When I was a little girl, I received the message that men did not like it when female-gendered people cried (particularly if it was during an argument or disagreement) because it was as good as blackmail. I was indirectly told that it did not matter if my tears were genuine or not, they would always be perceived by men as intentional and manipulative, a way to get what I wanted out of them. I must have been around five or six when I first heard this – kindergarten aged, anyway.
Throughout my life, I would hear a very similar message repeated. I learned that any excess of emotion that I showed in front of men would earn me a dismissive scoff and the question, “are you on your period?” I learned that, throughout history, women have been accused of being hysterical and insane because they tend to express more emotion than men do. And only yesterday, I heard the comment that finally made me break down and write this article: “You can’t cry as a woman. If you cry, then you give away all of your power” (the amount of emotion you express has absolutely no connection to your level of power, just to make that clear now. You can still be a total badass while simultaneously crying at dog food commercials).
Now, so far, I have been focusing on the female experience simply because I was born and raised female. I know what it’s like to be a woman, while I’ve never really lived as a man, but I do know that this is not an issue that stems traditionally from the way that we view women and their emotions. Rather, it is an issue that stems traditionally from men, and the way that we as a society perceive male emotions.
Men are taught essentially from birth that emotions are not only a bad thing, they are decidedly un-masculine (read: feminine). Young boys are allowed to express emotions like anger and aggression, and even happiness to a somewhat subdued extent (if they’re too openly happy, they run the risk of being accused of being feminine or, in this case, gay). But we’ve all heard the expression “boys don’t cry”, and that expression comes from somewhere culturally. We teach boys that they shouldn’t cry, that if they’re sad or troubled or struggling, they should bottle that up and shoulder the burden themselves. They should not reach out. They should not talk to someone. They should not cry. They should buck up and be a man, grow some balls, rub some dirt in it and move on.
And just to make this clear – I’m not trying to say that no man is in touch with their emotions. I have known many men who are even more in touch with their emotions than I am. What I am talking about here is the cultural idea of “boys don’t cry”, and how this idea has affected some men.
This cultural idea that men can never be vulnerable or excessively emotional has led to many, many problems for the men who take this message seriously. Pent-up unhappiness needs to come out in some way, and if men aren’t going to talk about it or deal with it directly, this can sometimes come out in the form of aggression toward other people, or behaviour that is self-harmful (but “boys will be boys”, right?). Other times, this unhappiness will lead to clinical depression, which in and of itself is a major problem that needs to be addressed, but especially when you add on to that the fact that men in America die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women. And in many cases, men who take this message of “boys don’t cry” too seriously are, to put it simply, emotionally immature. They are men who don’t know how to deal with emotions when they’re confronted with them. Men who assume that, every time a woman cries, it is weak and it is manipulative and it is evil. Men who just emotionally check out of a situation when it gets too be too much or too big for them to handle.
My point is, when you teach a young boy that “boys don’t cry”, that they can’t deal with their emotions and work through them, all you are doing is hurting them in the long run. You are taking away their opportunity to learn about their emotions and how to deal with them in a healthy and mature way.
But this is an issue that’s getting better, right? As feminism becomes more and more prominently talked about and we begin to question gender roles more openly, we as a society are becoming more and more accepting of male emotions, right?
Well, actually, if the personal experience that I shared at the beginning of the article means anything, I’m tempted to say: no. In fact, in some ways, this issue actually seems to be getting worse.
Although we talk more and more about feminism nowadays, society at large still has this tendency to think of things as a binary of good and evil, and gender still tends to fall into that binary. We’re opening up more and more every day – transgender issues are being more prominently discussed, and the existence of gender queer or non-binary people has been acknowledged to some extent, but at the same time, I’m tempted to say that society still tends to split gender into this idea of man/masculine, as opposed to woman/feminine. And more than that, as with most binaries, society tends to value one side over the other. Society likes light better than dark, no pineapple on pizza better than pineapple on pizza, and men better than women. And with that hierarchy, we also have all the behaviours that are associated with the two genders.
There is a reason why society tells men that they should be emotionless: because, in society’s eyes, emotions are weakness. Women are emotional, and that’s what makes them weak (or, as I brought up earlier, hysterical and insane). Men are better suited to the world of leadership, protection, and big business because they don’t let emotions get in the way; they are strong. And as women emerge more and more into these fields, they tend not to be accepted for the emotional, vulnerable women that they might have been taught to be from childhood; rather, they are expected to become more like how men are expected to be, hard and emotionless, and even then they will constantly live with society’s doubt that they can be that. For proof of that, look at the fact that, very recently, society posed the doubt that a woman could be as successful a president as a man because when she gets her period, she might PMS and declare war on Germany or something.
Except emotions are not weakness. In fact, if anything, they are a strength.
Having the ability to discuss your emotions can be very healing, and it can be very bonding for two people to discuss their emotions together.
Having the ability to understand the way someone else is feeling and empathize with them allows you to connect with them on a more human level, meaning that I’d argue that having emotions would actually make you better leader, as it makes you want to understand the people that you are leading, as well as the people who could potentially be your enemies.
I may be a weak, manipulative, hysterical, emotional woman to you, but in my own eyes, being an empath is my superpower. It is what has kept me from getting lost in the depths of depression for all time. It is what has helped me understand and love people, rather than give up on them all as cruel or worthless. It is what has made it possible for me to reach out to other people, even help them through difficult times. It is what makes my life worthwhile, and I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my emotions.
Emotions are a treasure that society looks down on ‘feminine’ people for possessing, when the truth is that they are a gift that should be given to more ‘masculine’ people as well. We treat them as something shameful, as something that should be hidden or ignored, but they are a beautiful, human thing. They have the capability to turn us into better people, and all we need to do to let them is develop and learn about them.