Men as mechanical failures

crank2Curious things, words.

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:

Dustin Hoffman, on his epiphany about women:

Steve Harvey cries about his mother:

Tyrese Gibson cries when he visits the scene of death of his friend: (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: Make sure you check out the comments, often the most interesting element of blogs.

Thanks to for the graphic.

About sineanahita

Alaska's fiddling sociologist
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1 Response to Men as mechanical failures

  1. Philip Rose says:

    First, a joke: What is it about same-sex marriage and people wanting it? I’ve been married for 20 years and have the same sex all the time. It’s very boring.
    You may find this interesting:
    This is from way back in 1990. In the UK we are way ahead of the US emotionally, I think. The Gazza episode was probably a turning point – Gazza was the man’s man. Since then, an English man will cry at the drop of a hat! I blame Gazza. It’s a shame he turned out to be an alcoholic wife-beater, but that’s another story.
    You write ‘caged us’. I find this sort of odd, as if you see gender roles as being actively driven by an unknown force (society?) which somehow controls and manipulates us from on high. I just wonder who is doing this caging. It just doesn’t seem to be like that to me, unless you are talking purely of the USA.
    A point I would like to raise, from perhaps a jaded male point of view. In the workplace and elsewhere, women use crying as emotional blackmail. Weeping can be seen as being manipulative. It sounds harsh, but I think it’s very real. I would suggest that some of the reaction against male crying is not necessarily that it is seen as a weakness, but that it is seen as a form of media performance. (OK – that is not ALL the reasons, but maybe just one).

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