(The author wishes to inform you that in this article, the words ‘man’ or ‘men’ stand for any person identifying and/or presenting as male. Consequently, the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘they’ have been interchangeably used in the article to refer to men.)
“Men can cry. Even soldiers can cry. Because our pain reveals the best in us”. An advertisement that Gillette India put out last month, on International Men’s Day, ends with this rousing statement. The sentiment “Men can cry” is nothing new or unfamiliar. In fact, it is one of the most staple slogans associated with masculinity in feminism. It has been said so many times and in so many different ways that it is likely that most men with access to some kind of media, have inadvertently or otherwise stumbled upon this ‘saying’ quite a number of times. Most of the men I know are almost exasperated hearing this slogan over and over again – “Oh yeah, we get it. Men can cry. Big whoop.”.
The Gillette ad does succeed in leaving a stronger impact. It narrates the real-life story of a cis-male soldier who was injured by a bullet in the line of duty – a powerful, hypermasculine image, and his “tough” father who is an Air Force veteran. It shows them crying, sharing a moment of intimacy and emotion. It is moving and powerful. And yet it lands largely on exasperated ears. Nonetheless, the exhortation that men can express vulnerability and not be perceived as less manly is still very much pertinent in a patriarchal world that still sees emotions as weakness and strength a manly virtue.
My aim with this article is, therefore, less to reiterate the 20th-century adage and more to explore what it really means, what our common misconceptions surrounding the idea are, and the need for a new script of masculinity that allows us to be weak.
Why should I cry?
Because we can. It’s as simple as that. We have the freedom to cry, just like we have the freedom to laugh or get pissed off or scream uproariously at a cricket match. The problem is that often, biologically male children are told that it is ‘not manly to cry’ – that it makes them a ‘girly’ boy. Everyone says this. From doting parents who coo “Chii chii are you a girl or a boy?” to a crying child; to my father, whose solution was to make me punch a wall to vent my anger, frustration and sadness. While it did make me a decent boxer later in life, it took me years to let myself cry.
Crying is an act of weakness. It is vulnerability and helplessness. It is perhaps our most basic natural urge. Infants cry because they want to express something and feel helpless, unable to communicate it in human language. We cry when we are in pain because we feel helpless, unable to express our pain in human language. We just want to let out that pain. Think of it, crying does nothing to reduce the pain, mental or physical. It just gives vent to it, since in our helplessness of being unable to communicate it, our helplessness communicates itself. But is this weakness, vulnerability or helplessness so bad?
Strength and performed masculinity have always been linked. It is so tightly bound that in fact “strong” is one of the first few adjectives that would come into most people’s minds when asked to describe “Man”. He is the embodiment of strength, and there is no space in their psyche for “emotional drama” and weakness. There is definitely nothing wrong in being strong or not having a larger threshold for being hurt or in pain. I’m not here to tell you that strength is bad. Or that being a man is bad. Just that there is nothing wrong in being weak either.
And if what we call ‘strength’ is just us limiting our lives and bottling up our emotions, is it really strength or just a painful, pointless, fake performance?
Who would fuck a crying man?
Is crying sexy? Not one bit. It is honestly pretty ugly to watch. Nobody looks good crying their eyes out, not even Marlon Brando. But so is pooping. Taking a shit is perhaps one of the most unsexy things (unless you are into scat fetish) a human being could do. And yet it is a natural biological need. Everybody does it. We can hold it back, like our tears, but both are definitely going to come out some time or the other. In the meantime, we’d just be destroying your health in the process of staying ‘sexy’.
Let’s just allow ourselves to ugly cry guys. No one is not going to not want to fuck you on account of being human. I promise.
“Crying is actually a sign of strength, not weakness”
No. It really is not. It genuinely is a sign of weakness. But like I said before, it is a weakness that is part of our human nature. Putting it away and forbidding ourselves from feeling it is basic human cruelty to ourselves. Your entire life cannot be a “Try not to cry challenge”. The very challenge is based on the assumption that something or the other is bound to make most humans cry.
It is also problematic to say that “crying is actually a symbol of strength”. That just perpetuates the idea that strength is a desirable quality and weakness is undesirable. That strength is hot and must be flaunted, and weakness is something shameful and should be hidden away. It assumes that strong woman should not cry. It assumes that masculinity does not have the space in it for weakness. And I don’t know about you bro, but I’m hella man and feeling weak does not change that one bit.
The new Man
Masculinity, like any gender expression, is performed. We act out what it means to be a ‘Man’ to society. It is not a bad thing, it is just how it is. Ask Butler. The existing old, limiting script is all we need to throw out. We need a new script of manhood. One that allows us to be weak when we feel weak. That’s all. No one is asking you to start crying for no reason, just saying that you can cry if you want to. It is not going to change how much of a gorgeous male demigod you are.