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By Sarah C.
“I don’t really ever feel sad,” said my friend Darren as we sat in my kitchen one night, talking and eating ice cream. “What?” I asked in astonishment. “That’s not possible.” He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and nodded. My other friend, Koji, turned his head away from me and looked down, clearly uneasy speaking about the topic. I was shocked; my female friends can cry in front of one another and talk when we are feeling down. It was strange for me to imagine a relationship like that of my two male friends, who don’t talk much about how they feel. It was even stranger to imagine never feeling an emotion as intense as sadness.
After this conversation, I couldn’t stop thinking about what my friends had said and implied through body language. I began to wonder if I actually feel more sadness than my male friends, or if I just express it differently than they do. Typically, vulnerability and the expression of emotion are associated with femininity and weakness, while anger and stoicism are associated with masculinity and strength. These strict confines can lead to boys and men unwittingly turning sadness, a “feminine” emotion, into something that fits into the box of masculinity, like anger. Maybe this is why my friend Darren told me he didn’t feel sad, but later mentioned that he often feels angry.
I know that if I ever needed to speak to a therapist, my family could afford to pay, and I wouldn’t have racial stereotypes attached to my anger or fear. As a white girl from North Berkeley, I deal with emotions differently than Koji, an Asian boy from Central Berkeley, and from Darren, a black boy from South Berkeley. Although my friends and I were raised in the same city and go to the same school, our experiences and perspectives differ greatly. Even my two male friends could experience different expectations due to factors like their socioeconomic statuses and races.
The importance of emotional expression has been backed up by scientific and sociological studies. Sociologists from schools like the University of Texas have linked issues like alcohol abuse and domestic violence to the repression of emotional distress. Both of these issues have high rates among men. Perhaps if boys and men could freely process how they feel, they wouldn’t resort to the unhealthy vices like alcohol, and to the abuse that is commonly perpetrated against women. While being able to understand and vocalize one’s emotions may seem insignificant, eliminating the myths surrounding manhood could lead to a society in which more would be able to express themselves and empathize, and less physical and psychological damage would occur for all.