Are Men Mentally Tougher? 

Tough guise

Tough guise

Men are strong and stoic and women are weak and dependent, right?

That’s the stereotype. But stereotypes can create social patterns. And surprisingly, things that appear weak may turn out to be strong. And vice versa.

Men seem strong because they don’t cry easily. Boys hear, “Boys don’t cry… toughen up… keep a stiff upper lip… be strong and independent…”

They hear those things all their lives. And they work hard to meet expectations, under threat of not being man enough.

Girls are allowed to cry and depend on others. They might grow up to be tough and strong, but not because they’re pressed to. And so fewer do.

Parents are also quicker to jump in and help girls – or just do it for them. Boys are expected to figure things out for themselves.

And thereby, stereotypes create social patterns as we live up to – or down to – expectations.

But in some ways boys become stronger, and in some ways girls become stronger.

Boys don't cry

Boys don’t cry

As challenges come, boys are less likely to give in or give up or breakdown or depend on others. Due to their training, not their biology.

On the other hand, suppressed emotion only looks like strength. It’s actually a mask that both creates and hides wounds — welts that rise when half of one’s humanity is cut off.

A strong, mentally healthy person has access to a range of emotions, and is not stifled in their expression. And she will more likely seek help when she needs it.

If a woman is depressed she is more likely to seek the help of a therapist.

Refusing support isn’t a strength.

When a depressed man shuts off his feelings and avoids seeking help he’s more likely to work to transform his “weakness” into a perceived strength. Maybe by pounding the woman he claims to love. He feels strong in the moment. But he isn’t really. It’s an illusion that temporarily tricks him into believing he’s strong. But it merely covers over his sickness.

Luckily, even where stereotypes have shaped us we have other choices. But sometimes we must escape our cramped boxes to be able to see our options.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 31, 2015, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. It’s a shame to use domestic violence in that context. Is violence by men against women linked to depression? My understanding is that it’s about control. Men are raised to be aggressive and dominant, but then real life strips away all pretense of being in control – and for some men they regain control through violence. Maybe women just learn at an earlier age that life is desperately unfair, and so weather the defeats better?

    • A lack of control often leads to depression. So the 2 are linked. So everything you said is true. But the men are often also depressed. And then they 1) beat up their partners to regain a sense of control and 2) do “emotion work” to transform a weak feeling (depression) into a strong feeling (anger, a feeling of having power over someone).

  2. Probably explains why the vast majority of alcoholics are male , lost a good friend to the bottle back in 2012….& surprisingly he was in 2 relationships ( including a failed marriage ) for most of the time I was aware of this problem , I attempted to help many years before , but the self destruct button was pushed constantly…the original trauma was a head injury suffered by his father ( his father was found dead in a marsh just before ) My friend , Craig , died in his sleep , discovered later by his then partner ..bless her !! Men simply don’t seek help due to cultural conditioning. We both served in the British Army , there are a lot of ex service people suffering PTSD too.

    • Yeah, that probably is why most alcoholics are men. They don’t have a lot of support – Other than the bottle. Is it’s much easier for women to ask for help.

      • Agreed , not only is it easier for women to ask for help , but women tend to have better inbuilt support networks within their circle of influence , one example is the much closer friendships women have with each other , men generally don’t have this , it’s surprisingly common that many men have no true friends at all.

      • Yes. You’re right. And that’s because of socialization too. Girls are taught to be much more relationship oriented. Parents have tea parties with their daughters but not their sons and Bratz and Barbie have a whole flock of friends, for instance. Mom’s even talk to their daughters more.

  3. Very well clarified, and analytically so, Georgia. Males may be, by virtue of anatomical factors, physically stronger, but not necessarily so mentally. The male macho and female demureness are, to some extent, due to conditioning, and same conditioning may cause these aspects vice versa, again to some extent. Why only some extent? The answer may become obvious if we observe characteristics of male and female species among animals, where conditioning is practically non-existent; the male is always stronger and more aggressive…best wishes..

    • Actually that’s not true. You have to look at the species and the context. If a mother’s babies are being threatened she is extremely aggressive. Mice were bred so that they lost their estrogen – they also lost their aggression. So estrogen is tied to aggressiveness. I also have kittens and my boy is no more aggressive than my girl. In fact with my other cats from 15 years ago, the girl was more aggressive. I also know a lot of couples where the woman is more aggressive than the man. I imagine you do too. Also, the higher you go up the evolutionary ladder the less you are run by instinct — which frees humans to make choices — and humans have far fewer instincts than other species.

  4. Can’t agree more with you. Men cry to, and i would imagine you would know this already!

    It is the way we have been raised that has profound impact on us, but things might change in future…who knows?

    • Things seem to be changing, at least here in the US. If I look at my male relatives, my grandpa wasn’t very nurturing because that was unmanly. My dad was more nurturing, and when his kids were little my brother pretty much took over when he got home from work to give his wife a break. He’s very nurturing and a great dad! But we still have the stereotypes that create problematic social patterns.

  5. Men are not weak when it comes to emotions. Because of the notion that men shouldn’t cry, they act tough and stuff feelings inside them whereas a woman shares her emotions and feels better and light.

  6. Georgia dixit: Stereotypes can create social patterns. And surprisingly, things that appear weak may turn out to be strong. And vice versa… ⚠️

    So true…. As I read through these lines I thought of two titles. One, for Norman Mailer´s book ¨Tough Guys Don’t Dance¨and the other one for SIA´s song ¨Big Girls Cry¨… By the way I absolutely recommend that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NhKWZpkw1Q
    It is curious that these stereotypes might be available in all sort of social channels, I guess that´s what reinforces those social patterns, right!.
    Great post, dear Georgia… 👍👏 Have agreat week ahead! Aquileana 🌼

  7. A very difficult one to answer….

    I think we men can endure pain and suffering (mental and physical) more so than most women. But, this “suck it up” approach to masculinity exacts a very high price…..We men feel emotionally isolated. So, many of us simply turn off our emotions all together which is totally mentally unhealthy. Hence, the substance abuse etc…

    • I think men are encouraged to– Or pressured to– endure pain and suffering (mental and physical) more so than most women. And that could create a certain stoicism as men work to fit the expectation. Like you say, it’s really unhealthy for everyone.

  8. my husband admits I am stronger than he is but I think that’s because I’ve had to deal with a lot – his depression (non-violent!) and my cancer… also, I let myself cry when I’m angry/upset/frustrated and it lets out the negativity so I can get on and sort things out!

    • I’m so sorry about what you’ve had to go through. I guess it has been a learning and growing experience, if you choose to look at the bright side.

      Neither men nor women seem to be naturally mentally tougher. But experience can create mental toughness, whether ordeals like you describe or pressures and expectations from the outside world.

  9. The idea that men are expected to be tougher is found in many different forms of society, and quite a lot culturally. We tend to emphasis our gender roles because “tradition is tradition”. If we continue these ideals of blindly following limitations imposed on ourselves, how are we supposed to grow as people. We could be missing out on some true happiness because it’s socially acceptable to deny yourself something because it wasn’t “made for you”. Gender roles affect everybody and can be eradicated if we start expressing ourselves how we see fit. While humanity does thrive off the aspect of community, it seems although the mindset that is reflected isn’t beneficial for our advancement as individuals.

  10. I’ve seen this often times growing up in the Indian culture. Since men are viewed as the tougher ones they have the constant pressure on them not to show their emotions even through hard times. Which slowly leads to either anger issues and/ or depression. And the ones who suffer the most are the wives and children of these men who are physically and emotionally lashed out upon because the men use their families as their punching bags. And everyone accepts this as a normal thing since men are allowed to do whatever. I agree with your article and I think it should be okay for men to cry whenever they want and let out their emotions. Building up anger, frustration, and sadness never leads to anything good, but society has yet to realize that. Showing real emotions only leads to healthier relationships!

  11. From a child to and adult men and women are treated differently to shape and be viewed that men are stronger than women. Children take ideas from their environments and the people around them to create ideas that will lead them through society. For example toys, girl toys stereotypically consist of dolls, cooking sets, princesses, while the boys consist of strong action figures, cars, construction. All these toys just give children the ideas of what tasks in life they can’t and can do. Leading to the girls being the nurturing caring ones while boys the inventers and problem solvers. When children play it is to introduce them to new ideas, but when a gender label is put on a toy it’s not allowing for a child to have a choice, but just suggest what is okay for them. I think toy companies should have diverse themes and colors and not be labeled by gender.

  12. I can say that I myself have had to deal with this issue multiple times. The idea that I have to be emotionally stronger and have to be “manly” when it comes to my emotions is something that I have been told by another male figure. There seems to always be acceptance for a woman to have a difficult time with there emotions and most people will accept this. I think this idea of men having to show strength by holding back there emotions causes for a lot of issues down the road. Things such as over aggression can occur, or depression, or just the inability to cope when faced with certain situations. This simple fact that men should be mentally tougher simply because they are men seems to causes a lot more distress down the road. And in my personal opinion this seems to be something of a nurture rather than nature. Anyone and everyone is born with emotions, unless diagnosed other wise, but boys are taught at a very young age to with hold there emotions that may make them seem vulnerable.

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