It’s finally OK for men to cry

The stigma is vanishing


In the battle of the sexes, men have always had it alright. Apart from when it comes to crying.

New research, however, suggests that moist-eyed men aren’t as derided as they used to be. A survey by British psychologist Donna Dawson has found that modern men are three times more likely to cry than their fathers.

According to Bernard Capp, Professor of History at Warwick University, the stiff upper lip is a trend that resurges through history. “There’s been a stigma around crying for centuries, but it’s been very on and off,” he explains. “We’ve swung to and fro over the centuries.

“There have been periods where it’s been relatively OK for men to cry, and then the pendulum swings back in the other direction.”

Matthew McConaughey cuts loose in Interstellar

Matthew McConaughey cuts loose in Interstellar

What does that mean? “It means it’s not biological. Men and women feel emotional in the same sort of way, so it’s a sociocultural thing – it’s all about what’s ‘allowed’ and what isn’t.

“The general view has always been that men should be tough and strong and brave, that they should be able to govern their families as they govern themselves – and that includes their own feelings.”

George Osborne was mocked for crying at Margaret Thatcher's funeral

George Osborne was mocked for crying at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral

The last few centuries have been especially tearless. “The stigma was probably strongest during the World War – that’s when the stiff upper lip complex was at its strongest.”

But the problem with the stiff upper lip is that it can have real psychological implications – so says Dr Jason Spendelow, Professor of Psychology at the University of Surrey. “Bottling it all up can definitely have a negative effect on your wellbeing.

“Flexibility in the way that you cope with life is really important for psychological health, so if you just hammer one strategy over and over again it’s going to come back and cause problems eventually.”

In some groups, crying is virtually unacceptable. “The stigma has been fading in the last 20-30 years, partly because gender roles are less distinct or separate than they used to be,” says Bernard. “However it still varies according to the group. Sportsmen tend to get emotional – tennis players, football players and so on – when they win or lose they’re always getting tearful now. It’s fine for actors as well. 

“Politicians, though, much less so – it’s still seen as a bit dodgy. Businessmen, not at all. If a businessman loses his company or finds out he’s been fired, he’s still expected to stay looking tough. The difference is quite striking really.”

Barack Obama remembers the Sandy Hook shootings

Barack Obama cries during a speech on gun violence

Just ask Barack Obama, who was ridiculed by some pundits for his tears when he was adressing the nation on the Sandy Hook massacre. “It’s the idea that men are meant to have emotional control,” Spendelow says. “Crying is regarded as a loss of that control.”

However, there has been a shift. “There are different types of masculinity and different versions of what it is to be a man nowadays. If there are more versions in play, like there are now, then society will be more accepting,” he continues.

“It’s less about crying and more about finding a healthy and positive way to cope with your difficulties. If crying leads to some sort of positive outcome, it’s a positive thing.”