Legendary tennis player Roger Federer broke down after winning his 6th Australian Open championship, and 20th Grand Slam title. During his post-match speech tears rolled down his cheeks, and he did not stop them. These were the tears of years of hard work and accomplishment, of gratitude for endless love and support he had received from his family and fans all around the world. But most importantly, these were the tears of a celebrated man, who did not shy away from crying. He broke the taboo which surrounds his gender by the general display of vulnerability.
Emotions and the pressure of keeping up with a ‘manly’ image
Men, especially in India are taught from a very young age, to behave according to their gender. Boys don’t cry. Men are not supposed to find release for frustration or sadness pent-up inside them via tears. They are not to show weakness when they hold their child in their arms for the first time. They are to remain stoic when they lose a dear one forever.
The idea is to mould young boys into macho men with nerves of steel. Men who won’t be riled by paltry emotions like fear, sadness and even happiness. They watch their predecessors clamp up their emotions. The pressure to be a ‘man’ finds release only through violence and sex.
All these emotions boil within the hearts of these young men, and poison them from within with what is called toxic masculinity.
This alienation of emotions which are considered fit for only weak people, estrange men from their own families. Hence, we are left with husbands who refuse to share sorrow with their wives. Fathers who discipline themselves to express no joy in their children’s company. No smiles, no tears.
Men like Federer help break constructs of toxic masculinity
You know how big a deal it is, when prominent newspapers feature photographs and headlines of the tennis player in tears. It’s a rare occasion for a grown man, a sports icon none the less, to let the tears roll. The Swiss Sportstar has set an example for many of his male fans that crying publicly does not make one any less ‘manly’.
It takes a secure man, to shed social inhibitions and not worry about how the society will react to his breaking down publicly.
This is a welcome change from the list of celebrities who put forward dangerous trends like womanising, display of machismo in media and film, to a garner fan following.
Men who cry are called names. Their sexuality is targeted the most, by both men and women. Which is both offensive and insensitive.
In near future, if men continue to entertain the idea that a real man does not cry or display any other emotion apart from anger and rage, then we don’t need nuclear bombs or meteors to end the world. The barbaric need of men, to come out on top of other alpha men, will do the needful.
Changing times, changing perspective.
Men’s perspective on the expression of emotions seems to be shifting. Men who are brought up in household where women have an equally saying, tend to be more sensitive. Liberal and strong mothers, are in fact the keys to raising sensitive sons.
Men today feel more comfortable to express happiness and love. But the stigma associated with crying is so deep- seated in male conscience, that it still remains a topic no man likes to talk about. Hopefully, as men have found the courage to express love and happiness, they will one day find the courage and security, to not shy away from expressing grief and joy through tears.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own