The Right to Cry
by Jessica Sides | published Feb. 4th, 2019
Editor's note: This article uses terms such as "man" and "woman" as a means to explain gender stereotypes associated with those terms. However, these challenges are of course faced by people of all gender identities.
Have you ever felt pressured to hide certain emotions? To hide your current state of mind? Have you ever felt weak just because you were told you should be?
There are many fixed beliefs about how those of a certain gender are expected to act when it comes to mental health. Women are often made out to be emotional, irrational and fragile. Men are supposed to be emotionless, inexpressive and strong.
Misconceptions and Stereotypes
Some of these misconceptions stem from toxic masculinity — the restriction of emotions that boys and men are allowed to express. The social expectation for men is to be dominant and express only anger, in terms of “negative” emotions.
Laura Allison, a Rochester-based licensed clinical social worker, addressed what these stereotypes may look like on campus.
“It’s socially acceptable to see a woman crying to a professor during his office hours, but not a man. There would be more of a reaction to a man crying,” Allison said.
Allison explained that it is the expectation that women default to emotion rather than logic.
“Girls usually go straight to tears because that’s what they’re encouraged to do,” Allison said.
With men, it’s a whole different ball game. Society as a whole makes boys believe that they can’t express themselves freely. People say that “real men don’t cry,” but there's little truth to that.
“Society can excuse a man punching a hole in a wall, or two boys beating each other up on the playground by saying, ‘Boys will be boys.’ If a boy were found crying in the bathroom? Their peers would make fun of them for that,” Allison said.
Dealing with Mental Discontent
One thing that is particularly bothersome is that society only allows a set amount of time to deal with grief and loss.
Anna Belle Scally, a first year undecided major, finds this particularly frustrating.
“We either move on too quickly or take too long to get over things,” said Scally.
Abo Huang, a first year Electrical Engineering major, thinks that it’s “stupid” the way society judges people.
“I know masculine females and feminine males. It doesn’t matter, you can be who you want,” she said.
Casey Rigas, a second year Political Science major, is the vice president of Global Union and is transgender.
"It's difficult to express who you are at your core," Rigas said. "It's a lot of emotional labor to interact with people you don't know. It's even more difficult to interact with people you do know that don't accept you for who you are."
These masculine and feminine emotional stereotypes can be particularly difficult for someone who is transgender, and can be pushed from both directions depending on the people you interact with.
“Everyone should be able to deal with things in their own way. Men should be allowed to show weakness, and women shouldn’t have to show everything,” Scally said.
The Growing Issue of Suicide
These bottled up emotions can lead to some dangerous decisions that can't be rescinded. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2017, 47,173 Americans committed suicide; that’s 129 suicides per day. In that year, there were 1.3 million suicide attempts.
One statistic that may be surprising to most is that men commit suicide 3.54 times more than females. In 2016 in particular, white males accounted for 7 out of 10 of suicides.
The causes of this are merely speculation, but it’s likely that men feel obligated to keep their feelings bottled up to be “real men.” It’s also a known fact that women are much more likely to seek mental help than men. That is likely because they feel less ashamed of having mental issues because that is what is expected of them. The truth of the matter is that men and women are equally affected by mental health problems, just in different ways.
First Steps to an Accepting Society
As a society, we need to destigmatize mental illness and begin to open up in healthy ways. Huang wants a way we can stay anonymous.
“If there is a way to be anonymous, you don’t have to outcast yourself. You aren’t exposed through therapy. It would be nice to open up if they [therapists] don’t know who you are,” Huang explained.
Rigas just wants people to listen.
"Listen to understand instead of listening to debate. People may not physically look the way they identify. People don't accept us [transgender people] and aren't willing to change the way they think. Just be respectful," they said. "It's easy to get lost in where you grew up. It's not easy to change your mentality. But at the end of the day, you shouldn't put your belief or religion above another person's right to existence."
Allison, on the other hand, wants to attack the problem at the root.
“A good first step would be focus groups. We could hold seminars for elementary kids’ parents to talk about children and their struggle with gender roles. We could encourage them to allow their kids to open up and to cry,” Allison continued. “This is how we begin to dismantle the problem. I try to do this in my own little way by chipping away at the problem one family at a time.”
America has already come a long way in accepting people regardless of their gender. These days we see people of all genders working as nurses, doctors and engineers.
The idea of change is in the hands of our generation. Knowing this, hopefully, we can start a ripple effect that leads to a more accepting society for all of us.
Allison agrees. “Nothing can happen if we don’t talk about it."
"At the end of the day, you shouldn't put your belief or religion above another person's right to existence."