“One of the first lessons I was taught as a boy growing up is don’t cry, boys don’t cry, boys don’t share their emotions,” said Keith Simpson, a Learning Facilitator at the Liger Leadership Academy, “which was kind of difficult for me, because I was a very expressive, very sensitive person so . . . there was a conflict in what I was being taught vs. what I felt.”
Some people are more expressive than others with their feelings, but we as human beings were born with a form of emotion. Throughout history, boys were told not to show their emotions, specifically crying. This might seem like a small issue to some, but research shows that not being able to express emotions might lead to more serious issues like mental health problems, or even suicide.
With all of the gender “expectations” injected into our brains at such a young age, at a time in our lives where we are developing our empathy and identity, the repercussions can be significant. The website Independent.co.uk published an article titled, “Telling boys they are ‘crying like a girl’ could cause mental health problems in later life, says expert,” that talks about how telling boys not to cry can harm them later on in life, since they “lose touch with their feelings.” We can compare this to the person bottling up a bunch of explosives in their body and it will reach a point where there would be an overload of them and they all set off. Some might win the battle, but most won’t.
An article written by Ally Fogg on the Guardian headlined, “We tell boys not to cry, then wonder about male suicide,” talked about a former soccer player that was going through depression for years but didn’t seek help, because he was taught to ‘man up’ and not show his emotions. This later on led to Dean Windass, the depressed former soccer player, attempting suicide twice days before the article was written. In another interview he did with Mirror.co.uk, Windass mentioned, “I have cried every day for the last two years since retiring. People outside football think we have it all. But I was in a hole that I honestly didn’t know how to get out of,” and he sadly continued, “Just over a week ago I hit rock bottom and decided to end it all.”
Just like Windass, suicide is usually the answer for most men that suffer from mental illness. Back in 2015, Cambodia had a male to female suicide ratio of 2.11, where there was a suicide rate of 12.8 per 100,000 men. Cambodians have, arguably, very strong gender expectations where men were taught to be tough and not show their emotions. By now, it is evident that teaching boys that they should put on a mask and hide their feelings can have serious long-term side effects.
Lastly, find somebody you trust and share your issues with them. To all the men who are reading this and going through a tough time, don’t be afraid to break that gender barrier. Boys shouldn’t be told, “boys don’t cry,” or, “man up! Don’t cry like a girl,” when expressing themselves, but instead be encouraged to.
Author: Kimseng Suon