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Luke Macaronas

Locker-room culture

By Luke Macaronas, St Kevins College

Men don’t cry.

When we observe little boys and girls, they cry just as much as each other. But then at the age of seven or eight boys stop crying. They’re told to stop crying. They’re not allowed.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys are being told to live up to a singular image of what it is to be a man. This is an ancient image that demands boys be strong, fearless, and deny their emotions.

I see it everyday in the locker room, where boys pick on the weakest kid, throwing around their clothes, flushing them down the toilet, pushing their victims to tears with the all too familiar taunts: suck it up, be a man, have a cry.

And everyone else stays silent as a soldier.

Every day boys work to build this facade. An indestructible armour that satisfies the expectations of the men and the boys around them. But behind the steely exterior, the wall of pride, of strength, the performance of masculinity. That’s where we bury our tears.

Because it is unacceptable to fall outside this narrow definition of male identity. We have been told to fear our differences, to hide our weakness and if we let any of it show, we are teased, we are bullied, we are bashed into silence. Psychologists have found that 79 per cent of boys report experiences of bullying over their identity alone.

So as young men grow up, we put on our masks and we suck it up.

When a man is stuck at work, with chronic back pain, anxious about meeting a deadline, instead of spending time with his loved ones, he’s told by other men to grin and bear it.

When a teenage boy in my class got emotional about a recent break-up, we told him to suck it up and stop crying.

And when I told my primary school friends that I was a dancer, I was laughed at for being a girl.

This culture of hyper-masculinity has developed in the locker rooms, playgrounds and boardrooms of the world, the spaces, unchecked by authority, dominated by men, where boys copy the violent language and actions passed down by their coaches.

And it is schools constantly pushing boys to fulfil a specifically male image of strength and success that has caused severe misinformation and under-education.

These strict behavioural codes, that equate seeking help to weakness, have caused mass under-reporting of mental illness, with suicide now the leading cause of death for men aged 16 to 30. Because guys are too afraid to speak up when they grow up and learn in places where they are bullied and bashed for appearing vulnerable and weak.

And those that deliver health information, do so through the guise of building ‘better men’. The best we can muster for promoting men’s health is a month when men are encouraged to grow moustaches … And have you ever heard any information about men’s health, had serious discussions or even heard some statistics!

Even if we do get the bare bones of discussion, every facet of school life and male-targeted programs are specifically and narrowly male, forcing those identities that fall outside the realms of the tuff and buff to be left by the wayside.

But these stories and experiences don’t end when we finish school; they shape the way men act and grow. Our tolerance for the expectation of male dominance, which has fuelled an epidemic of rape culture and domestic violence.

The culture that told men to be dominant, fearless and authoritarian has fuelled the idea that males are strong and women are weak, that men must be in control and women must be subservient.

Last month college fraternities led violent campaigns promoting sexual abuse. The slogan ‘no means yes’ was plastered on banners and chanted by fraternity members, and at Yale, boys posed for photos outside the women’s centre crying ‘we love Yale sluts’.

What kind of a society creates men like these?

Australia is facing its own epidemic of domestic violence. A violence born out of the pressure placed on men to be emotionless and authoritarian, leading men to justify deplorable acts of violence. A justification that murders two women every week in Australia.

In their need for control, men, so assured of their dominance, commodify women as objects to be disciplined.

It’s time to start listening to people who have experienced these problems, people like Rosie Batty, who’ve told us that ultimately these violent cultures are born out of the environments in which men are raised. Because we have created a single image of masculinity that doesn’t allow boys to feel comfortable in their own skin, so we make them go out and prove it. And we prove it by dragging each other through the mud and tearing each other apart.

It is those environments we need to change. We need spaces in workplaces where men are comfortable speaking about their problems, we need to start conversations in classrooms about why it is okay to cry, and primary school boys, who don’t always fit in, must be told that it is okay to be yourself, they need to know that they are not defined by their gender.

So why don’t men cry? Because that would rust the armour, the mask of masculinity.

We need to tear the armour off our skin.

Now is the time to cry.