Enough to make a grown man weep

The sight of Claudio Ranieri crying after his team's victory over Arsenal prompts one of the great questions of our age: should men dissolve into tears? An Independent panel considers the psychology of misty-eyed males
Click to follow
The Independent Online

'No tears is a lousy deal for men'

'No tears is a lousy deal for men'

Susie Orbach, Psychotherapist

Most of the time, we don't even use the verb crying as a noun attached to men. "Gone emotional" is what we say and what he fears. Masculinity and tears frighten us. The words seem to cancel one another out or reveal a fragility at the heart of men's sense of self. It's macho behaviours that men have come to rely on to bolster a sense of maleness and adequacy.

Appearing untouched, gritting one's teeth, managing difficulty by relying on an internal voice that cautions the individual man not to cry has not only hurt the individual man, it has often injured those around him. If you can't cry when you are hurt, you might hurt another instead. If you can't cry when you are devastated, you might cut yourself off from others and go ice cold inside. If you can't cry when you are joyous, then raucousness may turn you into Johnny one-note. The injunctions against boys and men crying mean that aggression, relying on competition, denying one's need for another are the usual routes to masculinity and it is only in the sports arena, in opera - in grand dramatics that tears get a look in. It's a lousy deal for men and it is a lousy deal for women. Gentleness towards self, respect towards those tender parts of self are enriching not debilitating. Tears, far from being unattractive in men, are endearing. Beyond that, crying for both sexes can be an enormous relief, a signal to oneself of being deeply affected, of showing complex feelings, of hurt, joy, poignancy, survival. And it can also be pretty sexy, a turn-on to those one is intimate with. A man who can cry, is a man who isn't frightened to know that he feels. A man who can cry is a man who can dare to show that he feels. A man who can cry knows that feelings come in more complexions than light and dark. A man who can cry is a man who acknowledges his own vulnerability.

'Just don't cry in front of another bloke'

Phillip Hodson, Psychotherapist

My father used to say: "Men don't cry." Once, when I cut my hand on a broken bottle he took me to casualty where they wished to put in four stitches without anaesthetic.

He told me that if I didn't cry, I would get a special reward. That is how I got my first cigarette. I was nine and a half years old and still have the scars on my hand to prove it.

It's spurious to suggest men don't cry and women do. And the view that they don't is based on 8,000 years of propaganda. This is maintained by reactionary commentators; last year the Daily Mail derided the tears of Greg Rusedski when he lost at Wimbledon and those of Roger Federer when he won. Men do cry. In cinemas all you have to do is look around you to see men wiping away tears.

But it is never safe for men to be over-emotional in front of other men because they are so damned competitive. Men are basically competing for women and will use any dirty trick to gain an advantage, including alleged emotional weakness.

The fear of tears is irrational. Crying is one of the primary relaxation systems of the human organism. Although many counselling clients are terrified that if they start crying they will never be able to stop, it is actually difficult to cry continually. To cry for five solid minutes is a challenge.

One of the problems facing men is that they cannot usefully cope with stress. Perhaps there is a link between their inability to do so and their lachrymosal phobia?

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

'Keep your tears, and triumphs, to yourself'

Roger Scruton, Philosopher

Readers of Homer know that the Greek heroes, who went fearlessly into combat and who suffered dreadful hardships, spent much of their spare time weeping. They wept for distant friends, for parents and children, for homelands remembered and ambitions lost. They wept with grief and also with joy, and nobody regarded this as in the least bit shameful.

On the contrary, the shameful person was the one who did not weep when weeping was needed. Weeping was by no means the prerogative of women, but a normal part of the emotional repertoire, a way of communicating wordlessly feelings that had no need for words.

Those brought up in the stiff-upper-lip culture of post-war England regard weeping as effeminate in a man, and suspicious in a woman. They don't believe real heroes could ever succumb to so soft a habit. And they see tears as a part of woman's armoury, whose purpose is to subdue masculine anger and to gain the upper hand in emotional conflicts.

I was brought up in that culture. In the theatre tears run down my face continuously. But I always hope to wipe them away before the lights go up. And I would never dream of expressing real joy or real triumph in so overt a fashion.

I don't say that I approve of this reticence. On the contrary, I am always touched by the way in which Italians and Arabs allow their eyes to swim in tears whenever tears seem appropriate. On the other hand, we unreconstructed Englishmen still have our suspicions. Why tears, unless you want others to be impressed by them? Why not keep your griefs and your triumphs to yourself?

'The stiff upper lip is long gone'

Virginia Ironside, Agony aunt

I was trying to think of the last time I'd seen a man cry, and was amazed to find that in the past six months I've seen at least three male friends with tears pouring down their cheeks, one a young friend who couldn't find a girlfriend, another a friend going into hospital, and one who had just got divorced.

And that's not counting numerous chaps with eyes welling up with tears (snuffling from a male friend next to me in a war film, full eyes of a friend leaving me at an airport, my ex at our grandson's christening, and so on). A count on the female side? Not a wet eye in the house.

These days men cry just as much as women, if not more. The stiff-upper-lip idea went out with my father's generation, when "blubbing" was thought to so unspeakably wet that any man caught with red eyes was expected to go into a nearby wood and do the decent thing with a gun.

But that's all changed. For the past 30 years, men have been busy showing their humanity, and it's not difficult. Because underneath a thin veneer, most men are far, far more sentimental than us, the realistic and more pragmatic sex. Autism is far higher in men than in women, and some psychologists think most men's brains have a faintly autistic tendency, with a talent for seeing everything in terms of systems. With this often, oddly, goes an ability to cry easily.

Men who cry can be attractive. It them at their most vulnerable. And it's attractive in the case ofthe Italian-born Claudio, when the tears are tears of joy.

'It's unattractive and undignified'

Terence Blacker, Author

Frankly, I'm embarrassed by how damp-eyed and trembly-lipped men have recently become. It is an unattractive and undignified trend and it is time for us all to snap out of it. I should confess that I can well up at the slightest excuse - winning, losing, loving, the sound of children, virtually any film, "St Matthew's Passion", a couple of routines from the show Anything Goes - but at least I have the decency to be ashamed of myself and try to do it alone or in the dark.

It's true that, unlike women, at least most men don't cry to win arguments or gain sympathy (yet) but there is something indulgent about male tears, an unhealthy luxuriating in emotion and self-pity.

But, if for a man to cry in private is embarrassing, doing it in public is far worse. Think of Billy Connolly weeping during Live Aid, Roger Federer wailing like a baby after Wimbledon, the various Oscar-winning idiots in Hollywood. The more a politician cries, the less he is to be trusted. Both Bushes were in tears at Junior's inauguration ceremony and there has been much White House blubbing - caused variously by the death of Americans or of the president's dog - since then.

"Look how sensitive I am," these public tears are saying. 'I'm a caring, vulnerable guy in touch with my feelings.' It is the worst kind of emotional flashing. Handkerchiefs away, chaps. It's time for manliness to make a comeback.

'There is nothing unmanly about tears'

Bruce Anderson, Political columnist

Sunt lacrimae rerum; does any language offer such profundity in three words? They are untranslatable but, with apologies to Virgil, one free approximation might be, "At moments the human conditions calls for tears."

So it does, even on dubious occasions. After Robert Kennedy's assassination, a large crowd watched his coffin pass the Washington Monument at a slow march. All was silent. Then someone started to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic in a low voice.

An instant later, everyone was singing. An instant after that, even the National Guardsmen were weeping. Though I believe Bobby Kennedy's death saved America from a bad presidency, I cannot tell that story without my voice cracking and my eyes watering.

In 1984, at the Tory party conference, Michael Heseltine talked about the D-Day celebration earlier that year. Forty years on, as he described it, the veterans may have been less robust in wind and limb, but as they paraded, all that was forgotten.

For a moment, ageing ceased and heroism returned. By the time Heseltine had finished, there was not a dry eye in the house: Certainly not mine. Afterwards, I taxed him with being a cynical old so-and-so who had manipulated his audience's emotions. He indignantly denied it. They were his own emotions, and his only problem had been to deliver the speech without breaking down. At the celebrations, he had wept copiously. But, as he said: "I cry easily."

So did Churchill. There is nothing unmanly or self-indulgent about tears. I defy anyone to remain dry-eyed in the cemeteries of Flanders, or in a little graveyard at San Carlos Water, in the Falklands. It is the final parade ground for Lt-Col H Jones, VC, and 12 of his comrades. I am sure mine are not the only eyes which have watered that green grass.

Leaving aside the agonies of despair, men weep most naturally when they are moved by great deeds, either in real life or in the world of imagination.

When the play All's Well That Ends Well is moving to a happy ending, the good Lord Lafew says: "Mine eyes smell onions; I shall weep anon." On Tuesday, Claudio Ranieri smelt onions. Why not?

'Male tears are cultural rather than hormonal'

Elizabeth Meakins, Psychoanalyst

Why shouldn't men cry? I bet a lot of Arsenal supporters cried on Tuesday night. And it is a fallacy that men don't cry, as Claudio Ranieri showed. I live with three boys and my husband and they certainly cry.

But men do tend to cry in less personal situations than women, and their crying is cultural rather than hormonal; they will cry at the cinema or theatre but not in a relationship.

Even in the 21st century we equate being emotional with being weak. When Antony left Rome for Cleopatra he was thought of as less than a man because his heart ruled his head.

And men find women's capacity for crying easily threatening and irritating because it signifies being out of control. They tend to use sport and films as an outlet: it is easier for them to use a controlled way of dealing with bottled-up emotions.

Comments