The Gates of Tears: Reclaiming Jewish Masculinity

December 10, 2021

By Raphael Levi (YCT Semikha Student), for The Times of Israel

“A 2018 national survey of more than 1,000 10-to-19-year-olds… found that young women believed there were many ways to be a girl—they could shine in math, sports, music, leadership… [while] young men described just one narrow route to successful masculinity.* One-third said they felt compelled to suppress their feelings, to “suck it up” or “be a man” when they were sad or scared, and more than 40 percent said that when they were angry, society expected them to be combative.”

That is a quote from the 2020 Atlantic article “The Miseducation of the American Boy”. It reminds me somewhat of my own personal behavior. I recently noticed that when I sit down to watch a movie with friends and we get to an emotional part – and I have a tendency to feel emotional – I notice myself holding my tears back, preventing myself from crying. What I believe I’m actually noticing here is a way in which I take part in a system that makes men repress their emotions.

While this is a minor example of emotional repression, I think it demonstrates the effect of toxic masculinity. It’s really important to think about the way repressing our emotions can move those feelings into more damaging places. When we imagine a reality where men must be desensitized, and yet, one where combative anger is encouraged, then instead of communicating our feelings or expressing them in a healthy way, we could create a cycle of pain, where a person feels pain and projects those feelings onto other parts of their life in an unhealthy way. The cycle ends when we practice the act of noticing, of mindfully seeing our emotional response. Hopefully, this act of noticing can help us live a more balanced emotional life, channel our emotions differently, and create spaces where emotions can be shared more openly.

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