Several weeks ago, a new short film entitled #StartWithTheBoys was released with aims to challenge the convention that ‘boys don’t cry’. The short film, directed by Bollywood filmmaker Vinil Mathew and starring Madhuri Dixit, is part of Vogue India’s campaign #VogueEmpower to raise a national awareness that women’s empowerment should not be fought for by women alone.
The compelling film calls attention to the endless cycle of parents scolding their sons, from infancy through to adolescence, for crying. One of the scenes powerfully culminates in an image of a man holding back tears; the camera then pans out to reveal that through this indoctrinated culture of boys not being allowed to cry, this man channels his emotions into violence by abusing his already battered female partner.
The issue is far deeper than this. The idea of boys showing ‘weakness’ or ‘vulnerability’ by crying has been stigmatised in many cultures across the world, but perhaps seen more clearly in India through this video. Scolding boys for crying but allowing girls to cry because ‘boys don’t cry’ perpetuates not only the ideology that crying is only for girls, therefore segregating what is deemed as appropriate for boys and girls at an early age, but also perpetuating the idea crying is a weakness. This further cultivates the stereotype that showing emotion is a sign of weakness and vulnerability and boys must be strong, and that girls and women can get emotional because they are ‘weak’.
“The idea of the film is centred around the fundamental truth that women’s empowerment is not about women alone, which is why I pledged to create a short film that communicates clearly the need to change the mindset of boys before they become men,” says Kuruvilla in Vogue India.
Perhaps the most harmful act of all is to be ignorant to these telling signs. Never has it been beneficial, psychologically or mentally, to suppress emotion, nor has it been beneficial to the mental health of any individual to adhere to social pressures on how each gender should act. To be ignorant of these issues is to harm not only ourselves but the people closest to us as well because by doing so, we refuse to empathise with the boys who are being told not to ‘cry like a girl’ and to ‘man up’. These two contrasting phrases have their connotations of what has become the expected social norm, reinforcing the idea that women are weak and emotional, whereas men have to be strong, confident, and stable. This creates gender norms that neither gender are, quite frankly, unhappy with.
I don’t mean to speak on behalf of men and boys because I can’t ever say I understand them and what they want, but tell me if I’m wrong when I say that men and boys do sometimes feel down or hurt. These emotions should be expressed in a natural, human way, as opposed to them being told by parents and peers to channel it into something else, in this case, domestic violence.
What I most liked about this short film is that while many people have been focusing on girls, their education and their rights, whilst still incredibly important, the focus also needs to be on boys. What this video also highlights is that parenting is a fundamental factor in feeding sexism and gender pressures through generations. The way that each gender has gender roles and norms indoctrinated into them at an early age continues to dramatically affect their character and fuel existing sexism. Should each parent, each teacher, each adult nurture children with disregard for how boys and girls should behave, but more with empathy and understanding of the child as an individual, perhaps there would be fewer people with bottled emotions unhealthily channeling these emotions in violent means. Particularly for boys, the ‘lad’ culture is excruciatingly pressurising. This idea where boys must be ‘macho’, sleep with a lot of people, show strength both physically and mentally, and the constant abuse towards those who fail to achieve these ideals is immensely detrimental to the mental health of boys and men. This social pressure must change, and instead of attacking people for not being strong or indifferent, perhaps it is more beneficial to both the boys and the people surrounding them to support them with whatever means necessary and accept that there are boys more emotional than others, the same way there are girls who are more emotional than others.
The uses of words such as ‘man up’, ‘grow a pair’, ‘don’t be such a pussy’, ‘you cry like a girl’ are all glaringly deleterious to society. The dismissive use of these words emphasise the every-day sexism that stresses the false belief that having a pair of balls means you’re brave, strong, invincible, and being a girl means you’re a wimp and emotional, because some girls are braver than some boys and so on. This misogynistic language is another large factor in every day sexism that is subconsciously used and desperately needs to be stopped. If each person took a moment to be careful with what they say and be aware of such words with misogynistic undertones, these words could be erased from our vocabulary, the same way the derogatory use of the word ‘retarded’ was stopped. Hopefully, this will allow the next generation (and this generation if it’s not too late) of boys and girls to live in a society where they will not be judged by their biological gender, but the content of their character.
Written By: Mint Kovavisarach