Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Boys Don't Cry?

Boys Don't Cry?: Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S.

Milette Shamir
Jennifer Travis
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Boys Don't Cry?
    Book Description:

    We take for granted the idea that white, middle-class, straight masculinity connotes total control of emotions, emotional inexpressivity, and emotional isolation. That men repress their feelings as they seek their fortunes in the competitive worlds of business and politics seems to be a given. This collection of essays by prominent literary and cultural critics rethinks such commonly held views by addressing the history and politics of emotion in prevailing narratives about masculinity. How did the story of the emotionally stifled U.S. male come into being? What are its political stakes? Will the "release" of straight, white, middle-class masculine emotion remake existing forms of power or reinforce them? This collection forcefully challenges our most entrenched ideas about male emotion. Through readings of works by Thoreau, Lowell, and W. E. B. Du Bois, and of twentieth century authors such as Hemingway and Kerouac, this book questions the persistence of the emotionally alienated male in narratives of white middle-class masculinity and addresses the political and social implications of male emotional release.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50634-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Do U.S. men have an emotional history? To be sure, libraries are filled with literature detailing men’s feelings about men’s deeds; in fact, we are currently witnessing an astonishing array of studies on what men may feel “as men.” Yet the emotional life of men in much of this work is surprisingly stiffed, to borrow from the title of one recent critique. As the American male is increasingly on display and under analysis, particularly he to whom Erving Goffman has referred as “the complete unblushing male”—white, heterosexual, middle-class, Protestant, northern, urban—we tend to cling hard to some of...

  6. 1 What Feels an American? Evident Selves and Alienable Emotions in the New Man’s World
    (pp. 23-43)

    The struggle for American political independence, as Jay Fliegelman has observed, coincided with and made use of “a new affective understanding of the operations of language, one that reconceives all expression as a form of self-expression, as an opportunity as well as an imperative to externalize the self, to become self-evident.”¹ For Common Sense philosopher Thomas Reid and other prominent eighteenth-century intellectuals, this “natural language” of feeling—an expression not of words “but of all the muscles of the body”—substantiated its author, evidenced his essential self, even in the case (writing) of his physical absence.² Reciprocally, the self thus...

  7. 2 Loving with a Vengeance: Wieland, Familicide and the Crisis of Masculinity in the Early Nation
    (pp. 44-63)

    When Mark Barton killed his wife, his eight year-old daughter, and his twelve year-old son with a hammer in July, 1999, then proceeded to shoot nine people at two different brokerage houses before shooting himself, his murderous “rampage” was attributed by the press to his newfound habit of day trading. Although little was known about this man, who one fellow trader claimed was “one of the nicest guys you ever met,” Barton’s reasons for murdering his children on that Wednesday night, and his wife the night before, appeared self-evident to journalists: as a Newsweek article summed up the case, “His...

  8. 3 “The Manliest Relations to Men” Thoreau on Privacy, Intimacy, and Writing
    (pp. 64-87)

    In the first epigraph to this essay the speaker yearns for intimacy unprofaned by physical violation; in the second the speaker yearns for privacy violated only by physical intimacy. Privacy and intimacy: these two concepts are central to the analysis of manhood and emotion. But what is the relationship between the two? Are these concepts interdependent, the one constituting a prerequisite for the other, or are they in conflict, even mutually threatening? To the extent that intimacy is understood in terms of the emotional exchange of affairs of the self, privacy has often been imagined as its savings account, as...

  9. 4 Manly Tears Men’s Elegies for Children in Nineteenth-Century American Culture
    (pp. 88-105)

    Emmeline Grangerford’s “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec[ease]d”—Mark Twain’s sendup of women’s versifying in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1886)—is commonly viewed as a marker of the derogatory (if notionally “funny”) gender stereotyping that attached to the sentimental elegy in a postbellum culture on the verge of a more ironic and guarded modernism: “O . . . list with tearful eye, // They got him out [of the well] and emptied him; / Alas it was too late.”¹ Beneath the surface humor, Twain forecast a kind of masculine anxiety—a “barely camouflaged paranoia about being feminine,” in Frances...

  10. 5 How To Be a (Sentimental) Race Man: Mourning and Passing in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk
    (pp. 106-123)

    W. E. B. Du Bois and his wife, Nina Gomer Du Bois, were living in the slums of Philadelphia when their first child, a son they named Burghardt, was born in October 1897.¹ Du Bois was then in the midst of completing a massive sociological study of African American life commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania—a project that eventually led to the 1899 publication of The Philadelphia Negro and helped launch his career as an intellectual and a leading speaker on issues of race relations.²

    Married in 1896, the same year the Supreme Court ruled on Plessy v. Ferguson,...

  11. 6 The Law of the Heart Emotional Injury and Its Fictions
    (pp. 124-140)

    In Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady (1923) the bridge onto the Forrester’s property floods and is nearly destroyed the same night Mrs. Forrester reads in a Denver paper that her lover, Frank Ellinger, has married Constance Ogden. The right of way that invites visitors to the property throughout the novel is washing away, and Mrs. Forrester must trudge through mud and rain “up to a horse’s belly” to leave Sweet Water for town.² Marian Forrester makes her way to the law office of Niel Herbert in order to have one last “conversation” with her lover, a conversation that Niel cuts...

  12. 7 “The Sort of Thing You Should Not Admit” Ernest Hemingway’s Aesthetic of Emotional Restraint
    (pp. 141-166)

    Ernest Hemingway is famously responsible for a narrative aesthetic of emotional restraint. His younger self was searching, Hemingway claims in Death in the Afternoon (1932), to “put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced”; he was working to get the “real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always.”¹ Emotion was not to be erased from narrative, it seemed, but expressed in...

  13. 8 Road Work Rereading Kerouac’s Midcentury Melodrama of Beset Sonhood
    (pp. 167-184)

    Jack Kerouac became a 1950s icon, King of the Beats, with the release of three novels in a thirteen-month period between September 5, 1957, and October 2, 1958. On the Road (1957), The Subterraneans (1958), and The Dharma Bums (1958), which chronicle, respectively, events that took place in 1946–1950, 1953, and 1955–1956, marked Kerouac as a postwar novelist of social critique. With the release of Doctor Sax (1959) and Maggie Cassidy (1959), which together cover most of the 1930s and chronicle his adolescence as a working-class Canuck in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac novels began to take on the look...

  14. 9 Men’s Tears and the Roles of Melodrama
    (pp. 185-204)

    While collecting anecdotes for a cultural history of tears, I performed an informal survey of actors, asking how they made themselves cry on stage and in front of the camera.¹ They answered in one of two ways. A minority thought of crying as a purely physical process and took the idea of sense memory (per Stanislavski, Strasberg, and other proponents of “method acting”) to mean purely sensual memories—they remembered the actual physical sensations of weeping in order to open the valves again.² The majority used something more akin to the stereotypical acting coach’s suggestion to remember one’s dying dog,...

  15. 10 Men’s Liberation, Men’s Wounds Emotion, Sexuality, and the Reconstruction of Masculinity in the 1970s
    (pp. 205-229)

    In his 1972 novel, The Water-Method Man, John Irving creates a protagonist who literally embodies the emotional and social crisis afflicting straight, white, middle-class men in post-women’s liberation America. Fred “Bogus” Trumper cannot “commit” to a long-term relationship; he is emotionally stunted, repressed, unable to express his desires and emotions honestly, and, consequently, tends to engage in self-destructive behavior. He can’t finish his Ph.D. dissertation, can’t commit to his new girlfriend (having virtually begged his first wife to leave him with their young son), and can’t quite settle into his new career. He is stuck, blocked, and paralyzed. But it...

  16. 11 The Politics of Feeling Men, Masculinity, and Mourning on the Capital Mall
    (pp. 230-254)

    The latter days of the twentieth century have witnessed two remarkable mass meetings of men on the Washington Mall, the Million Man March on October 16, 1995, with an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 participants, and the Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap Assembly on October 6, 1997, with an estimated 500,000 to 800,000. Both of these epic gatherings embodied elements of a “male romance narrative” about which second wave feminists, black and white, were to express considerable skepticism and concern. Both assemblies, for example, involved men going off with other men and leaving women, to all intents and purposes, behind—...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-276)
  18. Index
    (pp. 277-288)