To show emotions is not a sign of weakness, but rather a cry for help

MBUYISELO BOTHA Gender Imbizo
Former US vice-presidentJoe Biden cries in public as he speaks about the loss of his son who died in 2015 due to brain cancer. The writer encourages men to show emotions. /Christina Jamison/NBC/NBCU
Former US vice-presidentJoe Biden cries in public as he speaks about the loss of his son who died in 2015 due to brain cancer. The writer encourages men to show emotions. /Christina Jamison/NBC/NBCU

I've often wondered about the effect of men not openly showing emotional vulnerability. What does that do to us, and to those we love?

I've written ad nauseam about social scripting or socialisation of both the boy and girl child. I find it toxic how boys are raised - especially when coming to them dealing with their emotions.

Boys are told to be strong and not show "weakness". I find this social scripting problematic.

There's a recent case of former US vice-president Joe Biden showing his emotions in public when he spoke about the loss of his son, who died in 2015 due to brain cancer.

Here was the former vice-president of a leading nation, a man expected to be stoic, strong and not emotional, openly shedding tears about the loss of his son.

Biden publicly being vulnerable and open on his sadness stood out for me. This moment stood out for me because I am frustrated with the teaching that boys and men should not show emotion and vulnerability.

Displaying these natural emotions takes nothing away from their worth. Biden's frankness about how he felt emotionally led me to wonder why it is that we, as a society, have not found in ourselves the willingness to validate and affirm men who openly cry, or men who can say: "I don't have the answers, I am overwhelmed, I am vulnerable, I am emotionally strained."

Instead, we label such men "sissies", "unmanly", "weak" and "pathetic". What would happen if we allowed men to share their sadness, fears, anguish, insecurities and frustrations without being labelled in this way?

From early childhood, we allow this toxic social scripting to define how we raise boys and girls. Boys are forced to suppress their emotions and make a false show of strength. Boys are taught to be in command, in control, to be the providers and the protectors.

Then we say unashamedly to the girls: be followers, be obedient, speak in measured tones, show respect and submit.

For boys, complying means being violent, controlling and intolerant. For girls, complying means accepting violence, injustice and a lesser value in society.

What is the punishment for men who live their lives outside the social script? They are ostracised, marginalised, called names, and are physically and sexually violated.

What is the punishment for a woman who rejects the social script? She is considered less of a woman, disrespectful, arrogant and in need of physical punishment, including sexual assault, to "put her in her place".

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, the punishments are more extreme.

The script encourages and allows men to behave aggressively and violently, and they use the script as an excuse to engage in domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, as an outlet for their unresolved emotional wounds and pain.

Is this really what we want to teach our children and have as the basis of our society? Do we really want to stick to this script and keep repeating the horror?

We need a radical change because the script denies us our full potential to show love, compassion, empathy, kindness and solidarity with one another and our society.

What if we as a society, when raising boys, taught them to express themselves emotionally without fear?

What if we encouraged them to talk about their feelings without labelling them less-than-men? Would this not only change every man's future behaviour, but also our willingness as a society to accept such outrageous levels of violence in our homes and lives?

I am more than convinced that when we begin to be truthful about how we feel as men, to acknowledge our feelings and seek help, we will reduce the high levels of violence towards women and children.

We should seek help as men to deal with our frustrations, anguish, our sadness and anger, without resorting to violence.

We must, however, have a starting point, where we draw the line and say: "Enough. I will not participate in this any longer. I commit to taking responsibility for myself and my actions. I will not close my eyes and look the other way any longer. Enough."

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