Thursday, April 19, 2012

Men are Not Emotional

Image credit

I keep seeing discussions and blog posts that make me want to speak out. This one, for example, and this one (really heartbreaking and just makes me angry).

It’s sad that comments like this are made every day: Men are not emotional. You can see it in the discussions that pop up now and then, and you can hear parents telling their sons that they can’t cry, that they need to be strong. The general idea is that all men are supposed to be “strong” and confident. They’re all supposed to like sports, drink beer, and thump their chests gorilla-style on a regular basis. They don't talk about how they feel and they most certainly don't show it. They don't cry - ever. Crying and talking is for girls. Lastly, male authors of m/m fiction write masculine men while female authors write emotional men (I'll get to this in the second part of this three-part series of articles).

Generalizations like these maintain ridiculous stereotyping that need to stop.

Some say that, sure, men can be emotional but they don't talk about their feelings. I'll buy this, up to a point, but I believe the behavior is more learned rather than instinctual. I've been trying to notice how the men around me behave and how they express themselves. Roughly 50% are outwardly emotional (some very) and the other 50% are able to hide it better. I'd say that maybe 40% express themselves verbally while the remaining 60% take it out on the gym equipment or close themselves off by staring at a computer screen for hours (you tell me if that's healthy). But if 50% of the guys I know are emotional and roughly 40% of them express themselves with words, can statements like "men don't talk about their feelings" and "men are not emotional" be true? I'd say no, when I'm seeing evidence on the contrary.

By this I'm not saying that men and women are the same. There are different hormones in play that make us tick differently. But hormone levels vary and we each have different life experiences that shape us, so it's wrong to say that men behave like this and don't behave like that. By saying so, people are maintaining the stereotype of the "ideal man". What does that do to guys who actually are emotional and have a hard time hiding it? It makes them targets because they aren't behaving "like men". I had a guy-friend when I was a kid. He went through daily bullying at the hands of older guys in the neighborhood. They tormented him because he cried easily. He cried easily because there was trouble at home and these guys kept beating him up. This went on for years and years, all because he didn't "act like a guy".

I like writing characters with strong emotions, or I’ll say it: I like writing emotional men. I also happen to like writing short, skinny men (twinks) because I happen to find them more attractive than big, butch men. I don’t know where people get the idea that all women want are  big, “strong” (emotionally and physically) men when so many of us are more attracted to those who aren't afraid to cry and have a slighter build. Harley Santos, the main character in my story, The Walls Have Ears, is emotional. He also happens to be short and skinny, so he’s a “stereotype” by some people’s standards. This is how young Harley came to me as I wrote the story, and I’m not ashamed of having written him. I’m very proud of him. He’s funny, cute, and quite the character. However, in many reviews people have complained that he’s overly emotional (because he cries), and that he’s girly (because he’s emotional and has a slight build). When I saw people saying that, I realized how unfair life is for guys like Harley.

We can't continue to put guys in cookie-cutters while so many don't fit in it. Cookie-cutters are not only limiting and unrealistic, they help maintain the stereotype that every man is expected to live up to. It's just not fair (and often damaging) to those who don't fit in the form.

I'm teaching my boys that it's okay to be in touch with their feelings and I encourage them to express themselves. I think it's extremely unhealthy to keep feelings bottled up and that it can easily lead to depression later in life. I think it's healthy for my boys to be able to identify how they're feeling. They've turned 5 this year (twins) and one is very open and emotional while the other keeps everything bottled up and very rarely talks about his feelings. The one who's locked up wasn't like that a year ago. He changed after he made a new friend at preschool who keeps saying things like "boys don't cry". Now, when he hurts himself, he cries so quietly that I barely hear him and he looks ashamed of his tears. It’s painful to watch. I have to persuade him to talk about how he's feeling if he looks worried and he seems relieved whenever he does open up. It’s an ongoing project, but I'm hoping that my positive encouraging will teach him that it's okay to talk.

Being in touch with one's feelings doesn't equal vulnerability or weakness, and being in touch with one's feelings doesn't mean you're a girl*. Emotional men are NOT weak, so toss out the cookie-cutters in real life and in gay fiction. Just because a male character is very emotional and expresses it doesn't make him unrealistic or "girly". Some men are emotional and there's nothing abnormal about it. People should be allowed to be themselves. I once heard the expression “Why try to fit in when you were born to stand out?” - I think that’s fitting to this subject.

*By saying that emotional men are "girly" also puts girls into a box with "emotional" stamped all over it. That's another stereotyping right there. Am I emotional? Yes, very. Is my cousin? Nope, at least not very. Does that make her a boy? No.

Here are links to my other posts in this series of posts:
Women Can't Write Realistic Men
Women Maintain Gay Stereotyping


  1. If you sort all the men in the world into one row, and put all the women in a row next to them, you'll end up with two similar rows ranging from the most gentle/feminine man and woman on one side to the most butch/macho man and woman on the other...

    (sorry, typo and no edit function... *sigh*)

  2. To this day I have never see my mother cry. I've seen my father cry his eyes out. I wouldn't cry in front of my shrink for a year because I didn't want to seem weak. My partner cried at the end of King Kong. Everyone is on a spectrum. I wish idiots would get that. Especially idiots who review books.

    1. Yes, it really made my blood boil when a reviewer called one of my characters weak because the character was very insecure and cried. I didn't get upset because he didn't like my work, I got upset because I hate that kind of stereotyping. So wrong for those who ARE insecure and easily cry.

  3. I think people need to look harder..Some men are not and same goes for some women..People have their own way of showing emotions.

    1. Yes, and I think that the reason a lot of men are reluctant to show their emotions is because they've been taught not to. Expressing emotions (other than happiness and anger) is a "girly" thing to do, after all.

  4. THe bottom line is people have these screwed up ideas of how gay and or straight men are supposed to act. Its really silly. Not every man is cold and unfeeling. Some men are very open with their emotions. :/

    The world loves to label and box people. Thats not the way it works!