The concept of “male tears” is ubiquitous in the online feminist circles where I hang out, especially on Tumblr. I’ve seen at least one mug or teapot featuring it in nearly every feminist holiday gift guide that I’ve read this month (and I’ve read a lot of them). I know it’s meant as a critique of guys who whine about being called out on their sexist behavior, not ones who are genuinely in emotional distress. But it still makes me deeply uncomfortable.
On one hand, I don’t want to tell other women how to respond to the shittiness of dealing with sexism and misogyny; we all cope in our own ways. But at the same time, I can’t separate out anything that makes fun of the idea of men crying from the toxic culture–which is very much a part of the patriarchy–that tells men to stuff down their emotions, be stoic, don’t cry. This culture not only harms men by denying them a part of their humanity, but more importantly, harms women: because it encourages men to act with unthinking aggression and violence rather than empathy. To appear tough at all costs, no matter who gets hurt–and “who gets hurt” is nearly always a woman and/or a member of another marginalized group.
I know that the women who ironically revel in drinking male tears don’t mean to use the phrase that way. If you asked them, they’d say they’re just as opposed to that toxic construction of masculinity as I am. They’d say they’re all for men genuinely expressing their emotions. They’d say that their ironic jokes have nothing to do with the kind of people who actually think men shouldn’t cry.
But it’s axiomatic in social justice spaces that intent isn’t magic. If you say or do something harmful, it doesn’t matter that you meant well–the harm is still done, and you still need to apologize and work on doing better the next time. Likewise, it doesn’t matter whether the women who proudly drink from “male tears” mugs mean to reinforce the idea that men who cry are pathetic and deserving of mockery. We still live in a culture in which most men are expected to bottle up their emotions, and that still has harmful, even deadly consequences. I can’t get behind anything that reinforces it–no matter how unintentionally, no matter how ironically.
There has to be some other way to say, “Up yours, whiny sexist dudes.”