Two weeks ago, grieving the death of my neighborhood church, I nonetheless felt self-conscious about expressing my wish to cry inconsolably on this blog. I was embarrassed to be so open about my feelings, but it met a surprising reward—that post’s visits hit an all-time record high in the first day and since.
“Real men don’t cry,” the adage goes, but I had always assumed my ability to cry (and more generally, my sensitivity) was the gift (or liability) of being gay—not quite the “real man” of folklore, legend, or even today’s politics.
The next morning I read a New York Times column by Andrew Reiner, “Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest.” Reiner, who teaches a course entitled “Real Men Smile” at Towson University, writes:
Research shows what early childhood teachers have always known: that from infancy through age 4 or 5, boys are more emotive than girls. One study out of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital in 1999 found that 6-month-old boys were more likely to show “facial expressions of anger, to fuss, to gesture to be picked up” and “tended to cry more than girls.”
“Boys were also more socially oriented than girls,” the report said—more likely to look at their mother and “display facial expressions of joy.”
Even if this research were found to overstate the case, it still dispels the notion that boys are inherently less emotive than girls.
Reiner goes on to claim that “we socialize this vulnerability out of them,” beginning his column with an illustration of this socialization in a video of a father talking to his toddler son becoming agitated while receiving a first vaccination:
“Don’t cry! … Aw, big boy! High five, high five! Say you’re a man: ‘I’m a man!’” The video ends with the whimpering toddler screwing up his face in anger and pounding his chest. “I’m a man!” he barks through tears and gritted teeth.
These revelations stunned me. I realized that men’s default emotion is often anger because they are not allowed other, more tender, even more reasonable emotions. Studies indicate this affects everything from their academic achievement to personal and professional relationships. Boys and men want to be close to other boys and men, but may only do so through conventional means, such as sports, video games, combat, and shared attitudes toward women and sex.
Look at the angry bluster of all of our current leading American male candidates for the presidency, Republican and Democrat alike. And they only reflect the desires of an angry electorate, a large share of which is male. A more nuanced approach to domestic and world affairs is needed, especially given that a major portion of the world’s troubles come from angry men, from Putin and Kim Jong-un to ISIS.
“Real men love Jesus” a bumper sticker reads. I admit when I see it on a truck the sentiment makes me cringe a little, even though I too love Jesus. It makes me cringe because I assume the driver is an evangelical Christian, the stereotype of which is a conservative who hates queers, feminists, and liberals.
But what if the driver is displaying a tender, countercultural side to masculinity? Wishful thinking, perhaps.
In response to my earlier grief I heard from many male readers who described the same level of distress when they lost a church home. I believe the church serves to humanize and sensitize us all. For men especially, it gives us a place to become our better selves. Too often, though, it gives men one more venue to display their angry bluster.
Recently I heard a veteran interviewed on the radio, asked if he missed “the adrenalin” of serving in combat missions overseas. He said no, that did not characterize what he felt. “What I miss is being part of something larger than myself,” he explained.
Being part of something larger than myself is also my reason for being involved in the Christian community and more broadly, the spiritual community.
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Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.