The Sad Side Of Boys Don’t Cry
Most men have heard the phrase “Boys don’t cry” or “Stop crying like a girl” at some point in their lives. People spew these lines on helpless boys and men and move on with their lives without realizing the damaging effect it can have on the person. Amidst the surge of toxic masculinity and patriarchal norms, men, just like women, face the struggles of being a “good boy.” As women fight to assert their individuality amidst societal pressures to be a ‘good girl,’ the other side of the coin reveals its ugly truth. Unjustly branded as ‘pansies’ or ‘simps,’ men find themselves belittled for traits as noble as being chivalrous, sensitive, quiet, polite, and worse so, scoffed at and taunted for shedding tears in public. Not many know that suppressed emotions and unhealed trauma can leave young boys and grown-up men anxious, depressed, and emotional wrecks. Worse still, fearing societal mockery, most men shy away from seeking help or counselling. Nikhil Taneja, Co-Founder and Chief of Yuvaa says, “Expressing tears when overwhelmed was difficult due to the ingrained belief in me that men shouldn’t cry. It took me therapy, support and learning how to deal with my emotions better. Men experiencing similar emotions should aim to create supportive spaces for each other, as they are often lacking in society.”
Men At Wreck
According to statistics from the National Mental Health Survey (NMHS), the prevalence of mental illness in men is notably higher at 13.9%, compared to 7.5% in women. Lucky KR,  a marketing and PR professional speaks of his painful experience of succumbing to gender norms and eventual mental health struggles. Lucky was bullied for participating in classic dance, crying, having female friends, and not playing football. He was mocked and told to “act” manly. “Even today, I struggle to express myself, or openly shed tears at work. I remember being haunted by suicidal thoughts. The derogatory comments crushed my self-confidence,” says Lucky.
Men, just like women, experience emotions, feel hurt, and have the right to openly express their sadness and pain points in public. This societal pressure to suppress emotions and labelled as ‘girly’ or ‘weak,’ for crying or being sensitive significantly impacts the psychological and cognitive development of young men. As a result, in adulthood, this emotional repression contributes to various mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Aamina Shareef, senior executive (Outreach & Content), Mpower, Mumbai speaks on the damaging effects of stringent gender norms for men saying, “From a young age, boys are taught to be numb and overcome physical pain. They are surrounded by blue toys and pressured to show strength and anger to avoid teasing from classmates. Men in adulthood cope with suppressed emotions by self-medication. Some rely on substances like alcohol or drugs and overworking which eventually leads to anxiety and depression.” Amina adds that complicated family dynamics like being brought up by a single mother, divorce and witnessing domestic violence play a role in a young boy comprehending healthy emotional regulation.
The idea of a “perfect man” with a muscular physique, eight-pack abs, and towering height induces severe mental distress and body dysphoria. Many men are ridiculed for being polite, sensitive, and respectful toward women. Often they are unjustly branded as ‘desperate’ or ‘simps’ or ‘lillies’ or ‘pansies.’ Toxic masculinity imposes even harsher burdens on gay men, who face not only the pressure to conform to traditional masculinity but also face discrimination due to their sexual orientation. Gaurav Vaishnav, a Human Resources professional says, “In my journey as a gay individual, childhood was a phase of self-discovery marked by effeminate mannerisms. The verbal bullying from so-called ‘masculine’ peers during school left me timid and fearful. I credit the support of my friends and fellow allies who empowered me during this tough time.”
A Collective Effort
To empower boys and men struggling with toxic masculinity and suppressed emotions, the need to implement comprehensive educational programmes challenging traditional gender norms while promoting empathy should be encouraged. Christie Saju, a psychologist at Lissun says, “Schools and communities must include educational programmes to address common gender stereotypes, promote emotional literacy for better emotional intelligence, and organise workshops, competitions, cultural activities with the allocation of psychologists to help a struggling child.” In addition, incorporating mental therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness practices, and group therapy sessions can provide valuable tools for men to break free from the shackles of gender norms. “Combining cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based techniques such as MBCT (Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy), MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), emotion-focused therapy (EFT), family therapy for creating a supportive environment and psychoeducation are very beneficial in supporting men struggling with suppressed emotions,” adds Christie.
From a young age, boys are taught to be numb and overcome physical pain, surrounded by blue toys. They are pressured to show strength to avoid teasing from peers.” — Aamina Shareef, Sr. Executive (Outreach & Content) Mpower, Mumbai
Combining cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based techniques, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), family therapy and psychoeducation are very beneficial in supporting men struggling with suppressed emotions.” — Christie Saju, Psychologist, Lissun