A couple of weeks ago, I listened to some guy on Radio 2 expressing his point of view on masculinity and the topic of men crying. Real men don't cry, he said. "There are plenty of things that bring a lump to my throat, but that doesn't mean I'm going to start blubbing like a little girl."
You know what? That's fine. If he doesn't want to cry, he needn't. Not everyone does. Emotional expression and release can be found in many ways, from singing and writing poetry to acting and dance. Hell, I bet chopping wood lets out all sorts of pent up emotion.
But the point is, men can cry, at different times and for various reasons. I never saw my dad cry until around 4 years ago when our family dog had to be put down. I've seen him shed plenty of tears since then.
And so what if he does? Does it liken him to a "little girl"? Erm, no. He's entitled to express emotion in any way that comes, and I'm glad that he feels free enough to do so. It demonstrates an intensity of feeling, which can also be detected in the lyrics of Professor Green and the brush strokes of Van Gogh.
There's no rule that says you must express emotion, but there's also no rule stating you shouldn't. Or was it the eleventh commandment given by the Almighty to Moses? I wouldn't know, my religious knowledge is dire.
All I'm saying is that everyone should be free to express themselves or not in the way that comes naturally to them or that they find most helpful (as long as it doesn't hurt anyone). If that means human beings with male private parts having a cry, who the bloody hell are we to question it?
What if damage is actually being done by putting the message out there that men shouldn't express emotion? That it's contrary to their masculinity?
Because that is the message behind that caller's comment, that men shouldn't cry because it shows them to be small and weak "like a little girl".
We raise our boys to believe that being silent is being strong. Culturally, we learn that Jack Bauer and James Bond embody what a real man is. Advertising cautions guys against eating dainty crisps or blowing their noses on anything less than a tissue the size of a bed sheet, lest they expose themselves to be a poor specimen of their gender - because the snot from Jack Bauer's nose must flow like a biblical flood. After all, he's a real man.
What absolute balls.
Hoorah for the astronomical success of The Great British Bake Off, allowing budding biscuiteers and fans of fruitcakes to don a pinny and whisk to their heart's content, whatever their gender. What about the guys that like making jam? Or flower arranging? Or, God I dunno, making friendship bracelets?
Why do people give a flying fuck what they do in the privacy of their own home, or even publicly in Trafalgar Square? Each to their own!
We're disgusted when bullies in the playground taunt our children for not wearing their hair a certain way, or for admitting they like something deemed by the popular kids to be 'uncool'. Why then do we allow this bullying to take place in society?
The media has a vitally important role to play in shaping our behaviour, and creating a world in which we, all of us, feel secure and validated as individuals. That's why I was pleased to contribute to Huffington Post's Building Modern Men project, and I'm proud to be Editor of award-winning men's magazine - CALMzine - which is put together by UK male suicide prevention charity, Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). (And shouldn't we all campaign against that?!)
The most interesting thing about CALMzine is that it doesn't expect you to be anything or do anything. It doesn't pass any judgement on you whatsoever. CALMzine doesn't care how big your muscles are, how bushy your beard is, or whether you can spear a live carp in the shallows; CALMzine is about busting some of those masculinity myths and keeping men alive by talking.
What do I know about masculinity, you may ask. Well, as a woman, the concept of femininity as a social construct, a set of attributes, behaviours and roles generally associated with girls and women, insults me. This isn't Victorian England. Thankfully, I can lift weights, fight in a boxing ring, or start my own business if I want to. Femininity, as the dictionary would have it, as "the quality of being female", makes no demands on me other than biological. Masculinity should be the same, simply the quality of being male. (For the record, I don't believe that gender is purely physical. Of course, it's also psychological, but I'll leave the transgender point for now.)
Life can get really hard. Illness, unemployment, relationship breakdown, the loss of a loved one... these things happen. Pain is part of life. Why do we need to make it even more difficult for ourselves by placing constraints on individual identity?
Women, socially, are allowed to be vulnerable. In fact, women have fought for their right to be strong. Men, conversely, are expected to be invulnerable. If guys believe that they're somehow less of a man by needing support in those moments in life when it's all just too hard, in a world that is increasingly stressful for everyone, frankly, is it any wonder that 12 men every single day see no way out other than to take their own life?
The March issue of CALMzine is out next week in TOPMAN stores nationwide (it's free!), or you can read it online at thecalmzone.net/calmzine.