‘Crying like a girl’ is an insult that boys and men still hear in our society. On reflection I can’t remember hearing a girl or woman being insulted with the accusation of crying like a boy. When it comes to crying, men are often excused as being a bit emotional (exactly what emotion, is not always clear), and women are plain touchy and upset. There are different social rules at play that carry messages of power.
To cry like a girl is diminishing for boys and men because women continue to hold a lesser status and value in society than men. Therefore, many things associated with women are a deviation from the male norm and, thus diminishing for the more powerful person. Of course there are occasions when men’s crying finds approval, for example, after winning an important football match or the birth of a child. Many of these are good, allowing men and boys to express themselves in healthy ways. Unfortunately far too many men still find anger to be the preferred emotion from which to navigate their lives. There are moments of course when everyone feels anger and it may be a reasonable response to the circumstance or an injustice. I’m all for getting really, really angry about the inequalities in our society and doing something about them.
It is when that anger is mediated through a gendered and intimate relationship that it can become very diminishing and very dangerous for women (and the men who experience this form of violence). What, you ask, does this have to do with ‘crying like a girl’? The answer is very simple: it is part of a continuum that starts with positioning women as lesser and can end in the ultimate violence, as the death of 73 women (so far) by their partner demonstrates. As a consequence stopping the progression along the continuum of violence takes on great urgency.
Where then can men turn for an example? For Christians the best example is found in the life and teachings of Jesus. There are some interesting descriptions in the New Testament were Jesus says as he looked over Jerusalem, ‘how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (check out-Luke 13: 34). Later when Jesus saw Jerusalem again he wept (Luke 19: 41). He wept over friends like Lazarus (John 11:35). While there are wide cultural difference between Australia in the 21st century and the life and times of Jesus, the common thread of humanity translates across the gap.
Jesus was not averse to crying, he wasn’t averse to using the analogy of motherhood; in other accounts he cut across rigid gendered stereotypes. Perhaps it is time for men to reinvent what it means to ‘cry like a girl’ by promoting a way of being in the world that is built on the example of healthy and empowering relationships Jesus had with women. Crying like a girl may be not so much an insult as a compliment!