In 1972 Senator Ed Muskie was enjoying a good run at the presidency. At six-foot four and with a quiet confidence about him, Muskie was the Democratic front-runner until he publicly defended his wife's name against some published slander, choking up in the process.
In an era of social unrest and uncertainty, before self-help was popularized and our culture began considering qualities of ‘the sensitive man’ as attributes, Muskie's gesture was widely perceived as a sign of weakness. His presidential campaign never recovered.
If the same scene were played out today, it might have swept him into the Oval Office. Or it may have ruined his campaign. Perceptions of men crying in public change with the times and depend heavily on the circumstances. So, should a real man cry in public?
Should Men Cry At All?
In the psychological community, crying is widely understood as an attachment behavior designed to elicit help from others. This hardly fits the stereotype that men in general do not like to ask for help.
That said, according to one of the most frequently cited studies on crying, authored by William H. Frey II, about three-fourths of all men report feeling better after having cried. Of course, 'feeling better' is not the best metric since most people would probably feel better after a few stiff drinks. The psychological ends don't necessarily justify the means.
But consider this: Tears are 98% water. The substances found in the other 2% have allowed scientists to differentiate between three types of tears: Basal (maintain basic lubrication, high in oils, mucus, proteins); Reflex (respond to irritants, almost all water); and Psychogenic (emotional tears, heavy in proteins including endorphins and prolactin).
The running hypothesis is that the purpose of psychogenic tears is to rid the body of chemical build-up caused by emotional stress. If this is true, then crying not only serves a psychological benefit, it serves a physiological one, too. So, an occasional snivel might be considered healthy for a man.
When, Where, How And Why Should Men Cry?
When a man cries in a public, for whatever reason (sadness, self-pity, rage, regret, frustration, relief--among countless others), he should be aware that his display of raw emotion will undoubtedly be judged by witnesses. Tears have both social value and consequences—ones defined by a narrow set of contingencies.
According to a major public survey in 2011 conducted by Cosmopolitan and AskMen.com, women overwhelmingly (99%) think it's okay for men to cry, although a quarter of those women believed it was only okay in response to tragedies. Men overwhelmingly agreed (96%) on the acceptability issue, but a third of those men also believed it was only okay in response to tragedies, and another third of them believed that it should be done privately.
Ross is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in medical topics and men's lifestyle. His work appears in numerous online and print publications, including AskMen, Forbes, AOL, and Fox News. He is the editor of several published quotation collections, and in addition to work as a cancer care advocate, he plays ice hockey and blogs for two pro hockey web sites.