Recently, a colleague sent me a link to an Upworthy piece about the Attorney General of Kentucky announcing he would not defend KY’s ban on same-sex marriage. The title of the article described the AG, Jack Conway, as becoming so emotional during his speech that he “breaks down.”
Aside from the content of the speech, I became interested in the way that contemporary American society labels men who show certain kinds of emotion. In particular, why do we use a term that most commonly is used to describe mechanical failure to describe men who display emotions through crying? Cars, vacuum cleaners, snowmachines, boilers, printers, and robots break down. Why do we use the mechanical failure term to describe men who simply get emotional? Additionally, in most of the examples I give below, the men pictured do not display that much emotionality. See the Dustin Hoffman video for a typical emotional moment. Sure, they get tears in their eyes. They take a long moment before they speak. They look down. They perhaps wipe a tear from their faces. But aside from Tyrese Gibson, men in the examples below do not, in any sense, “break down,” characterized by sobbing, gnashing of teeth, falling over to the ground. Gibson, who is visiting the crash site where his friend was killed, does display much more grief and sadness than the other videos. In fact, Gibson displays so much emotion the article labels him as “falling apart.” This is a term used to indicate an extreme degree of mechanical failure when the machine literally disintegrates.
As a sociologist, I claim that contemporary American society has caged us into gender boxes. When men allow their eyes to glisten even for a moment, they cross over a line drawn in the sands of gender. Men who cry, especially publicly, are thought to be acting like women or little girls, and thus they are labeled broken men. Contemporary American society expects and demands men to be emotionless robots. When they don’t meet this expectation, we accuse them of mechanical failure. Of breaking down, and falling apart. Alternately, depending on the reason for crying, men who “break down” may be socially lauded. The blog, “The Art of Manliness,” lists times when it is acceptable for men to cry. Some of the blog appears to be satirical, but there are also threads of social reality woven throughout. And as you will see in the videos below, otherwise manly men who cry for a fallen comrade, or for religious reasons, or for Mom, are lauded as cultural heroes when they “break down.”
Here are some videos of emotional men with titles that describe them as “breaking down”:
Jack Conway, Kentucky’s Attorney General: http://www.upworthy.com/attorney-general-refuses-to-defend-gay-marriage-ban-breaks-down-crying-humanity-cheers-3?c=ufb1
Dustin Hoffman, on his epiphany about women: http://www.upworthy.com/dustin-hoffman-breaks-down-crying-explaining-something-that-every-woman-sadly-already-experienced-3
Steve Harvey cries about his mother: http://www.upinspire.com/inspire/1462/this-man-breaks-down-and-cries
Tyrese Gibson cries when he visits the scene of death of his friend: http://www.tmz.com/2013/12/01/tyrese-paul-walker-crash-site-crying/ (note that this article claims he was not just “breaking down”, but also “falling apart.”
This blog, “The Art of Manliness,” has an interesting analysis of masculine crying through the ages: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2008/06/19/when-is-it-okay-for-a-man-to-cry/. Make sure you check out the comments, often the most interesting element of blogs.
Thanks to http://www.rent4ring.de/en/assets/content/images/news1204/crank2.jpg for the graphic.