HOW TOXIC MASCULINITY STOLE OUR ABILITY TO CRY
At school the only time I came close to crying was when I jumped from my bunk bed and landed on a drawing pin. It hurt like hell, but I shared a dormitory with 20 other boys and nobody ever cried. I went to The Duke of York's Royal Military School, an all boys boarding school in Dover. And yes, I marched to breakfast, in a squad. We ate in a huge hall, like the one in Harry Potter. We even had school on Saturdays, and military parade on Sundays. The school was held together by rules, schedules and fear. Crying was definitely not allowed.
At school we used to watch Paul Gascoine, (Gazer the footballer) on the telly, and laugh at him sobbing in front of millions. To us he was ridiculous. When I became a man I didn't know crying was an option. It just wasn't something I saw. Nobody cried, and if they did it was weird. I felt embarassed when people cried, and later when my ex wife cried I assumed that there was something seriously wrong with her.
And yet history is full of tears. Great men cried, and the world cried with them. Muhammed Ali, one of the most celebrated sports figures of the Twentieth Century, and one of the greatest boxers of all time shed tears a plenty. His daughter, Maryum Ali in an interview with The Independent said:
He is extremely sensitive. My father is the kind of person who would see an old couple walking down the street and he'd start crying because they remind him of his own parents. He has such an amazing heart.
He could 'dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee.' Muhammed Ali oozed confidence. He once said, "it's hard to be humble when you're this great!" He could cry because he was self assured. He knew himself. If he felt like crying, he cried. Men today are oppressed by a false gold standard of masculinity. It demands that to be a man you have to be powerful, invulnerable, and in control. The media bombards us with images of wealth, power and success. We are seduced by these flashy images that omit the real stories behind success. We don't celebrate vulnerability, failure, mistakes, getting lost, making the wrong decision. But behind every great success there are countless failures. Edison, the inventor of the light bulb failed several thousand times, before finding a filament for his bulbs that worked. But who wants to watch a film of a guy testing several thousand light bulbs? The glamour of success poisons our hearts and minds, so that we can't see what's in front of us.
The highest rate of suicide in the U.K is for men aged 45-49. Often, men who have lost their jobs, wives, families and homes cannot cope. They sink into despair, because they believe that they have failed. They haven't lived up to the gold standard. They are neither powerful, invulnerable or in control. Without the tools to grieve, and accept failure as a part of life, these these men kill themselves.
The rest of us, those that are not as self assured as Muhammed Ali, struggle to live up to an impossible standard. In the panic of trying to reach unreachable goals-power, control, invulnerability. We shut our hearts. When we feel small, a million miles from the distant planet of power and influence, we cannot admit weakness, vulnerability and a need to be comforted. That is why men don't cry. We can't afford to feel, when we spend our energy pretending to be special.