Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Boys don't cry." But perhaps men do?

by Chloe Angyal

Those of you who watched the final moments of Roger Federer's Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal today (or those of you who stayed up all night to watch all five riveting sets) would have seen the shots of Federer crying when he lost. It was a heartbreaking moment, even for those of us who aren't Federer fans.

But even as my heart was going out to him, I was also so thrilled to see him cry, and I promise I don't mean that in a vindictive way. I say that I was thrilled to see him cry because I think, as heartbroken as he was to have lost, his tears were so productive. Federer is a man who can cry in victory and in defeat, out of relief and joy, and out of disappointment. And I think it's so important that this legend of a man, an athlete and a role model for millions of young men, is unafraid to express his emotions in tears, with the cameras rolling and the world watching.

The image of an alpha-male crying with disappointment after playing his heart out for five sets sends a strong message: it's ok for men to cry. It's ok for men to feel pain, and it's ok for them to show it. Unfortunately, men don't hear this message enough, and consequently, the powerful stigma against men crying, in public or otherwise, is still alive and well.

A little while ago Courtney Martin at Feministing wondered why even women are still so uncomfortable with seeing men cry. She hypothesized that "crying men remind us that there really is no 'knight in shining armor'...that life is insecure no matter who's in charge." I think she's spot on: we must really be in trouble if even the strong, dependable men can't keep it together, right?

When a man like Federer cries, does he give men everywhere permission to cry too? Are men like him to helping us to combat traditional macho "boys don't cry" masculinity? Or is it only alpha men, the super athletes who have proven their manliness five sets in a row,who can afford to let their guard down, and let a few tears fall?

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