Many men growing up would often hear the phrase, big boys don’t cry when they were in pain or hurt themselves, a phrase ingrained into them from a young age. Often, our gender or sex defines the way we are expected to behave or act. From our sex assigned at birth to the societies in which we grow up within, all teaching us what is expected of us and how we should behave as a man or as a woman. If gender roles are taught, then male toxicity around acting macho or not complaining when hurt are things that we as societies can change. The image men are required to portray result in many crimes going unreported, including domestic violence in the home to rape from the same or opposite sex. For many men, their pride and outward appearance or image have meant that those committing these serious crimes are not being held to account, caught, or prosecuted.
Men have indeed ruled the world for thousands and years, and let us not forget that it is only in the last two hundred years that women only started to get their basic human rights; however, this is not about equality or portraying men as victims, it is more about male behaviours and why serious crimes are going unreported. With high rates of suicide, large numbers sleeping rough and growing numbers being subjected to domestic violence, it is about time we all say Big Boys should cry.
DEFINITION OF MASCULINITY
Throughout the centuries and for thousands of years, the definition and expectations relating to genders have changed. From early man, gender roles and society were more animal-like, with alpha and beta, hunters and gathers to the ancient world in which sexuality was much more fluid. Genders and sex have often also been used as a weapon, with conquering forces raping, killing and imprisoning of, often innocent bystanders. The consistent image throughout the ages is around men being strong, alpha, fearless and brave. Any sign of weakness seen as a failure and especially not playing a passive role.
Most ancient societies were a lot more accepting of same-sex relationships; however, the role a man played during intercourse was clear. For example, in Roman culture, it was generally accepted that a man could sleep with other men, as long as they were active, effectively penetrating, rather than passive, being penetrated. Though some in high society may have been more passive behind closed doors, their image and social standing depended on being seen as strong in public. Historically, those more passive were often slaves or sex workers, often living in the fringes of society. Rape amongst conquering forces and even within the military was also a problem; it was so bad that a law was passed in ancient Rome that any man that had been raped would not lose face or social standing amongst society.
Gender roles and definitions change between cultures; however, there are consistent themes, men should be brave, be strong, defenders, protectors, and above all, not show signs of weakness. These expectations are directly and indirectly presented to us through music, films, literature, friends and families. How often do you see men cry in films? Can you think of any heroes or main characters that portray or even declare their vulnerabilities or perceived weaknesses? Things are changing, and the media and entertainment industry are getting better at changing the narrative; however, toxic masculinity is ingrained into our societies and within our psyches.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE EXPECTATIONS
It is difficult to understand or explain the full extent or size of the problem, given that many men are still reluctant to come forward when they are depressed or have suffered physical or mental abuse. Though attitudes are still changing, for many, the idea of seeking help is seen as a weakness and to admit that they have been bullied, molested or been harmed in some way is something that many feel ashamed of and become secretive about what has happened to them. When some do come forward, they have been ridiculed and made fun of on the various social media platforms, playgrounds, or at work. Abuse is not just physical but also mental. Humiliated, called names and sworn at by their partners, living in fear around how their partner might act or behave does occur where men are also the victims, but often it is not as well known, talked about or publicised.
On average, over 800 thousand people take their lives each year; of that number, the ratio is roughly 2 to 1 of men taking their lives, compared to women and that ratio dramatically increases amongst men in some countries such as Brazil and Russia. It is estimated over 80% of people that are homeless or sleep rough are men, and men are four times more likely to be murdered than women. According to the Office of National Statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/), in the UK, for the period ending March 2020, 3.6% or 757 thousand men experienced some form of domestic abuse, and it is estimated that 85% of prison inmates in the UK have experienced some form of sexual assault. The number of assaults, domestic violence cases and suicide rates is on the rise; however, many crimes go unreported. More men are encouraged to come forward; the police and various support groups have services designed to support men going through these challenging situations.
Even amongst the LGBTQ+ community, there has been a reluctance to report serious crimes to authorities, especially when living in hostile countries. The problem is compounded if the individual has not fully come to terms with their sexuality or is not publicly out to friends and family. Not only that, but there is also horror like stories of reporting crimes and victims being treated like criminals themselves or, worse, being ignored. The barriers are not the same within every country; however, if same-sex acts are considered illegal, it is difficult for a person to report being raped when they could get into trouble for identifying as LGBTQ+. Some videos have surfaced on social media platforms over the years in which vigilantes would take turns raping young men. Young men caught having same-sex relationships, abused by straight men, who are using sex as a weapon designed to humiliate and degrade these LGBTQ+ individuals.
The sick and depraved individuals carrying out these horrendous acts are often calculated. Abusing someone’s trust or targeting those they know will find it challenging to report the crimes committed against them. Straight or LGBTQ+, the reality is that the perpetrators are using someone’s vulnerabilities, insecurities or situation against them. Though it can not always be easy to report such crimes, especially in hostile situations or countries; however, the most crucial step is to reach out for help, whether official or through support groups, groups often made up of people in or who have been in similar situations. In safer, more tolerant countries, it is vital to reach out to the police and ensure that all crimes are reported. It is not a weakness, shameful or even the victim’s fault. If a person has not given consent, were drugged, drunk or forced under duress to carry out or perform acts or be in situations they are not comfortable with, then those carrying out these acts should be held to account and prosecuted for the crimes that have committed.
A person that has been subjected to these acts are not victims; they are survivors. They survived horrible situations and have no reason to feel shame, especially for things that happened to them outside of their control. Asking for help, seeking out similar people can help, even if it is one person. When we go through traumatic experiences, and we internalise, we will often look at the situation only from our perspective; what did I do? How did I let this happen? Did I do something that caused this situation to occur? Internalising is dangerous as we often let the person committing the actual crime off the hook by blaming ourselves. Speaking to others will help us understand what happened and how it is not the person who has been targeted who is at fault.
Suppose you have been bullied, in an abusive relationship, or forced into a sexual act without your consent. I am sorry that this has happened to you, and it is essential to remember it is not your fault. Reach out and get help; you have value, and big boys should cry sometimes.