For those of you that don’t watch a lot of movies, that is a line from A League of Their Own that Tom Hank’s character yells as on of his female ball-players starts to cry. It is the common sign of a man that doesn’t know how to handle the very outward display of emotion in that moment.
Why do men have such a hard time with women crying? There’s actually a pretty good reason for that. Think of what men are taught about crying from the time they are very young. They are taught that crying is weak. They are told very often to “be a man” when they are hurting, which implies they need to take all of their emotions and push them down deep. They aren’t allowed to move through, to hold space for themselves when they are hurting. Instead of feeling the pain, learning that it is OK to hurt, be sad, or feel guilty they are required to withhold and ignore the feelings. Push them down, push them away, and most of all don’t cry.
So when a woman, who hasn’t been told to shove them down and has been allowed to cry is present with her feelings it makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know how to hold space for their own discomfort, let alone for the person next to them that is struggling. They have also been told their entire lives, by family and culture, that a blatant display of emotion is a sign of weakness.
We as women also struggle to hold space for men when they are experiencing strong emotion (other than anger), and showing it. We also have received the message from society that a man showing emotion is a sign of weakness. It makes us almost as uncomfortable as men are when we cry.
Holding space for an emotion means experiencing the emotion. It means feeling it in the moment, without shoving it away. It means acknowledging that whatever is happening is unpleasant and it is OK for it to be unpleasant. Women are allowed some grace in this as we are allowed to cry and give outward demonstrations of our feelings. Men are taught to shut that down, and then that is reinforced on a daily basis through family, media, and partners. It isn’t surprising that when women cry they struggle with the display.
It is difficult for both men and women to allow someone else that they are close to be present with painful emotions. In general women say they want a man that is more in touch with his emotions, and yet there is discomfort when he does so. If we want men to be comfortable with women crying, we have to encourage everyone to be OK being present with their emotions. It is OK to let someone cry and not need to fix it. Crying releases endorphins that are often needed in tense and difficult moments. It is part of why women are so prone to tears during angry and tense moments, as well as sad difficult moments. It gives a release and helps move through the difficult time. As a society, we all need to become better at not only holding space for someone that is struggling, but tolerating our own discomfort when someone cries.
Crying is natural and healthy. Tears mean that a person cares about what is going on in that moment. We all need to work on holding space for difficult experiences, and being OK when the water-works are turned on. Maybe there should be crying in baseball.