In America alone, more than six million men experience depression each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And yet from age four, men are often socialized to believe that “boys don’t cry,” according to Dr. Christia Brown, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky.
Although this differs from how women are treated or expected when they want to cry, it's important to remember that both men and women have emotions. But for some reason, there's an existing stigma that men don't get to cry like women do.
Men aren't immune to emotion.
According to experts, anger has traditionally been the only way that our culture largely finds it acceptable for boys to express sadness or disappointment, although by adulthood this could have difficult repercussions. Often, this can leave men befuddled as to how to talk with their partners about difficult issues they’re struggling with, like non-physical pain or frustration. This leads to unnecessary conflict at work and at home and miscommunication between some heterosexual couples.
“Men often don’t have a vocabulary for [sadness],” Brown said. “Think of it as we [women] have the 64 crayon box of colorful emotional words, and they have only the eight color box.”
What seems to be the real problem with men who cry?
Our society has a stereotype of what it means to be male, said Dr. Carol Weissbrod, an associate professor of psychology at American University, in an interview with PostTV earlier this year.
“Masculinity stereotypically involves stoicism, power, strength; and crying, again historically, has been associated with vulnerability," Weissbrod said. “It’s an important issue to combat the stereotype of men crying.”
Crying doesn't always fit that male stereotype.
But there are important exceptions emerging that point to a new shift in the right direction. Enlightening moments like Marc Maron’s deeply emotional talk with his friend and fellow comic Louis C.K. -- which was deemed the “best podcast episode of all time” by Slate last year -- proved that all friendships have the same nuanced ups and downs regardless of gender. Apparently, we just typically don’t give guys the space to talk about it.
“Dudes don’t talk like that, really, and it was a hard conversation to have. It helped me a lot as a person,” Maron told Slate.
This could be a crying revolution.
The good news is the media seems to be showing signs of what writer Emma Oulton is calling a “crying revolution,” in which this generation of young people “might actually grow up knowing it’s OK to have a good cry when you need.” She points to everything from Pixar’s summer blockbuster hit “Inside Out,” to a new children’s book about superheroes who show it’s OK for men to cry, to “How to Get Away with Murder’s” female protagonist mixing a take-no-prisoners attitude with all-out bawling as needed.
So what can we 20 and 30-somethings do to help create a non-gendered, non-shaming, and generally more tolerant and empathetic approach to emotion?
First and foremost, we have to get used to the idea that it’s OK to not be happy all the time, said Brown. “Sometimes sadness is the answer," she said. Secondly, we must recognize that women and men actually want to have these challenging conversations. “We all want to talk about our feelings,” she added.
She also emphasized that it’s OK to ask for help. If someone has been feeling sad for a long time, they often feel that they need to “tough it out” because of the stigma that persists around tending to our mental health in this country. It’s on all of us to encourage and support someone who reaches out for help.
“If we don’t experience our emotions in the moment, then the feeling isn’t allowed to have its natural course,” Brown said. “It does really build up and can become overwhelming.”