Vogue India is currently running a public service campaign on satellite channels protesting against domestic violence. The well-written, tightly-knit script is built up of collages that show boys of different ages from toddlers to adult young sportsmen being urged not to cry. The climax shows a quiet, grave-faced, handsome young man pulling at something you cannot see. The camera tracks behind and one gets a glimpse into the man twisting the arm of his wife whose face is already badly bruised through battering. When the film ends, Madhuri Dixit appears in the frame and says, “it would be better if boys were taught boys do not cry because girls never make them cry,” which finds no connect with the subject of domestic violence at all.
But that is not the point of this article. The point is forcing the male child into a kind of role-playing that goes against the natural expression of any growing human – male or female. If crying is a free expression of a range of emotions, why must crying be taboo for the male and okay for the female? In this ad, one small scene shows a little boy crying because his mother is going away while his worried grandparents try to console him by pointing out that he is a boy and boys don’t cry. A fat father drags his wailing little boy to the swimming pool trying to force him into the waters and a voice-over says, “boys don’t cry.” A little boy is asked, “Why are you crying? Are you a girl?” and the crying boy not understanding what the question is all about, nods his head to suggest ‘yes.’ A grown up boy cries over what appears to be a broken affair and his friend asks him not to be a Devdas. After a match, a player hugs his coach and cries pitifully only to be told he is a boy and so he should not cry.
The repeated emphasis on boys being asked not to cry because they are boys, per se and for no other reason is gender stereotyping in reverse where society conditions the male of the species from babyhood not to cry even to express the saddest of emotions such as the loss of a parent or failure at an examination. Not crying is equated to not being masculine because crying is linked to the feminine, God knows for what reason and therefore, for males, crying means they are not really men. Crying is as natural and spontaneous an emotional expression as laughing is. If boys can laugh like girls can, why must they be stopped from crying if and when they feel like giving vent to the emotions freely? Equating crying with lack of masculinity is an absurd premise that needs to be discarded forever.
Crying is not a symbol of weakness but only an emotional action or reaction. Men are expected to be strong and so in order to show off their strength they are expected not to cry. The taboo against men letting go of their emotions enough to cry in front of others began from the time when men were forced to go to war and face the death of friends or their own injuries. It was felt that if men gave in to their fear of death or disability, they might be killed at war simply because they were considered to be ‘cowards.’ Even at the end of World War I it was believed that if a man reacted in a way that was counter to courage on the battlefield, he was considered to be expendable and was killed for his cowardice of which crying was one expression he gave free rein to. This belief as become so deeply ingrained in the minds of boys and men is that they refuse to let others witness their tears and often cry in the privacy of the restroom or inside a locked bedroom. He feels embarrassed to shed tears even at a funeral service and this bears heavily on his mind.
Keeping feelings of genuine grief pent up and not letting go of the tears freely can have a far-reaching impact on the minds of men. In an article in The Independent ( November 13, 2008), Roger Dobson states that a study at Tilburg University in The Netherlands pointed out that both men and women would give more emotional support to someone who was crying, although they judged less positively someone who wept. Another study showed men were liked best when they cried and women when they did not. “Overall, results support the theory that crying is an attachment behaviour designed to elicit help from others,’’ say the Dutch researchers. At the University of South Florida, researchers found that almost everyone feels better after a cry and that personality has a big effect on how often we cry. The study goes on to point out that crying makes 88.8% of people feel better.
The reverse stereotyping of gender that insists boys should not cry does not take cognizance of the fact that bottling up emotions does not allow the emotions to go away. crying helps clear out all that pent-up crap inside your head by releasing hormones and boosting neurotransmitters that decrease your stress levels, make your pain hurt less and improve your mood. What does this have to do whether this happens with a man or a woman, a girl or a boy? A 2011 study of 150 college football players revealed that the happiest athletes were those who felt comfortable openly expressing their sad emotions. Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist at UCLA explains, “The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man is someone who has the strength and self-awareness to cry.” . Most researchers and theorists agree that inhibiting sad, hurt, or fearful feelings is a health liability for boys and men.
Coming back to the Boys Don’t Cry campaign, one is constrained to raise questions on how a boy who cries grows up to be a wife-abuser if that is what the commercial is suggesting. There is no visible or invisible connect between a boy who cries growing up to be a wife-basher or a violent person. A boy who grows up without any censorship on shedding tears is more likely to empathise with his mother/sister/wife/daughter and their pains than a boy who is grilled into believing that crying is unmanl and feminine. Until recently, Roger Dobson writes that crying was associated with sensitive, weak men, while now it is linked to strong, powerful men. One theory is that a driving force behind the change has been powerful and emotional events such as 9/11.
Norms for men and crying are changing. Certain types of expressions that were proscribed for men are now becoming more acceptable. Professor Stephanie Shields of Pennsylvania State University says, “certain types of tears are no longer associated with powerlessness, and thus no longer conflict with assertions of masculinity,’’
In an episode that discussed gender-stereotyping in human behaviour on Satyameva Jayate, Amir Khan unabashedly confessed that he had this tendency to cry at the drop of a hat! Did that make a dent on his popularity as a star with a social agenda or on his masculinity? While women cry more than men, tearful males are becoming increasingly acceptable in society. So boys, please go ahead and cry and don’t feel embarrassed or shy or ashamed or guilty of crying – it only proves that you are not a robot or an animal but a normal human being!