Boys don’t cry
Masculine stereotypes hinder emotional development
February 13, 2020
Your bare knees are on the hot concrete, eyes tearing up under the scorching sun. Taking your training wheels off was a mistake. Your dad — who swore he wouldn’t let you go — runs over to help you get back up.
“C’mon. Boys don’t cry,” he says.
You are grounded for the D on the test you spent weeks preparing for. Your mom doesn’t seem to understand that you’re trying, and the frustration overwhelms you.
But boys don’t cry. You punch the wall instead.
The last box is finally loaded into the trunk of your beat-down Honda Civic. You’re a mere 10 minutes away from entering a life of your own. As you say goodbye to your parents with a hug, you start to cry, only to quickly brush the tears away.
Boys don’t cry.
This hypothetical is a reality for the 3.7 billion men in the world.
The same hypothetical leads to men being four times more likely to die from suicide than women, discourages them from seeking treatment for their mental health, and increases substance abuse, sexism, and violence.
The emasculating stigma that surrounds men and their feelings are presented to them in subtle ways throughout their entire life. Parents teach their sons to “toughen up” when something goes wrong and to be “brave” like the other boys, but how do these teachings affect them later in life?
“I think phrases such as ‘boys don’t cry’ reinforce harmful stereotypes that a boy’s sentimental feelings should not be valued and concerned about,” said Azucena Duran, a female senior and president of the Gender Equality Club at Carlmont High School.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 70% of depressed college-age men are not seeking treatment.
The fear of being viewed as “weak” and the negative stigma that is associated with expressing emotion is largely to blame; three of Mayo Clinic’s top four reasons for undiagnosed depression in men correlates with the suppression of emotions.
“Research suggests that socialization practices that teach boys from an early age to be self-reliant, strong, and to minimize and manage their problems on their own yield adult men who are less willing to seek mental health treatment,” according to the APA guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.
The guidelines state that expectations of men exert pressure on them which they feel like they have to live up to.
“I think guys feel less welcomed to open up and get the help they know they need. They feel they have to live up to the ‘bro standards’ around other guys — they have a need to prove themselves,” said Georgia Cerna, a female sophomore.
Cerna also feels that it is more accepted for women to show emotion than men.
“Statements like ‘boys don’t cry’ undoubtedly reinforces the stigma around boys having emotion and showing vulnerability that, typically, girls are almost encouraged to show,” Cerna said. “I’ve been in situations where [girls] have literally sat down and encouraged each other to open up, and we do, because I know it will be met with advice and positive reinforcement. I think it’s almost the opposite with guys.”
High school boys often face homophobia or are subject to violence when they express their feelings in a “feminine” fashion.
“Guys feel stupid if they share their feelings; it is kind of a well-known stereotype that guys abide by. Guys are afraid to be called ‘gay,; a word now used more as an insult,” said Nathaniel Anson, a male sophomore.
Additionally, media, television, and literature further reinforce this stigma throughout a man’s entire life. Even Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” a play that many high schoolers read as part of the school curriculum, encourages toxic masculinity when characters are told to “man up.” And, according to research conducted by the University of Arizona, toxic masculinity is present in 36.8% of scenes in adolescent television.
According to the American Psychological Association, men are four times more likely than women to die from suicide.
When a man expresses pain or sadness, he is often met with expressions like “take it like a man” and other derogatory or homophobic remarks. In turn, another lesson is learned early on in one’s life: keep it quiet.
Such pent-up emotion can become a problem that gradually escalates, hidden so well that no warning signals are noticed by friends and family until its too late. On top of that, men are more likely to succeed suicide attempts than women due to lack of mental health treatment, impulsivity, and the use of more lethal methods, according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men account for 70% of all suicides.
“Its sad that guys aren’t getting treatment they need because they feel the need to uphold their role,” Anson said. “Guys don’t realize that things that build up can hit you all at once.”
According to the American Journal of Men’s Health, men showing depressive symptoms are more likely to use drugs, alcohol, violence, and sex to cope.
In one analysis, experts concluded that “playboy” behavior or sexually promiscuous traits are most linked to masculinity. Studies also linked depression, substance abuse, and sexism in men as characteristics of potential sex offenders.
Dan Nguyen, a teacher at Carlmont, believes that by teaching children to be open about their feelings, the harmful effects of the stigma could be reduced.
“Different situations in life require different reactions. I believe in teaching children, both boys and girls, how to be ‘tough’ and resilient. However, some situations require vulnerability, empathy, and openness,” Nguyen said.
There are also many free and confidential helplines available, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at 1-800-622-HELP. The helpline is open 24/7 and is available in English and Spanish.
Carlmont also has options to seek professional or peer counseling services, as well as clubs and support groups for those in need. The Gender Equality Club at Carlmont, for example, aims to bring about social change regarding gender inequality. They come together at lunch once a month to discuss and take action against gender injustice.
“Men might have a hard time admitting to themselves that they are experiencing emotions that are concerning and they may not want to seek help,” Duran said. “[The stigma] should be something we’re all actively trying to fix.”