2021-03-23

Boys Don't Cry

A friend of mine on social media posted a web comic yesterday about "toxic masculinity." The gist of the web comic was that "toxic masculinity" was essentially the insistence that boys not cry or show any emotion or hint of struggle. When boys encounter pain or difficult, we should be strong, keep a stiff upper lip, hold our emotions in. The argument is that this insistence that men suppress their emotions is the essence of "toxic masculinity."

A few things are worth noting here.

First, I don't think this is quite what women have in mind when they complain about "toxic masculinity." Sure, women would prefer it if men were better communicating about their emotions, but compared to things like rape and rape culture, men's emotional intelligence is really a secondary concern. 

Second, it's true that men and boys are often encouraged to suppress their negative emotions, and it's undeniable that this takes a toll on our mental health.

But most importantly, I'd like to point out that there is an explanation for this that doesn't involve "the patriarchy." We know that among children, girls' emotional regulation is superior to that of boys. We also know that mothers of girls show better emotional regulation than mothers of boys. Taken together, what this implies is that young boys will tend toward more emotional outbreaks than young girls, and that the children's mothers will respond better to the girls than to the boys. "Stop crying!" isn't some nascent, diabolical, patriarchical social conditioning ingrained into us; it might simply be that children with worse emotional regulation are more often told to stop crying.

Once parents have practiced telling their boys to stop crying and suck it up long enough, it turns into a habit. Through that habituation, it becomes a mantra, and boys end up with more emotional repression than women do. 

Granted, some boys probably are told to stop crying for social reasons. In my family, we were all (boys and girls) socialized to be emotionally repressed, and that's caused a lot of problems for us. My point here is not that there is one, single, non-patriarchical cause for all male emotional repression. My point is merely that this phenomenon can happen even when it has nothing to do with the patriarchy

And, in general, we should resist and be skeptical of any intellectual framework that seeks to tie all social problems to a single, underlying cause. 

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