Crying being viewed as a sign of weakness for men isn’t unique to the Arab world, but the stigma’s global prominence doesn’t make it any less problematic for our societies.
It’s just one of the ways toxic masculinity manifests itself. Ever wondered why men don’t recycle? A recent survey revealed that it’s because they’re afraid of being perceived as gay. As for crying, the same formula applies. Crying in public is viewed as unacceptable by one in six men in the US. No similar study has been conducted in the region, but I’m willing to bet it’s just about the same.
Men across the globe are conditioned to associate emotional expressiveness to femininity. They’re more often than not shamed for expressing sadness. It’s not unusual for a young boy to be told to “man up” when crying. Research has shown that these behaviours ultimately lead to mental health issues and the manifestation of unhealthy coping mechanisms. Despite that, the stigma continues to exist.
To get an idea of how it affects men in the region, we’ve reached out to a few from Morocco to Oman and asked them why they don’t cry.
Mohammed, 27, Omani
I’m not comfortable with crying. I’m emotional, I show my emotions. But I didn’t cry when my grandfather died, or when my grandmother died. I actually don’t remember the last time I cried. I get sad, but I don’t cry. I don’t know if it’s because of expectations set on men, or just because I hate feeling sad. Part of it is because I never learned how to express my emotions. When I was a kid and I’d cry my mom would tell me to “man up”, and my dad never talked to me about emotions.
Hassan, 32, Palestinian
I have this bad habit of suppressing my emotions and internalizing it for a few days until I feel I can talk about it, and typically that leads to me crying. I’ve been that way since since I was a kid. When I was younger, we had a family friend who passed away in a motorcycle accident and when my brothers told me the news, I just shrugged it off. But it eventually sank in, and boy was I crying. Even as an adult, losing a friend or even just splitting ways with someone close to you (without them passing) does the same thing to me. I internalize, talk about it, cry about it, then move on. Crying in public is another thing that’s just too much unwanted attention your way.
Driss, 24, Moroccan
I never feel comfortable when it comes to crying because I always try to hide that emotional part of myself. The explanation is simple: I grew up “the hard way”, in an environment where showing emotions isn’t acceptable. You can’t let emotions overflow you. You need to be the most dominant, and mentally strong to “survive”. So, you have to stay as cold as possible. It’s the concept of “being a man”. Society is built in a way that if you are not the alpha male, you’re going to struggle. You cry, you’re a beta. Period.
Michael, 25, Lebanese
I am comfortable with crying in private. I am not comfortable with crying in public for a couple reasons. One reason being that it creates attention that I do not want. The other reason being that it is emasculating to show that I am feeling weak. I am very emotional but I like to keep to myself when I feel weak or sad, crying is like telling everyone around you how you feel inside. Even happy crying is a bit uncomfortable for me.
Haithem, 27, Tunisian
I’m comfortable crying today. I wasn’t before, because unfortunately in society, a man who cries is synonymous with weakness and pity. Then one day I saw my father crying and I realized that it’s just human to accept these feelings allows to free oneself. But we still live in a society where a man has to be strong, and strong means that we must not show signs of weakness like crying. If you cry, it means you lost, and that you are too sensitive to overcome a difficulty. It means that you get carried away by your emotions instead of facing and solving your problems.
Illustration by Khalid Mezaina