Big boys should be allowed to cry
I was in the supermarket checkout line when I heard a father bark at his weeping son, “Big boys don’t cry!” As a psychotherapist, I know how clinically damaging those words can be. As a man, I cringed because I received the same shame-based message as a young boy.
I find it fascinating that the characteristics of gender stereotypes are not biological or fixed, but are defined by our society (1). Boys are often taught to have anti-feminine attitudes (2). Other rigid male stereotypes that are associated with “traditional masculinity” include men (3):
Avoiding feminine activities
Exercising emotional control and not appearing weak
Striving for success at all costs
Being aggressive or violent
In her 2015 documentary film, The Mask You Live In, Jennifer Siebel Newsom interviewed boys and young men about their struggle to become men within narrowly defined gender norms in the United States. She found that boys continued to feel pressured to conform to traditional gender roles, disconnect from their emotions, devalue friendships, exhibit sexist behavior, and resort to violence. In my practice, I have witnessed the confusion, anger, and disillusionment that arise when the roles that men take on in today’s society differ from the role and narrative they have been raised to model (4). When constricting self-expectations cause men to struggle, it can be helpful to consult with a male psychotherapist who is vigilant and aware of how gender stereotypes are deeply embedded in American culture and how they can manifest in contemporary men (5). An engaged psychotherapist can provide the insight, guidance, and support that is needed to reframe those strong stereotypical chains.
1. Nisenbaum, J. (2008). Men’s experience of masculinity in marriage: A phenomenological investigation and depth psychological analysis (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest (Order No. 3333554).
2. Cook, G. N. (2011). Male friendships: The longing for meaningful connection (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest (Order No. 1486935).
3. Maggert, W. T. (2016). Corrupting masculinity: Cultural complexes of the archetypal masculine shared between men (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest (Order No. 10266014).
4. Ribotsky, K (2018). The heterosexual male gender role stereotype:
its evolution and psychological impact on contemporary American men. (Thesis). Available from ProQuest https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/pubnum/10746674.html.
5. Haines, E. L., Deaux, K., & Lofaro, N. (2016). The times they are a-changing … or are they not? A comparison of gender stereotypes, 1983–2014. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40(3), 353-363. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/ 0361684316634081.