Why men don’t cry: An exploration of masculinity
I grew up in a city one-third the size of our beloved Houston, but I was raised in the small community that my two brothers and I created in our living room, under large and surreptitiously constructed pillow forts, summer camp solidarity and afternoons pretending we were wizards and witches from Harry Potter.
I want to say that as we became older, there became an apparent veil between the three of us that can easily be explained by growing older. But even in our youth, we were different. That difference is attributable to a few things: our differences in age, priorities and genders.
But was that last difference a manifestation of some externality or a truth that lies in our DNA?
We were equally competitive and athletic, but they always seemed to be interested in physical, athletic activities — not only in actually playing them but in the theoretical and mechanical aspects of those sports.
They watched baseball and tennis tournaments for hours, and they would watch men and women analyze those tournaments to no end. I mean, I loved sports, but I never wanted to spend hours watching other people play them.
Like most children, we were emotional. Once, after a particularly bad sporting loss to an opponent, my brother came home, and for the first time, I saw him cry.
I soon got the impression that our differences had been drawn across a gender line.
Wanting to know more about the male experience, I set about on a short-lived interview spree of some of the University of Houston’s finest bros. I asked them how it feels to enter manhood and feel their youth coming to a halt. I asked about their insecurities and how they define masculinity.
I interviewed Bryce Clausen, a white pre-psychology freshman; Zaman Janani, a Muslim pre-business sophomore; Joey Lee, an Asian interpersonal communications senior; and Howard Mokolo, a Nigerian computer science junior.
All of them are UH students, and all of them are young men.
I asked them how their specific masculinity — be it white, black or Asian — relates to the other races. I chose my subjects based on their race, to see how different masculinities vary among different cultures.
I expected to receive hyper-masculine answers like: “If another guy walks in a room, and there is a chick there, I automatically know what’s up.”
But I didn’t get that.
The space between what I expected the men to tell me and what I actually heard is laughably wide and comically touching. As it turns out, all the men I spoke to brought up one thing that they all shared: They wanted to cry.
Not during our interviews or anything, at least — I hope. But they shared a response when I asked this question: Do you feel that being a man has limited you in any way at any time in your life?
They all said that if they experienced limitations explicitly because of their gender, it was that they were expected by their peers and relatives to hide their emotions.
As it turns out — contrary to popular belief — men are complex people with deep ranges of emotion.
They are people with responsibilities, like all of us. But because of the traditional role of the protector they feel obliged to fulfill, the men I interviewed believed at one point or another that allowing any sign of an emotion, like sadness, meant that they had betrayed their own masculinity.
While masculinity has its perks and privileges, the men I interviewed claimed to have experienced a pressure that began in their youths, urged by their relatives and peers to bottle up their emotions.
“Masculinity basically means that any responsibilities you have, you get them done,” Mokolo said. “You don’t make excuses. You just get them done.”
Mokolo talked about how his blackness might hinder him from completing his responsibility of getting a job.
“I have to get a job and start my life,” Mokolo said. “Because of my race, I hear that because I’m black, I have to work harder, so I have to do better than everybody else.”
Each man revealed something about his personal struggles with responsibilities and the pressures of what that encompassed — all while not being able to cry, even in the most despairing circumstances.
I spoke with two underclassmen, sophomore Zaman Jasani and freshman Bryce Clausen, about their impending arrival into manhood.
“It’s how you present yourself in situations, and it’s kind of looming over you,” Clausen said.
One responsibility was comical one.
“If there’s a bug in the house, you have to force yourself to get up to kill it,” Jasani said. “It’s assumed responsibility.”
Those responsibilities stretches beyond killing bugs: the most damaging manifest from gender roles, like playing the breadwinner, blocking emotions, being the disciplinarian and so forth.
For the most part, they were confident in what it means to become a man today: a lot of responsibilities and a lot of privileges.
Whether that responsibility is completely real or imagined, I hope that one day they can express themselves.
And I really hope that, if the moment comes, they can all have a really good cry.
Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at [email protected]