I don’t follow sports much, but my beau is a hoops fanatic. I decided that, better than to be a ‘basketball widow’ this season, I might as well learn to appreciate the game and watch along with him from time to time. Between him, his friends and the interesting folks that I follow on Twitter, I’ve heard a lot about Miami Heat player Chris Bosh. More than people speak about his abilities on the court, they mention his tendency to cry after games and his recent remarks about the importance of “man hugs”. I don’t think you need two guesses to figure out what kind of response that’s gotten him from the young brothers out here.
I understand that the idea of a grown man crying publicly and advocating for man-on-man affectionate touch makes many people uncomfortable, but I think that’s sad. Men–Black men in particular–aren’t typically granted the space to be emotional or affectionate. They aren’t allowed to express their feelings in the ways that women are. How many times have you heard even very young boys told to stop crying and “man up”? In a particularly tragic incident last year, a Long Island man beat his 17-month old son to death in a failed attempt to get him to ‘toughen up’.
I’ve often heard activist and writer Kevin Powell discuss the misnomer that men simply aren’t as emotional as women; since they aren’t given the freedom to cry or speak at length about their feelings, they often times express them through yelling or violence. I’m inclined to agree. While I do understand that there may be some inherent differences between the sexes (and no universal pattern of behavior that defines either of them), it seems apparent that we dehumanizing our men with the expectation that they remain ‘hard’ at all times.
Is openly weeping after a poor performance at work an ideal adult behavior? Not necessarily. However, think of the number of professional athletes who have gotten in trouble for fighting on and off the court, who’ve gotten violent with their partners or who’ve had issues with drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc…imagine if they had the space to be publicly emotional without worrying over their masculine identity. Or even if they could do such a thing in private amongst friends and family.
In Salvation: Black People and Love, bell hooks states that “patriarchal masculinity encourages men to mask what they feel…(men) may be rewarded for being estranged from their feelings.” We expect men to be always ‘strong’ and keep a stiff upper lip. As a result, many of our brothers are walking around like ticking time bombs, waiting to explode at any moment.
Gender roles are a confounding thing and as society continues to develop, we will continue to debate over what place they have in our lives. While women have had the freedom to adopt some formerly male-identified behaviors (sexual autonomy and fiscal independence among them), we haven’t yet gotten completely comfortable with the idea of men feeling free to, well, feel. I hope that in my lifetime, I get to see men who are as publicly free as I am to discuss and express their feelings. If Chris Bosh needs to cry it out sometimes, then let the brother cry; I’d much rather see him weep than to hear him scream.