by Nisha Shrestha
When I think of my grandpa, the first thing that comes to mind is kindness. ‘Baaje’ is the word that refers to grandpa in my culture in Nepal. It is no exaggeration to consider my Baaje as a god; he was no less than a god who always showered me with blessings, warmth, love, and affection. Whenever someone asks me who I look up to the most, my answer would always be my Baaje. Even though my Baaje was a traditional, cultural, and religious person, he would only follow the norms and values that would create a positive impact for everyone. The entire neighbourhood would recognise him for his good deeds.
In Nepal, COVID-19 cases started rising in 2020, impacting the lives of every person whether directly or indirectly. My grandfather got infected by COVID-19 in 2021, unfortunately losing his battle against the virus. He died at the age of 77. As my elder brother and I are in Australia, we could not get to see him in his last days. We regret to date that we were not able to meet him. I was about to leave for work when I heard the devastating news, while my brother was still at work. On the phone with my father, I could tell he was holding back tears, hiding his emotions. He kept telling me everything was fine, but there is only so much you can do to hide the quiver. Later, my mom told me he cried immediately after ending the call. We did not even have time to grieve the loss. While I expressed my emotions in front of my family and shared how devastated I felt over the loss, my brother stayed quiet. Only silence surrounded him. I could see how broken he was; he too was close to our grandparents, and they adored my brother the most out of all the grandchildren they had. ‘From now on there is no reason to go back to Nepal’ is the only sentence he could speak. Physically my brother was with us, but his mind and consciousness were back in our home country. At that time, I realised how our patriarchal society has taught men to not show their emotions in front of others, they should only present their masculinity. Since childhood, I’ve heard that whenever a boy cries, someone will tease them. ‘Real men don’t shed tears’; ‘don’t act like a woman’; or ‘be more masculine’. Without reflecting on it, I realised when I was a child, I would tease my brother whenever I saw him crying, thinking it was normal. Unconsciously, I was affecting his self-esteem when I made critical remarks about his emotions. Reality hit me late. I had been supporting toxic masculinity. I always wondered why it is that if humans are the only creature to show recognisable emotions to other humans, then why can’t this apply to men?
Why should men cry? Society is judgemental and has constructed specific masculine and feminine roles, setting restricted expectations for men and women. Men are expected to remain strong and hide their weaknesses. Society inhibits men from expressing or exploring emotions in front of others. However, men are human too, it's natural to show emotions as it helps you to comprehend the feelings holistically and let others know what you are feeling. Studies have found that crying also helps to reduce stress, venting out the suppressed emotion or frustrations that were hiding inside without harming others. People may be curious about how to support men so that they can express their feelings freely. I believe simple approaches or gestures we show toward men can reduce the stereotypes created by our society. Appreciating and respecting the way men are handling their emotions could be a positive approach. There are things we should also avoid. To foster a healthier social environment that enables men to acknowledge and experience emotions. It is important to remember that one should not rebuke and reproach men for crying in front of them because it will negatively influence their self-esteem and shame them for expressing emotion. People should be conscious while responding and expressing their sentiments while conversing or engaging with men’s emotions. Everyone must start taking responsibility to eliminate the standardised patriarchal society. We can begin this in our own homes. Everyone should have a non-judgemental attitude whenever our father or brother breaks down or shows tearful expressions in front of us. It helps to educate younger boys it is indeed normal to cry in front of others.
What should one do if he/she sees some guy crying in front of them? The answer would be to act natural, console and listen to him rather, than provoking or mocking him. Whenever I see a man express his emotions in front of me, I always embrace their emotions and try to support them as much as I can.