Real men don’t cry

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Men are told to hide their emotions.

Some men from older generations may have been told to hide their emotions and tears. 

By Hala Nasar

In the olden days, men hunted. They also suppressed their tears and taught their sons that crying makes them look weak; it strips them from their beloved masculinity. They grumbled and roared and were thought to be strong like boulders. 

Boulders don’t cry. Nor should men, right?

Toxic masculinity is as the name suggests. It is a toxic representation of what masculinity is or should be. 

“It is when masculine toxic traits are forced on you due to societal gender roles,” said Nour Ataalla, a 17-year-old student. 

The beginning of times

The term “toxic masculinity” was coined in the 2010s by Shephard Bliss, referencing the mythopoetic men’s movement of the late 1900s. 

Shortly after, the term was used in several contexts over social media, challenging toxic built-in practices going under “masculinity” and raising awareness for the new generation of young men and women. 

As social media users started using it more on Twitter and other platforms, the term “toxic masculinity” gained momentum and planted itself in every other post on people’s timelines.

“I first heard of it [toxic masculinity] when I read it in a tweet at 16,” said Irtaza Haider, an 18-year-old university student.

Similarly, Nasouh Jouejati, a 19-year-old university student, said he mostly sees the term being thrown around in arguments on social media. 

While estimating the exact timeline where the term became popular is something you can pinpoint, Haider believes that you cannot exactly pinpoint when it all started, but it is consistently seen in history, deeply rooted in people and tightly weaved in their nature.

However, there is a misconception that this phenomenon affects men only, Ataalla said. In fact, it starts with men, but it eventually affects women, too.

The evolution of a man’s emotions

When a person feels an outpouring of emotions, it is only natural to let them out. For some people, that could look like crying. 

However, growing up in families where boys are shamed if they cry and are told crying is a weakness, it interferes with their ability to be vulnerable around other people, and specifically around other men. 

“The most common toxic phrase I heard is ‘boys don’t cry.’ I find myself going back to that unconsciously even when I don’t agree with it. It makes being vulnerable very difficult,” said Haider when asked about an instance he remembers from his childhood.

Unsurprisingly, this seems to be a common phenomenon as Jouejati experiences a similar uncomfortable reality. “I was raised with the mentality that real men don’t cry. It’s been stuck with me to this day. I still struggle to cry,” he said.

Echoing that, Ataalla witnesses her brother getting told by their mother that “men don’t cry” when he falls and hurts himself. He is eight.

This type of reaction creates the illusion in the mind of boys that expressing emotion is a feminine thing. “When you assign emotion to a certain gender, such as feminine, it ultimately encourages toxic masculinity,” she added.

It seems common for boys in these situations to repress their emotions. Jouejati grew up seeing boys his age unconsciously practice showing anger in an exaggerated manner to assert a certain dominance and appear “manly.” 

On the other end of the spectrum, it was common to repress emotions like sadness and grief (or anything pertaining to their mental health) because they were taught that the only correct way to deal with them as a man is to ignore them, he added.

Ataalla and Jouejati believe that this practice eventually births an oppressor. It is the road that leads those boys to upholding oppression and the feeling of superiority against women when they grow up.

Okay, so what should men do besides not cry?

Having the freedom to express yourself through your hobbies and interests is a magnificent thing that some people take for granted.

Being told that your clothes are “too colorful” for a man, or that ballet is “just for girls” can possibly cause an identity crisis. Or an overload of toxic masculinity. Either way, it is harmful. 

“Growing up, the limit I had on being able to express myself emotionally and physically was evident,” Haider said. “There’s an inability to feel comfortable in being yourself; it’s the idea that you have to be a certain way to be a man,” he added.

On the other hand, all three said that they have witnessed this degree of toxic masculinity often in their own family. When male members tried to participate in fun activities such as art and dancing, they were told off and forced into rough sports. 

This discreet violent behavior spreads into other areas of these men’s lives as they grow up, forcing them to forcibly catch up with the generational trauma they had unknowingly experienced. 

This is seen with men that rarely, if ever, accept the help of others. 

“I never saw the men in my life ask for help or express the need for support,” said Haider.

The lack of connection between the men of our generation and previous generations leads to a structural hierarchy of so-called invincible men that reject the idea of support and rely on unhealthy methods of coping.

However, while previous generations of men can be stoic and unwavering in their belief that this is how men should be, there is some hope for this generation. This hope is found in self-awareness.

“I don’t know how to deal with emotion,” said Jouejati when asked if he has traits of toxic masculinity in him.

Similarly, Haider said that he finds himself “uncomfortable” opening up to another man. It is easier to express emotion to a woman because they are naturally perceived to be more in touch with their emotions, but there is always an air of uncertainty when talking to another man about how he feels, he added.

Ataalla believes that after no attempts were made to break the toxic masculinity cycle from previous generations, it is expected that seeing these behaviors from men will stick around for many more years, especially in the Middle East. “Showing emotion will always be a taboo subject for middle eastern men,” she added.

Just Be a Man.

So, what is being a man like?

“It is to be comfortable being yourself. It is to express yourself emotionally and physically the way you want without feeling like your gender has been stripped away from you,” said Haider. 

Being a man is not exerting a violent dominance in favor of disregarding emotion and assigning gender to feelings. 

Sometimes, it is a better approach to have an open mind and an open heart. “If you find yourself expressing signs of toxic masculinity, try to rectify it. Take your time, ask questions, and seek help from someone. It is alright to ask for help,” said Jouejati.

After all, real men don’t cry. They pour.