Boys Don’t Cry

March 21, 2017

Posted By: Shaunescy

Adventures with Juveniles: Boys Don’t Cry


Here’s an experiment: Ask any teenager at what age it stops being OK for boys to cry. Ask any adult, for that matter, and I bet they say age 10 or 11.

I recently watched a documentary called The Mask You Live In and I’ve been insisting everyone watch it ever since (as my friends, colleagues and anyone who has passed me on the street will tell you).

The movie addresses the way we raise boys in our society, and combines research and expert interviews with moving personal stories from boys and young men. I would strongly recommend it to both parents and teens. (A warning: parts of the film are pretty racy, although none of the material would surprise any teenager.)

Some of the movie’s most poignant testimony comes from Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player-turned-pastor who now teaches leadership and how to build character through coaching.

“Be a man,” Ehrmann says, “is one of the most destructive phrases in this culture.”

The Mask You Live In resonated so much with me because it gave me insight into some of my more challenging students: boys who act like they don’t care about anything, though it’s clear their insecurities run deep; boys who are aggressively working against their own best interests in a variety of ways, yet seem powerless to stop.

It also allowed me to see all the boys I teach in a new light, and to appreciate their struggle.

I have shared excerpts from the film with my students, and their reactions are both sad and surprising.

These boys (your boys – boys raised by loving, progressive parents in Bozeman, Montana) say things like “I didn’t know anyone else felt this way” and “I feel these expectations, too.”

Many of them recall a time when their friends or parents told them to “man up.”

Girls can relate as well: They see how these expectations affect their friends and brothers; or they realize for the first time that growing up is tough for boys, too.

In my own life, I have had the sobering experience of seeing what happens when boys who don’t learn how to express their emotions become adults. And what happens is: they find less effective ways to deal with them.

At worst, they become consumed by addiction, develop mental health issues or turn to violence. At best, they miss out on a whole spectrum of the human experience and real intimacy with others.

And yet, boys and girls are much more alike – more human – than they are different.

Just like girls in high school, boys sometimes get scared and sad, or feel left out and insecure. Just like teenage girls, some boys like sports, others like art, theatre, writing or debate.

The difference is that boys are at an age where our culture is starting to demand that they deal with this stuff on their own – don’t show emotion, don’t ask for help, don’t look weak.

We may tell them it’s OK to do these things, but they know we don’t mean it because it’s not OK for adult males, either.

The film also explores how girls and young women are affected when we promote such a narrow definition of what it means to be a man. When even the slightest hint of “girliness” puts boys at risk for ridicule, what implicit message are we sending about the value of girls and women?

A culture where masculinity means mastering your natural human emotions, always appearing strong, looking cool and attracting women creates a fertile ground for sexism and violence against women.

You may not agree with everything this film has to say; but it’s still worth watching and discussing with your teen. (It’s available on Amazon.) What does it mean to be a man? It’s time for that definition to get an update.


Emily Donahoe is an English and journalism teacher at Bozeman High School. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not those of the Bozeman School District. Contact Emily at emily.

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