When discussing grief, I’ve long held the position men grieve just as hard as women do. The grief just tends to manifest itself differently. Whether based on societal biases or gender roles, men are conditioned to be the less emotive of the two sexes, therefore, they must exhibit strength when carrying grief, no matter what’s happening internally.
Part of the reason why men are so adept at hiding their emotions is because men are judged by their ability to manage them. Although there has been some progress with respect to gender roles, manhood still seems to be tied to an antiquated ideal. Stoic, silent types still seem to be the preferred method of manhood and anything that breaks free from that rigid box tends to be confusing for both the men and the women in the situation. For all the talk of patriarchy and how men benefit from it (and they certainly do), some of the drawbacks tend to imprison men in the same way it imprisons women. Grief is a perfect example of this dynamic.
Whether it’s break-ups, life disappointments, or just an ordinary bad day, men have to cope with even the most basic situations of grief differently than women. For example, if my girlfriend came home, told me she had a bad day at work, then started crying and carrying on, neither her nor I would bat an eyelash. It’s par for the course. Women are emotional, and when overwhelmed, they cry. It’s one of those patriarchal stereotypes that tend to work in women’s favor. Now, if I came home from work and started crying, my girlfriend would assume either somebody had died or I just got the worst possible news in life. If I told her I was bawling and carrying on because I simply had a hard day at work, she might be willing to entertain that but she’s likely thinking “that’s it? You’re crying because of a hard day’s work?” In other words, if any sympathy is going to be there, it won’t be there long.
With the conversation of the last two paragraphs, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when devastating things happen in a man’s life, he continues to push forward as if nothing is happening. Men aren’t given very many avenues to express their anger, stress, or grief, which is why men usually turn to self-destructive behaviors. Women are given all the space in the world to deal with their emotions. Picture walking down the street and a woman is crying and bawling her eyes out on the sidewalk. The amount of sympathy and people willing to help would outpace the number of people who would stop for a man in a similar predicament. I’ve seen grief stricken men turn to drinking, drugging, and reckless sex when it comes to dealing with their internal pain, simply because they didn’t believe there was any other way to cope with what was going on. Or that anybody cared.
Part of the reason I wrote on this very site about how to get black men into therapy was to open up a dialog about the options that men have to deal with the stresses of life. In order for men to seek out therapy (and consequently, open up about their feelings) without the stigma attached, society has to be safer for men to display a wider range of emotions. Because the pool of outwardly shown emotions is so little for men that explains why they can still go to work and focus on the task at hand when one of their parents die. It’s why men look like nothing is wrong and can’t express themselves verbally in romantic relationships. It’s why when life seems to be weighing down on a man’s shoulders he privately stresses but projects an image of strength in public. It’s what (a patriarchal) society demands of him, so he follows suit. I’m just not sure what needs to change first. Society. Or Men.