Our society perpetuates the idea that women are sensitive creatures. We are in touch with our emotions. We're able to express ourselves and tell others when we're sad or angry. We have no problems crying. In fact, women and girls are encouraged to cry if the occasion permits. Cry, let it out, it's OK to cry, I've been told over and over again.
Little boys, on the other hand, are often told to "stop crying" from a young age. There is a societal expectation for boys to display toughness. I took a developmental psychology course during my undergraduate career. In that course, I read a book called Real Boys By Dr. William Pollack of Harvard Medical School. In the book, Pollack talks about the issue of repressed emotions in boys and men. He specifically calls attention to the fact that men are discouraged from crying and expressing outward sadness.
Due to the fact that men are told not to cry and suck it up from a young age, they often become disassociated from their feelings of sadness.
What happens when you remove someone's ability to express sadness? They find another emotion to replace it with. Often times this emotion is anger. Most men, from my experience, have no problem expressing anger. It's a familiar emotion to them and society encourages them to express it. Unlike sadness, which they are told to hide at all costs.
I've dated many different men in my life. From the time I was 15 years old until now, I've noticed that they behave in a similar way when they express their emotions. As a sensitive person, I have no problem expressing how I feel, whether it's sadness, anger, happiness, anxiousness or frustration.
The men that I've dated have typically expressed themselves the best in writing. Some of them were great speakers, but their writing was where they truly shined. I still have old love letters from my boyfriends from high school and college because they are beautifully written. Sure, call me sentimental, but I value the human ability to express genuine emotion.
Sometimes, I play this game with my male friends. I'll ask a guy that I'm close to: "When was the last time you cried?"
The responses are fascinating. Often, the man won't admit to crying recently. He'll say "a couple of months ago." He might even remark that it was years ago. The most troubling of these responses is: "I can't remember."
If you can't remember the last time you cried, that's a problem. That means that you're repressing genuine emotions.
When my 5-year-old son cries, I tell him, "It's OK to cry, honey. Let it out." And I hold him. I rub his back. And guess what? His father tells him the same thing. We believe in encouraging emotions in our children. Emotions are a normal, healthy part of life. Boys are allowed to feel and express sadness.
We need to encourage our boys to be able express sadness in a cathartic way. As parents, we need to tell them that it is OK to let the tears flow when they're sad, despite what society tells them.