Cinematic depictions of male emotion inform fraught masculinity

Male tears should be embraced, not feared

Image by: Rida Chaudhry
Films inform how men navigate their masculinity.

The adage “boys don’t cry” is obviously untrue in both Hollywood and real life, but films have prescribed a narrow set of circumstances in which it’s permissible for male characters to cry without risking their manhood. 

There’s a small emotional window where men can display a measure of vulnerability. The more extreme the situation is, the more visceral the crying can be. Because male characters’ tears are limited to incredibly evocative scenes, films use crying men as a device to signal to the audience that whatever is happening on screen is a very, very big deal. 

The crying window most often opens when a character experiences death, extreme failure—often failure to protect people or a relationship—and sporting triumphs or defeats like in Rocky II or Friday Night Lights. Male crying outside these situations is exceedingly rare in film, especially in action-focused media.

If we are to accept the crying window movies present us, the situations in which it’s permissible for men to cry might only happen a handful of times in their life. Crying outside of this acceptable window is highly stigmatized within film; the ever-terrible sitcom The Big Bang Theory is a repeat offender for playing off male emotions for laughs. 

Male characters run the risk of losing masculinity points if seen crying outside of traumatic events—crying within everyday contexts is so rare it becomes remarkable.

This attitude carries over to our lives outside of film. We’ve all seen memes of the blonde guy from Dawson’s Creek crying or “Crying Jordan.” Like in The Big Bang Theory, male displays of emotion are often the subject of ridicule. 

Poking fun at male tears happens all the time in comedy films, most notably by comics like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell. Tears are decidedly unmanly, and all too often, we hear the refrain that a man is “crying like a little girl,” which is harmful to men and women alike.

Films construct crying as a gendered experience when, really, it happens to everyone.

Movies uphold and enforce the policing of male emotions, essentially confining crying men to solitary spaces. In films, when men are approaching vulnerability, another male character might offer an uncomfortable pat on the back or tell them to “man up” as if just being near crying undermines their masculinity by association.

The depiction of crying men in films dramatically affects how men view their emotions and masculinity: namely, that one precludes the other. Movies continually tell us men who cry outside the permissible crying window are less masculine. They rarely shown men just being sad, instead showing rage, anger, and violence as the only acceptable responses to grief.

Films do not offer depictions of men healthily grappling with and overcoming grief. They promote a fraught form of masculinity in which manhood and emotions are incompatible. Men choosing to embrace emotional masculinity are far too rare in big-budget films.

Films need to show us what’s possible: alternative forms of masculinity which see male characters embrace emotional intimacy with women and other men. We need the crying window always open. Until then, male displays of emotion will always be like tears in the rain.


emotions, Film, masculinity, toxic masculinity

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