Sunday, March 6, 2011
The crying game
Why is it only the actresses who get all teary at the Oscars?
This is one annual ritual that you can set your calendar by: no sooner is the Oscar for the Best Actress announced than the tears follow as the lucky winner gets all misty-eyed and weepy as she delivers her acceptance speech, sobs punctuating every well-turned phrase.
Of course, every winner has her own take on the Big Oscar Teary Moment. Gwyneth Paltrow went in for full-on sobbing, giving effusive thanks to an endless list of people, hot tears running down her cheeks all the while. Julia Roberts started with a little levity before becoming all choked up as she thanked her family. Sandra Bullock started off strong but it wasn’t long before her voice turned as wobbly as her chin. And then, there was Halle Berry, who started crying loudly the moment her name was announced and never really stopped until she was escorted off the stage.
No matter how much the method varied, however, the madness always manifested itself in the appearance of tears. Sometimes they flowed unabashedly down the cheeks, sometimes they were accompanied by runny noses, and sometimes they were forced back with a determined swallow of the throat.
But for some reason, it was always the leading ladies who turned on the waterworks the moment they were announced the winners. The men seemed to take it all in their stride. They made jokes, they joshed around, they remembered all the people they were supposed to thank, and they managed to acknowledge how much they loved their wife and kids without becoming a blabbering mess.
Now, why do you suppose that is?
Well, if you ask me, I think it’s all down to social conditioning. Women are brought up to believe that it is all right to cry to express emotion, be it joy, sorrow or pain. Men, on the other hand, are brought up to regard crying as a mark of weakness, something that they must never be caught out doing.
In time, each generation seems to buy into this without much thought. Every man who has been taught this lesson passes it on to his own children. And the women are just as complicit in relaying this message to the men in their lives.
Think about it. How many times have you caught yourself out telling your weeping son or nephew as he picks himself off the floor after a fall: “Oh, stop crying for God’s sake! Don’t be such a sissy! What are you – a girl?” Say it often enough (and you know that you do) and in time he will come to believe that crying is something for sissies and, yes, girls.
Quite apart from the hideous message it sends out to young boys – that girls are somehow inferior creatures and to behave like them is to be shamed in front of the world – this also reinforces the idea in the male of the species that crying is simply not an option. It’s the absence of tears that marks the men from the boys. And hence, a dry eye is what they should always aspire to.
And while we can only be grateful for this in the context of the Oscar awards – one weepie marathon per ceremony is about as much as we can take – it is probably not the best message to send out to young boys or even fully grown-up men.
While none of us particularly wants to be caught blubbering in public (or, heaven forbid, on international television), there is no denying that crying serves an important purpose in our emotional lives. We cry when we are sad. We cry when we are happy. We cry when we are angry. And we cry when we are in pain – both physical and emotional.
In all these circumstances, a good cry invariably makes us feel a lot better afterwards. It has a cathartic effect of cleansing all those feelings choking us up. And we feel much more in control afterwards – or at the very least, more at peace with ourselves.
But despite the undeniable benefits of a good cry, we persist in denying that privilege to the men in our lives. Men are supposed to be strong, is the message we constantly transmit. And being strong means that they should keep a stiff upper lip in all circumstances. Being strong means not letting a single tear drop no matter what the provocation.
Is it any wonder then that most men are so out of touch with their own feelings – and by extension, with ours? Or, that they don’t know how to articulate what they feel, even when they really really want to? After all, when we deny them the one honest way to express themselves, then why should you expect otherwise?
It’s not too late to change, though. And it certainly is easy enough. Just make sure the next time your son, your nephew, or just the neighbourhood kid trips over and falls on his face, you don’t ask him to shush. Let him cry, allow him to bowl, permit him the luxury of tears. And soon enough he will calm down, blow his nose, wipe his eyes, and feel much better for that crying jag.
Children know instinctively how to honestly express an emotion. And if they choose to do it with tears, it behoves us to listen rather than mock.
Of course, there’s always the danger that one day these boys too will be blubbing on the Oscar stage. But frankly, that’s a chance well worth taking.