Why Don’t Many Men Show Their Emotions?

The truth is we do get emotional; we just don’t show it.

Posted Jan 24, 2015

In his book What Men Don’t Tell Women about Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook, Christopher Flett claims men don’t often exhibit emotion “because we are taught that it is weak to do so. Men don’t cry! Or if we do, we’ll rarely admit to it. The truth is we do get emotional; we just don’t show it. Our fathers pull us aside and tell us to be two-faced: a private face you have outside of the public eye, and a public face that shows no weakness.” Does "Big boys don't cry" and "Take it like a man" sound familiar?

One of the Ten Commandments of masculinity is “Thou shall not feel.” This kind of mind-heart disconnect begins when boys are in the early years of elementary school. You’ll see kindergarten and first-grade boys bringing stuffed animals from home to comfort them amid their fear of the social demands of school. They’ll even hold hands and put their arms around other boys and girls to show affection and express joy. By second grade, male indoctrination begins. Boys are sissies if they show fear, pain or heaven forbid the most taboo expression of all: crying.

For girls, that shift never really happens. Girls have the license to continue a full range of emotional expressions that is, except for one: anger. Girls get angry, of course, but it is taboo for them to express it. It is not feminine to get or express anger. This is a commandment that has caused women a world of grief into their adult lives. Ironically, anger is one of the few acceptable emotions sanctioned for boys to publicly express.

Take the story of Brit, for example. The woman came to work one morning with red, swollen eyes and slouched shoulders. She had obviously been crying. A co-worker asked her what was wrong, and she began to cry again. Her boyfriend hadn’t returned her calls in a week, and she was supposed to fly across country to visit him that weekend.

“Someone needs to invent a new word for how I’m feeling,” she said, between tears. “It’s like I’m sad, but I’m also mad. Maybe I’m ‘smad.’”

Her co-worker stepped in: “Are you sure you’re not just plain mad? That’s really horrible what he did.”

Brit’s tears stopped, and she swallowed hard.

“You know what? You’re right. I am mad. I’m really, really freaking furious. I’m not sad at all,” she said. “I just didn’t realize it.”

In my book, You Don’t Say, I cite an example of display rules for boys.

When her son Armand was 10 years old, she popped by his elementary school midday during recess to give him an antibiotic for his ear infection. He wasn’t expecting her. First, she bumped into his pals and asked if they knew where he was. Right then, he walked around the corner and was surprised to see her so surprised and happy, in fact, that he jumped up into her arms and wrapped his legs around her. Then Audrey noticed his friends’ reactions. They looked at each other, rolling their eyes and poking each other in disapproval of this public display of affection.

“Gosh, Armand,” one of the boys said. “Get a hold of yourself.”

Here’s a different scene from one Boulder, Colorado, office. Paul comes out of the meeting, furious. He throws his keys across his desk and kicks his chair. The room seems to stop. Co-workers sit up, attentive and silent, until he leaves the room. Paul is known for his occasional tantrums, but no one ever talks about them. They’re considered an extension of his passion and commitment for his job. Plus, even though everyone likes him, they don’t want to mess with Paul.

Emma works in the same office. She has never kicked her chair. When she gets mad, she speaks assertively and bluntly not with malice, just matter-of-fact. She has never cried at work, and her co-workers joke that she has no soul. They don’t like her, and they show it. They think she’s “hormonal,” out of control. She must hate her job.

Although Paul is the one acting out and he could be labeled hormonal and the “drama queen,” Emma still gets the label. By being blunt and assertive she is labeled hormonal.

Why isn't there a "drama king"? The sanctioned emotions for women and men to display operate with a double standard. What is okay for one, isn't okay for the other.