“Big boys don’t cry”

Yesterday I watched an incredibly powerful Ted Talks called “Why I’m done being man enough” by Justin Baldoni. During his talk he discusses how society shapes men to be tough, powerful and confident. He continues on to highlight how anything feminine, such as showing sensitivity or talking about emotions and struggles is seen as weak. It made me think of a phrase I hear often, but refuse to have in my house. The phrase I actively voiceover whenever I hear it muttered to my boys. The phrase “Big boys don’t cry.”

Gender equality - Big boys don't cry
Image courtesy of Shutterstock/esthermm

 

The messages we give to children help strengthen their perceptions of the world around them and helps them understand their place within it. When we tell little boys that “big boys don’t cry”, we are effectively telling them that it is not okay to show their emotions, that is not okay to talk, be sensitive or vulnerable. We are effectively telling them that their role in this world is to be strong, tough and a protector.

 

There has been amazing progress over recent years when it comes to the messaging we are giving girls and young women. Yet, we aren’t really changing the messaging we are giving to little boys. We are still playing the same record. We are still telling them that they have to be brave, that they have to be tough, that they should bottle up their emotions and that “big boys don’t cry.

 

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the United Kingdom. This statistic is evidence that we are failing. We are failing to tackle gender roles in equal measure. We are failing to tell little boys that it is okay to be sensitive. We are failing to teach boys that it is okay to be vulnerable. We are failing to teach boys that it is good to talk about their emotions and struggles, that talking is cathartic. We are failing to open new doors to them. We are failing in equality.

 

While we are still implying that vulnerability and sensitivity are only reserved for girls and women, we are implying that they are weak characteristics only suitable for women. Therefore, we are implying, whether consciously or not, that women are weaker. In order for, equality to happen we need to put as much praise on vulnerability as we do on strength.

 

We are praising strength from places it was once ridiculed and suppressed, now is the time to do the same for vulnerability. Let’s tackle gender inequality in all its forms together, because if we want equality, true equality, it is not enough to just be raising strong women. We also need to be raising sensitive men.

 

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47 thoughts on ““Big boys don’t cry”

  1. I find it shocking that suicide is the biggest killer in young men, and yet it has touched my life personally very much last year. I know of 6 young men in my town who committed suicide last year. It’s just devastating to see their families suffer and so desperately sad that they felt there was no other option.

    1. I think it is incredibly saddening to hear of so many people who have endured such pain. It really is time that as a society we open up the pathways of communication and let one another know that there is support available. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. I think it’s important to raise boys knowing that showing your emotions is a sign of strength and not weakness. But it’s also important for them to know that we all get weak but it’s how we work through our weaknesses or weak times in life that’s important. Great post! x

  3. My friend’s brother was the type of chap who didn’t really display emotions. He was always “fine”. I never knew how he really was, or suspected that there was anything amiss. He committed suicide, leaving behind family, wife and two kids. To this day, nobody knows why he did it.
    I was lucky in that I’ve always been able to express my emotions, as do a lot of my male friends, but it’s true that there are still men for whom this is an alien concept. Hopefully, these guys can learn to reach out or express themselves and access those emotional pressure release valves rather than bottling things up beyond the point at which things go wrong.

    1. I’m so sorry you have experienced loss like this. I think is incredibly saddening that people feel so desperate that they feel there is no other way for them. I think it is of the utmost importance that as a society we question and change the messaging we are giving to people. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

  4. This is such an important point. The world is constantly involving and, if there ever was a time when men had to be strong all the time and keep their emotions in check, there certainly isn’t now. I hope we continue to make advances in this area, thanks to posts lie this, it’s such a needless waste of life.

    1. Absolutely, as a society we need to be constantly evaluating the messaging we are giving to people and looking for ways to change things for future generations.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. Suicide is definitely something that needs looking at, why is it happening and what can we do to help men. I think it starts with letting men know it is ok to have emotions and show it!

    1. Absolutely. I think as a society we really need to start changing the messaging we are giving to future generations and letting them know that is good to talk and share their emotions and struggles. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  6. I find the level of mental health support in general so bad here, not because they don’t care but because they just don’t have the funding to be able to help all of those that they should. I have a son and I want him to be in touch with his emotions and to know that boys, and men, do cry and that that’s alright. Thanks for raising such an important topic.

    1. I think the facilities and services regarding mental health are lacking, but I also think that there is a lot we can do as a society to open up pathways of communication and change the messaging we are putting out to the next generation.

  7. I couldn’t agree more I always tell my son it’s OK to cry if he needs to. A friend of my husbands committed suicide 2 years ago – he was 35 – it was so sad. I also found out one of my high school teachers also committed suicide due to depression. So sad. Sarah Stockley

    1. I think it is incredibly saddening to hear of people so consumed by their emotions they saw no other option. It really is time to start considering the messaging we are giving as a society and ways in which we can change to help people before they reach that point.

  8. So so very important. The stats regarding our young men frighten me, I have three boys and I’m always telling them to share their feelings and talk to me or dad or even friends .
    Equality for all . Love this very important post x

  9. This is such an important topic, I feel mental health is often brushed under the carpet, especially when it comes to men and gender stereotypes are the bane of our existence. I think a lot of the issues stem from there simple not being enough funding, GPs turning people away and mental health being seen as less important than physical health. I’ve noticed it more and more since having children and a prime example is that they never ask how the men are yet cases of PND in men do exist and quite frequently but it’s hardly spoken about because men should “man up” even now, in 2018 men are expected to be the ones who support without support themselves.

    1. I agree that there needs to be a lot more funding in regards to mental health, but I also think that some of the responsibility falls onto society as a whole. Society needs to change the way we see vulnerability and strength. It is society that is able to create more open pathways of communication and it is society that is able to make those changes immediately.

  10. Wow, I’m quite staggered by those suicide statistics. As a mother to both a son and a daughter I feel the responsibility raising them to understand and be open with their emotions. We have come a long way since our great grandparents generation of a “stiff upper lip” British attitude, but we still have an awfully long way to go. Kate x

    1. I know, it is incredibly saddening to read about statistics like that. I agree that as a society we have come an incredibly long way, but there is certainly a lot more work to be done when it comes to the messaging we are giving to future generations.

  11. This is such an important topic that we all need to raise awareness of. Sharing the message with our sons that it’s okay to open up about their emotions and struggles is so crucial.

    1. Absolutely. The more people discuss topics like this, the quicker the message will get to people and hopefully that will encourage change to happen faster.

  12. Lovely post! It’s so important to teach little boys that it’s ok to open up about their feelings and own their emotions. The whole ‘big boys don’t cry’ thing makes me so mad.

    Katie xoxo

  13. I cringe now when ever I hear the phrase Big Men Don’t cry. I think it is more manly for a guy to let go of his emotions. Just ask my wife. I have a fair few crying sessions recently over loved ones passing away. Man, the day my father died, I wept like a baby. I did for a few years after too. Teaching our kids to not to bottle up their emotions is something we as parents have to be more mindful of. Mainly because if they do bottle up their feelings, it could cause mental harm and damage in the years to come.
    I had grief counselling a few times, due to both my Mother and Father passing away at a young age. They told me NOT to bottle up, so from that point, although it was hard. I have had to learn to let go more and more. As a father myself now, I always talk to my child about feelings and it is helped more than I could ever imagine.

    This is really thoughtful and wonderful post. Thank you for posting this.
    John M

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m sorry you have experienced such loss, but I think it is amazing that your parents were so supportive about being open with emotions and is now something you encourage with your children.

  14. I think it’s so important to teach boys to open up when it comes to their emotions. My 3 year old plays with dolls, pushes a pushchair around and acts so loving towards his little doll. I would never take it away from him. Let boys act however they want to!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I absolutely agree! When we take away gender stereotypes and encourage children to be expressive, it can make such a huge and wonderful difference… not just to an individual, but also to society as a whole.

  15. I work in a primary school and we have lots of boys who are aged below 8 who will cry when they are upset. Unfortunately as soon as they hit juniors they feel they have to be grown up and i guess that ‘macho’ image is embedded in their mind. It’s so sad though as crying does the world of good to release all those built up emotions.

    1. It is such a shame that once they get to a certain age they feel they have to change those behaviours. I absolutely agree that crying is a great way to release and work through built up emotions. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  16. It’s awful that boys are put under such pressure. We have tried to bring our son up free of those constraints but of course it permeates their lives in all sorts of ways through school, TV etc. I think the fact that we, as a society, are so much more open to talking about it now is an important step forward.

  17. It worries me how many boys in our society are being raised – and not in the sense of bad parenting, but as you’ve mentioned, the way society dictates how men should think and feel. It’s incredibly damaging and dangerous and I actually feel sorry for boys and men who spend their lives supressing most forms od emotion for fear of being told they’re ‘too feminine’ xo

  18. I totally agree that we should be raising boys who know that it is okay to express their emotions. I also think it is bad that most of the general public aren’t aware of the suicide rates in men. It shows that it is harder for men to share how they are feeling due to the stigma behind it.

  19. I hope Teddy knows that, when he grows up, it doesn’t make him weak or any less of a man to show emotion. It proves that he is strong & brave. Too many boys are led to believe that showing any sort of emotion is a sign of weakness & that is something that they take into adulthood with them.

    Rachael x

  20. It’s so sad that as a society boys are made to feel like they can’t express their emotions 🙁 With a little boy on the way I am going to try my absolute best to make sure he never feels that he can’t be open & honest with his feelings x

  21. It’s so sad, isn’t it? The worst part is that people are conditioned to say that, often they don’t even really mean it. I’ve always made so much effort to let my boys know it is okay to cry. I do, however, sometimes catch myself saying “aw, don’t cry”, which comes from my sadness at seeing them hurt rather than telling them they shouldn’t cry. Even so, I think saying that is sending a message that they shouldn’t cry (which of course applies to both boys and girls). I’ve let my boys cry as loud and as long as they want and have always encouraged emotions, explaining that they are natural and normal!

  22. My other half’s step dad passed away recently and it’s highlighted so many issues for him when his dad passed away when he was younger and one of the things he’s been working on is how his mum made him suppress his feelings saying things like ” You’re the man of the house now, and men don’t cry”

    It’s no wonder he’s bad at communicating and saying how he feels. He was practically told to hold it in his whole life.

    Such an interesting post and like you say, we need to be raising sensitive men!

  23. The stigma for young boys and girls is awful! Why they can’t just let kids be kids is beyond me. I often hear people telling their kids to ‘grow some balls’ and ‘man up’ and it truly annoys me. The fact that at a young age children are already so vulnerable and impressionable means we should be setting them out with positivity for life! Not making them feel bad about themselves. Xx

  24. I completely love this post! I remember when my little one was having a cry and my other half said those 4 dreaded words, “big boys don’t cry” I spent the rest of the night educating him on saying that and explaing why we shouldn’t say it, even if it’s not meant in a bad way. A lot of things still need to change but I love that more and more people are becoming aware of the fact we need to re-phrase things etc…

  25. I had no idea it was the biggest killer in this age group. Being a mum to two boys I am aware of some of this stuff but not it all. I really need to do some research into this. I will be looking up this Ted Talk, thank you x

  26. This is so sad. There should be no divide in ensuring that we bring up our kids to be happy and confident young people regardless whether they are boys or girls 🙂

  27. There needs to more awareness made, I know this statistic after my own husband took his life. He was always a happy, smiley and seemed ok as a person and then all of a sudden he did this. In his childhood, he was never encouraged to speak out and was the quieter one, his brother was the louder and more naughty one and therefore got a lot of his parents attention…even when they grew up. Please give attention to all your kids (especially the quiet ones) and encourage them to speak about their feelings. Suicide takes a life and ruins many others left behind, the more awareness made…the better.
    I am a single mum now and will make sure my son knows to talk about his feelings and should cry if he needs to so he doesn’t end up in the same situation as his father.

    1. I am so, so sorry for the heartache and pain you have experienced. It is incredibly saddening to hear of so many people who are struggling so much that they saw no other option. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your story. I think it is incredibly important to change the messaging we give to boys and men about speaking out about their emotions and I applaud you for the way you are encouraging your son to do just that. Sending love and healing to you and your loved ones x

  28. I have 4 boys and have always let them express things however they want. It must’ve awful to feel you have to keep everything locked inside just because society says that’s how it should be.

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