By Jami Ingledue
I’m not going to apologize for my feelings anymore.
Yes, I cry at commercials sometimes. I get in melancholy moods and over-examine everything and feel sad about the general state of the world. I tear up in public sometimes and it’s mildly embarrassing.
But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that this is not a weakness, it’s a strength.
I am definitely more emotional about some things after having a baby. I cannot see the picture of the dead Syrian refugee toddler on the beach without crying. Motherhood makes our empathy raw and painful, so that we can hardly bear to think of a suffering child and what hell their mothers must be enduring.
But this is not weakness, this empathy. This is our gift to the world. And make no mistake, it has an undergirding of steel.
For too long women have been dismissed for having strong feelings and showing them. Branded “hysterical,” told we’re overreacting, even locked in the room with the yellow wallpaper. No, the Angel of the Hearth is supposed to be ever kind and patient and accepting and happy.
And that mild patience is absolutely part of being nurturing and loving. And some of this is no doubt due to our stoic Anglo-Saxon culture, which puts even more pressure on men to maintain the stiff upper lip at all costs.
But it is also true when women want to play on the same field as men, we are expected in our patriarchal cultural to behave like men or be dismissed as ‘weak’. The feminist movement has, after much struggle, made it more acceptable for women to behave like men. To be tough and strong. We revere these strong women who can play the man’s game in this man’s world. Rightfully so.
But don’t dare show any sign of weakness. Don’t dare “get emotional” during a meeting with male colleagues. Don’t show any vulnerability. Never, ever let them see you cry. And by God, you’d better smile.
But being strong and showing emotion are not mutually exclusive. To have the strength to show emotion and share our authentic inner life indicates security and acceptance of the human condition. Real strength comes from self-acceptance, knowing who you are, knowing where your power lies. Feeling secure enough to express your whole and authentic self in your everyday life. In reality, tears are often a very useful indication that we’ve touched on something important.
Indeed, I wonder if this greater emotional intelligence is why I have seen many women who feel empowered when they reach middle age, while many men seem to fall into some kind of crisis. Beyond the mid-life crisis cliché of buying convertible sports cars and dating younger women. No, more subtle than that: a withdrawing, an increase in anger, an inability to enjoy the little things in life. A lifetime of repressing emotion takes its toll.
In this way, women have an advantage in being “allowed” to cry and show emotion and affection. We also have the advantage in being ok with affectionate, platonic touch, something that is often sorely missing in men’s lives, in our culture which worships the masculine. For men, touch is so often sexualized—there is always the fear of being perceived as a pervert, predator, or of making unwelcome advances (on women or men). Women, as the nurturers, are thankfully not held to this same standard.
Real strength comes from self-acceptance, knowing who you are, knowing where your power lies.
Feminism has made it ok for women to be like men, and now it’s time to make it ok for men to be more like women. In fact, this is what the world sorely needs. We are suffering greatly from the effects of toxic masculinity, especially in the U.S. Toxic masculinity is what got us our current president—a narcissist devoid of real human emotion, constantly belittling others as “weak” and “losers.” Who can’t bear the thought of any of his male staff being portrayed by women. The horror!
But this is not strength. This is the opposite of strength: craving external power to fill the void of insecurity and powerlessness inside.
In my life, the strongest people have always been women. It’s the moms and the grandmas and the aunts and the friends who show up, relentlessly and fiercely, time and again. Who do what needs to be done. Who care for the weakest and pick up the pieces and clean up the messes. The mast of the ship you hold onto when the storm rages because you know they are strong and unwavering. And when you mess up, when you fall down, even when you hurt them—they are still there, unwavering, to show you what real love is. That is strength. That is the very bedrock of our humanity.
But it’s not just emotional strength. Moms get shit done like no one else on earth. We’ve had the best training. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, kids need to be fed and cared for. And it doesn’t matter how sucked dry we are, they still need love. And so we endure. We get our hearts broken, yes, but—if we do it right—each time our hearts grow a little bigger. Until they are big enough to hold the world. Until there is no such thing as other people’s children. And then we just keep showing up, doing what needs to be done, for our kids and for the world’s kids. Relentlessly. This is our gift to the world.
So don’t apologize anymore for feeling deeply, for being sensitive. For having empathy for other humans. For caring and for showing it. Instead, say: catch up. The world needs you.
Previously published as ‘Why the World Needs Men Who Cry’ in The Wild Word magazine. www.thewildword.com
For more great Wild Word essays see:
Why as a Christian Leader I am Choosing Resistance by Reverend Rachel Kessler
America, the Rest of the World is With You by Mike Hembury
The Beginning of the End of Donald Trump by Maria Behan