Sorrowing Old Man (‘At Eternity's Gate’), by Vincent van Gogh, completed at Saint-Rémy de Provence, in 1890, two months before his death. This oil painting is based on an earlier lithograph, writes Wikipedia: “The lithograph was based on a pencil drawing Worn Out, one of a series of studies he made in 1882 of a pensioner and war veteran, Adrianus Jacobus Zuyderland, at a local almshouse in The Hague and itself a reworking of a drawing and watercolor he had made the previous year.”
In “Man, weeping,” Newman, an American author, writes:
One of our most firmly entrenched ideas of masculinity is that men don’t cry. Although he might shed a discreet tear at a funeral, and it’s acceptable for him to well up when he slams his fingers in a car door, a real man is expected to quickly regain control. Sobbing openly is strictly for girls.
This isn’t just a social expectation; it’s a scientific fact. All the research to date finds that women cry significantly more than men. A meta-study by the German Society of Ophthalmology in 2009 found that women weep, on average, five times as often, and almost twice as long per episode. The discrepancy is such a commonplace, we tend to assume it’s biologically hard-wired; that, whether you like it or not, this is one gender difference that isn’t going away.
But actually, the gender gap in crying seems to be a recent development. Historical and literary evidence suggests that, in the past, not only did men cry in public, but no one saw it as feminine or shameful. In fact, male weeping was regarded as normal in almost every part of the world for most of recorded history.So, what happened? Although the article can’t say for sure, Newman comes up with a few ideas, saying that urbanization, industrialization and, in particular, modern workplace practices favouring productivity and no display of emotions might be some of the reasons men today stop themselves from tearing up in public. Such ended not only the noble art of crying, but the humanly necessary one.
But there’s more, and it has to do with ideas of masculinity—chiefly viewing men’s tears as a sign of weakness and a loss of control—that have proven resilient to change. Until recently. Repressing the normal and natural need to cry is never good for one’s mental or physical health. For one, emotional tears release stress hormones and encourage the release of endorphins, the brain;s neurotransmitters that help us feel better.
In a piece (“The Health Benefits of Tears;” July 27, 2010,) in Psychology Today Judith Orloff, an assistant clinical professor at psychiatry at UCLA, writes:
My heart goes out to them when I hear this. I know where that sentiment comes from:parents who were uncomfortable around tears, a society that tells us we’re weak for crying—in particular that “powerful men don’t cry.” I reject these notions. The new enlightened paradigm of what constitutes a powerful man and woman is someone who has the strength and self awareness to cry. These are the people who impress me, not those who put up some macho front of faux-bravado.This is indeed good news, a shift way from the way things were while I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s. I was rather a sensitive soul as a youngster and decided to change this side of me by becoming “emotionally tougher.” I remember doing this to myself before I entered engineering school and later on when I worked as an engineer in a high-stress environment. After a number of years in such a “masculine” emotionless environment, I was unable to cry, even when I had good reason to do so, or even when I felt sad. I felt like an onion with many protective layers covering my soul.
To a great degree, this can become an impediment to adult maturity and undermine emotional growth. This was certainly true in my case. I suspect it might be true in many others, but it takes an awareness that this is indeed true.
It was only after I left this job, and the field altogether, and after some therapy and psychological counselling, that I was able to give myself permission to tear up. Today, tears are free to flow, when necessary, and I feel a freedom to do so. There is nothing wrong with men who cry; in fact, it might be all right. Three cheers for a saner and healthier society.
For more, go to [Aeon]