”, I suppose I have acquired a little answer. After all, men are humans, too, right? You can’t always be solid like a stone all the time. There will always be ups and downs in your lives. One thing for sure, tears are never and not supposed to be equalized as man’s weakness. 

Remember, the greatest superheroes and best champions cry, too!

References
GBD. (2015). Global, regional, and national life expectancy, all-cause mortality, and cause-specific mortality for 249 causes of death, 1980–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. The Lancet, 388 (10053), pp. 1459 – 1544. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2816%2931012-1

No Name. (n.d.). What is toxic masculinity. Spunout. Retrieved from https://spunout.ie/life/bullying/what-is-toxic-masculinity

No Name. (n.d). Men and emotions. MensLine. Retrieved from https://mensline.org.au/mens-mental-health/men-and-emotions/