(Why) Boys Don’t Cry

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“Men just are naturally more logical than women”

“Women are incredibly emotional, men aren’t like that”

“A woman could never be president, she’d start a war or drop a bomb the minute she got upset or it was that-time-of-the-month!”

These are things I’ve heard in some variation over and over again throughout the course of my life.

As I got older I became confused, I could no longer maintain the level of cognitive dissonance necessary to know men, to see them and to interact with them every day and believe them to be significantly less emotional than women.  If you haven’t noticed, let me be the first to clue you in, men are INCREDIBLY emotional.  I don’t know that I’ve actually ever met a man who wasn’t.  What’s more is that men are often incredibly quick to anger, an emotion somehow consistently overlooked in discussions of emotionality.  A recent example comes in the form of hip-hop artist Joe Budden’s rant wherein he quickly dissolves to yelling and screaming all because a woman disagrees with him.  To be fair, the woman he is talking to, Jinx, is also emotional, but my argument has never been that women are not emotional (and even if it was, I’d argue that Jinx trying to articulate a point about misogynistic double standards with a man who refuses to listen warrants some emotionality).

This is hardly rare.  On the whole many men seem unable to handle things like rejection, disagreement, or simply being told they are wrong.  Men like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck have built entire careers off of rants and anger fueled tirades. Men like Morrissey and Robert Smith built entire careers off singing about angst and sadness. Plenty of men across the spectrum of art, performance, and creation have profited directly from their emotionality. Suffice it to say Men are always in their feelings.  

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Yet across the board men are praised for being “the more logical gender.” The problem with posing men as superior for being ‘logical’ (and seeing logic as the opposite of emotion) is that you get dudes who pride themselves on ‘not being emotional’ when really, they are extremely emotional but lack the emotional intelligence to process their emotions.

So, then they:

  1. Project those feelings onto those around them (esp. women and femmes).
  2. Build/ enter romantic relationships with women and femmes purely out of a desire for someone else’s emotional labor while not contributing the same.
  3. Struggle with maturity and growth because they have no outlet for feelings other than anger.
  4. Celebrate a lack of emotion among their peers/ mock peers and other men for embracing emotion (usually by weaponizing sexuality/ homophobia/transphobia etc.)

What is emotional intelligence? This term refers to insights about your emotions and the knowledge required to navigate them.  To be emotionally intelligent is to be introspective about how you feel and understand how to appropriately and effectively engage being emotional.  Being emotionally intelligent is a basic life skill that adults utilize every single day in myriad ways both in their professional and personal lives. A lack of emotional intelligence makes navigating feelings incredibly difficult and over complicates otherwise simple situations. Let’s consider the following example:

You and a good friend get into a minor disagreement about something.  They make a throwaway comment about you being annoying, but for some reason, it really gets to you.  Emotional intelligence helps you to check-in with yourself, analyze how you are feeling, process, and respond accordingly.  Maybe you’ve been feeling down lately, and this comment came at the wrong time, maybe this friend has been distant lately and this comment leaves you questioning your place in their life, maybe your childhood bully always called you annoying, and the comment struck a nerve- whatever. Emotional intelligence allows you to understand these factors and gives you the tools to respond.  If you find you are agitated, you may take a walk or ask another friend about how to handle the situation.   Whatever the case may be, being able to understand how you are feeling as you feel it allows you to navigate life with, and otherwise complicated situations, with ease.  This also includes empathy and the ability to relate to how other people feel.

When you are attuned to your own emotions it is easier to pick up on other people’s shifting moods and feelings.  This is important in all interpersonal relationships. Unfortunately, men are not socialized to have any sort of emotional intelligence and so they grow up never quite understanding how to navigate a huge portion of their lives.

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Since we are talking about emotion let’s talk about crying, which is often perceived as hyper-emotional.  Unfortunately, while the old adage ‘boys don’t cry’ seems to ring true much of the time, there are a few exceptions society allows.  Most would agree there are several instances in a man’s life when it is okay to cry, but even this speaks innately to toxicity.   Can a dude cry because a song sounds sad? Or because he had a hard day? Or because he’s drunk? Are men allowed to cry frivolously? This isn’t to say we don’t mock women for these things, of course, we do, but the idea behind that has always been “hahaha women are TOO emotional (therefore unintelligent).”  Where men are mocked for showing emotional at all; the punishment is for being ‘like a woman‘ and for not embracing logic and stoicism over emotionality and irrationality.  When men are given space to cry it is always to be situation specific.

Men are allowed to cry, that is to visibly display any emotion other than anger, when:

  1. They get married
  2. When their child is born
  3. When a loved one becomes terminally ill or passes away

But do we allow men to cry just because? If you don’t believe me take it from one of the most trusted sources of prescriptive masculinity out there, even GQ has something to say about when it is okay for men to cry  Along with GQ a website dubbed, “The Art of Manliness” (so you can be sure they have loads of poignant things to contribute to a dialogue about masculinity) has something to say about men crying. Both of these lists are pretty similar and don’t differ greatly from my own.  They reference marriage, childbirth, and sports, but that is about it.  We see that men can cry at significant milestones, things that are theoretically spaced out months or years apart from one another.  Wedding days, childbirths, parental deaths, and retirements are typically somewhat few and far between.  It seems there is no crying for men on the day-to-day.

On a side note, they don’t seem to agree about whether there is crying in baseball Image result for gq

What’s interesting about the second list is that they also include a list of times it isn’t okay for men to cry.  While I can agree with some of their no-cry list, like number two- “When those around you are looking to you as a source of calmness and strength. Sometimes your loved ones need you to be a rock.”  

Sure, sometimes you just have to imagine your best beans-on-toast accent and tell yourself “stiff upper lip, old chap” and suck it up when the situation calls for it.  I wouldn’t say that being a pilar of strength is specific to masculinity, though. I have had to do that plenty of times.  Maybe you’re in a dangerous situation and you are responsible for the lives of other people who are depending on you to help them through.  Maybe you’re in a work meeting gone south and your team needs you to take control.

Once, I can recall sitting through an earthquake while volunteering in the infant room of a local daycare.  The situation became overwhelming and I did want to cry, but crying in a daycare full of children certainly would not have helped them get through an overwhelming situation. I locked it down because being there for them was highest on my priority list. In that situation, I didn’t want to cry because the earthquake was particularly bad, but because I was surrounded by screaming children, crying babies, and frantic adults- I was 18 and had never experienced anything close to that- it was stressful.  Unfortunately, our friendly arbiters of masculinity say this wouldn’t count as an excuse for manly men. Number five on their list says this about when men cannot cry:

“When you’re frustrated. Crying because your overwhelmed and don’t know what to do is a cop out. You don’t have the strength to think of a solution, so you cry so you don’t have to think at all. Man up and figure out your next move.” 

So, there is a lot of fun stuff to unpack here, let’s take a look:

  • You don’t have the strength to think of a solution
  • You cry so you don’t have to think at all
  • Man up

So, I am sure the authors of this article would tell you this relates to men specifically, but they are telling on themselves, this is how they view crying in general- as indicative of weakness and confusion.  Let’s address the above list point for point.

  1. “You don’t have the strength to think of a solution” if you’ve been paying attention to the verbiage of these articles, or to society in general, you’ll notice something- men like being strong.  They like to talk about it, they like to think about it, and they love to frame their lives around it.  This pre-occupation with being strong and never being weak is a key component of toxic masculinity.  I’d love to know how exactly crying demonstrates a lack of strength, or how thinking exemplifies strength, but more than that I’d really like to know why strength matters so much? Why can men not show ‘weakness’ and why is crying weak?
  2.   “You cry so you don’t have to think at all” As if folks are just too ignorant and hapless they dissolve to tears.  While it is true many, including myself, have cried when faced with a daunting or confusing option I can tell you my brain has never turned off through tears, in fact, I’ve had PLENTY of teary-eyed revelations in my day. Post-cry clarity is comparable to post-orgasm. Both leave you panting, glowing, red in the face, and feeling refreshed, with more clarity than before. It’s sad to see men robbing themselves of that.
  3. “Man up” Yea….I feel like this one is self-explanatory.


We impose a binary between logic and emotion and claim one represents intelligence and control where the other represents irrationality and absurdity while simultaneously devaluing emotion for its perceived proximity to femininity. Within toxic masculinity, there is no space for emotion.  Because many men believe themselves to be innately more logical they have no concept of what emotional intelligence means and don’t perceive any link between the two, to begin with.

We might think that the answer is to show that you can be emotional and still be in control of yourself, but really the answer is to stop concerning ourselves with control at all. Masculinity is overly concerned with power and its failure ultimately lies in its inability to construct or conceptualize relationships to the outside world that aren’t framed by power and control.  Within this construct of masculinity, perception is everything and it is dictated to be both a personal and intellectual failing to be perceived as anything other than in control at all times.

Instead of discussing how to be both logical and emotional depending on the situation get rid of the binary altogether. Nothing is either emotional or logical, saying this still poses emotion and intelligence as different. Logic is a part of emotion, emotion is part of logic.  Without any emotional intelligence sustainable growth isn’t achievable. This is yet another way prescriptive masculinity fails men. While I’m not particularly optimistic about the trajectory of masculinity I do remain hopeful more men will tap into emotionality, this is the digital age after all and education is just a click away.

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* If you can tell me the significance of this image in relation to the article you get a surprise!

One comment

  1. You share some good observations here. Unless I read too fast and missed it, though, you didn’t address a basic reason these attitudes prevail: T’was ever thus. Traditionally, males are told from infancy that they are strong, resourceful, action oriented decision-makers and that they must act to protect the weak (females, children, the aged) from themselves and others. That is, when they’re not being taught to conquer the weak, a dichotomy which engenders schisms in the much touted male “logic.”

    These early and relentless messages block out the less pervasive messages of “it’s okay to cry,” and “thinking and feeling are both okay — they’re even intertwined.” Males internalize the more prevalent messages as their reality.

    I have watched as the messages have slowly morphed and see it happening more quickly now. At first there was confusion and angry backlash and now the rhetoric seems calmer and more eagerly anticipatory. Millennial males appear, with notable exceptions, to have received and internalized more nuanced and integrated early messages. Change is possible and is already happening. Its progress seems slow to some; it is not. There is no snapping of fingers to magically change Western culture. We simply get to work with what we have, singly and plurally.

    Thank you for addressing this age old pattern in your blog and on Twitter. Whether we think of it as dilemma or opportunity probably informs us of how to respond.

    Liked by 1 person

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