The Tracks of Men's Tears

Frustrated young man in hotel roomFrustrated young man in hotel room
Frustrated young man in hotel roomFrustrated young man in hotel room

A few years ago, my family and I went to Yankee Stadium to take in a ball game. Before the game, there was a ceremony honoring Mickey Mantle on the anniversary of his death. The sell-out crowd stood for what seemed like an eternity, as highlight reels captured Mantle's career and former teammates walked onto the field. Now, I grew up in Brooklyn, an ardent Dodger fan and an equally ardent Yankee-hater. Yet even I was moved by the tribute, and my eyes began to mist up at the heroism of that oft-injured and demon-plagued star. Around me, men's eyes were red with tears, cheeks damp, noses sniffling. Except for my wife, who looked at me incredulously, and said, "Who says men don't cry?"

I thought of this again, the other night, as I watched Chris Pine tear up at what had to have been the most memorably moving moment at this year's Academy Awards broadcast. As John Legend and Common sang the Oscar-winning song, "Glory" from the film Selma, a song of such anguished despair and soaring resilience and triumph, only the most hardened of hearts could fail to be moved. And Chris Pine, A-list action hero, was caught on camera, a tear seduced by gravity, easing down his cheek.

And the Twitterverse exploded! Women swooned and men grimaced in disapproval. Women saw in that single tear not some sniveling wimp, but the capacity for feeling, a momentary humanity poking through the armor in which we men often costume ourselves. Men saw the floodgates opening, and rushed to plug their finger in the leaky dike, lest the flood of emotion overtake them.

Imagine: Some men saw, in that single tear, such a profound threat to American manhood, that they needed to rush in to shore it up!

But -- and here is the most important lesson -- not all men. Not anymore. We've come a long way from the robotic unfeeling automaton that used to define American masculinity. In a recent survey for Dove Men+Care, over 90 percent of men saw their caregiving, nurturing, and emotional expression as a sign of strength, of successful masculinity, not of failure. And only seven percent -- less than one in 10 -- said they saw themselves in current depictions of masculinity in the media. Many men found Chris Pine's single tear validating, that of course real men can cry. Because men are also human beings, and human beings can be moved to both righteous indignation and tears of empathy.

It's hard to believe that in 2015, we're still debating about the meanings of men's tears. That debate feels hollow now, an echo of an earlier time, fading into history. American men cry, in fact, some do a lot. Without shame. Modern masculinity is measured not by a stoicism that makes us resemble an inanimate object (a rock, a pillar) but by a capacity for feeling, a capacity to be moved -- even moved to tears.

It may once have been true that, as the Cure sang, "Boys don't cry." But not anymore. Today, real men cry.