Monday, 5 November 2012

Acting tough

I know it's another of my notorious sweeping general-isations, but I think there's still a widespread assumption that men are tough and capable while women are more fragile and inept.

Neither assumption is true of course. Women can be just as resilient and hard-headed as men, while all those tough-looking guys may be secretly shitting themselves and feeling totally out of their depth.

Nowadays with the spread of feminism it's a lot easier for women to drop the pretence of being helpless and incapable and make it clear they can deal with difficult situations just as well as men, if not better.

But I think it's far harder for men to shed the image of being thick-skinned and ready for anything. It's still seen as very weird if a man comes over all shaky and clueless and needy and wanting a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on.

It's not only men who get embarrassed and scornful if other men cry or look helpless. A lot of women still find the sight of a weepy, floundering man disconcerting. It may be okay on the football pitch or at an awards ceremony, but in everyday life - definitely a bit of a no-no.

I certainly feel I have to maintain a fairly seamless facade of casual competence when I'm at work or in any public venue. There's no way I can collapse in a quivering heap pleading my gender frailties. My gender is still expected to be frailty-free.

Even in the protective intimacy of coupledom, women may still see a crying, crumbling man as a bit of a wimp rather than a vulnerable human being who needs sympathy and support. She's the one who keeps stumbling into psychic turmoil, and he's the strong, dependable one who's meant to ride to the rescue.

All I can say is, I regularly see tearful, distraught women. But when did I last see a tearful, distraught man? The fact is, I don't.

PS: From what I'm hearing now, I think this may be a generational thing. Younger guys are quite relaxed about crying and showing their emotions and weaknesses, while older guys are more likely to bottle it all up and put on an impervious exterior.


  1. I saw my father cry only once in the 34 years I knew him. In fact he described women who wept as having their bladders near their eyes.

  2. Grannymar: That doesn't surprise me. I never saw my father cry either. But my mother cried very often. Sometimes because of my father's insults.

  3. I wouldn't say I regularly see adults of either sex crying, unless I'm at a funeral or some sort of sad event. I don't have a problem with seeing a man cry, but I would probably be uncomfortable if I felt it was out of place or unnecessary.

  4. Well, of course I see men cry all the time!

    But in coworkers, I can't think of any case where I saw someone, male or female, "collapse in a quivering heap." That would be just bizarre. Really, what sort of women do you spend time with?

  5. Recently, I have had to share old stories with some relatives who were not involved in those events. On two different occasions, I was overwhelmed narrating the stories and could not stop crying during the narration. On both occasions, the listeners, very sensitive people accepted that I needed the catharsis to get the old muck out of my system and did not think that I was a wimp. Even I was surprised that I could cry. The point is that crying is not an indication of weakness nor is not crying a sign of toughness.

  6. I've not really spent much time thinking about gender differences in crying. I've cried a lot in my time (usually over a ne'er-do-well), less so these days and if at all, it's a film or a book that has touched me.

    How people show their distress, or their emotion is up to them. I won't judge on the basis of gender, more on context.

    I've seen some crocodile tears in my time from both men and women. It leaves me a bit cold. Especially when it's a manipulation strategy.

  7. Bijoux: It's a matter of opinion though, don't you think, whether it's out of place or unnecessary? The person crying might think it was wholly appropriate.

    Agent: Maybe your coworkers are self-aware enough and self-controlled enough not to collapse in a quivering heap! But believe me, I've seen it happen a few times.

  8. Ramana: Pleased to hear that you were so ready to cry, and also that your listeners thought it was quite okay.

    Roses: It's true that some people put on crocodile tears to have a certain effect on others. But quite often of course it's genuine distress and calls for sympathy rather than embarrassed turning-away.

  9. My husband wouldn't cry in public. At his parents' funerals he sniffle a bit but even in front of me he can't release such emotions. Mind you, neither can I!

  10. Liz: Ah, another older guy who's trained to keep it all inside. And even in front of you he can't be more relaxed. That's a shame.

  11. I'm glad I get to hang with young people because those old tropes are dying and not fast enough as far as I'm concerned.

    I am so delighted with this younger generation that cross all sorts of boundaries, previously verboten. Young men painting their nails all different colours, crying in public, shopping with their gfs, etc. etc.

    About bloody time.

    Hang with the young 'uns Nick, they will release you!


  12. www: Yes, I guess I don't know enough younger guys, they would really open my eyes!

  13. It took me years to be comfortable crying as I was raised to be stoic, but stoicism can bite one in the ass so to speak and really isn't worth the energy it takes.

    Where do you see weepy women? I'm curious.

  14. e: Glad you're now comfortable with crying. I still find it difficult, I was brought up not to be a "cry-baby".

    I'd better not say where I see weepy women, that might come back to bite me!

  15. I cry at PET rescue, animal hospital, lassie come home, my friend flicker,war horse,

  16. John: Clearly nothing wrong with your tear ducts. Or your emotions. Don't change a thing.

  17. I think you're right - it's changing. Younger guys seem far more comfortable with being open about emotions than the older generations. It's a good thing, but it takes some adjustment.

    Women have this biological imperative thing, which makes us want a big, strong, rock-like mate and father for our children. We have enough to do, giving birth and raising the kids without supporting a guy as well ... but that's changing too, because more men are getting involved with raising the kids and helping around the home. So hopefully we'll meet somewhere in the middle in the not-too-distant future!

  18. Jay: It looks like it is a generational thing then. Isn't it a bit repressive though expecting men to be strong and rock-like? It means they're afraid to admit it when they're the ones who're feeling vulnerable and wanting a protective gesture.