I was in a room full of women once at a meeting, and one woman’s son began to cry. (His older brother got to play with a video game before he did and that made him sad.) Nearly every woman in that room told him, “Stop that crying. Boys don’t cry.” Women! We who are supposed to be “natural nurturers” denied a child the opportunity not only to express his emotions but also to grow in emotional maturity. To understand concepts like sharing and patience. To know that his feelings are valid and to learn that there are healthy ways to work through disappointment. And all because that child has a penis.
A man walked in the room and the little boy immediately toughened up. No tears allowed in front of another male. Less than ten years old and this precious child already innately understands “posturing.” Faking it in front of other males so he doesn’t appear weak. Never backing down. And just like clockwork, the man began to tease the boy for his tears. “I know you weren’t up in here crying were you?” The women laughed quietly, and the little boy answered the man with only silence and a mischievous smile. A mask to cover up his feelings.
I cannot explain to you how much this moment angered me. “Boys are allowed to cry!” I said, nearly shouting. And suddenly the air in the room became thick with discomfort. My outburst was perceived as awkward, unwarranted, and strange. I was an outcast. Because I stood up for that young boy’s emotions when he couldn’t and when no one else would, I was the crazy one. But how can that be? How is it that only one person in the room believed that we are failing our young men? Because we are. We are FAILING them.
When I see videos like this one, and I remember moments like that day in my meeting, I, personally, think of the death of Trayvon Martin. Barring the racial issues that I honestly still don’t know what to do with, I see two men who did not know how to walk away. Two men who were motivated by the same thoughts. “I am going to teach this guy a lesson. I’m a man. I will not back down.” And that mindset caused a violent and unnecessary death that tore this country in half. It is not okay to tell our young men to stuff, and hide, and erase, and deny their emotions and face off with other males in order to become “real men.” We are failing them. And we are failing each other.