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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 July, 2004, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Men are not too macho to cry
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online health staff

Footballer Paul Gascoigne
Gazza's grief was pure emotion
The sight of footballer Paul Gascoigne in tears at the World Cup semi-final against Germany in 1990 was a rare glimpse of uncontrollable male emotion.

As a nation, we are known for keeping a "stiff upper lip" and for men, this means holding back the tears.

But psychologists believe it is important to have a good cry.

University of Warwick historian Professor Bernard Capp said although men were getting better at letting their emotions go, they still tend to bottle things up to the detriment of their health.

His research suggests that historically, for crying to be acceptable, men had to shed "the right sort of tears".

He said in early modern England tears were a sign of weakness and a failure of masculinity and it was a class-based issue.

Modern men are still generally ashamed to cry in public, except in exceptional circumstances
Professor Bernard Capp, historian
For well-bred Englishmen, the control of passions was the essence of masculinity and gentility.

But for lower classes, it was not unreasonable.

However, "macho values" were only one cultural influence and Christian values did not sit very comfortably with the culture of emotional repression.

Professor Capp illustrates his point with the case of Oliver Cromwell and his Ironsides.

They appeared tough and macho on the outside and in battle, but they were deeply religious Puritans and tears were often shed in church as they were overwhelmed by spiritual emotion.

Football tears

Professor Capp said: "Today, typical images of masculinity remain associated with the control of public emotion that might be perceived as weakness.

"Male figures who break that convention may not be criticised, but their behaviour is presented as exceptional and news worthy.

Cristiano Ronaldo in tears
Cristiano Ronaldo wept after Portugal's defeat on Sunday
"Modern men are still generally ashamed to cry in public, except in exceptional circumstances.

"Several commentators have speculated whether football is the new religion, and the parallels here are suggestive too: macho football fans can cry without shame after a major victory or defeat, just as Cromwell's macho 'Ironsides' could cry at a prayer meeting."

"Despite all we hear about 'new men' engaging with their suppressed emotions, any prominent male shedding tears in public is likely to find himself a front-page story."

A lot of men know more about how a car works than their own emotions
Ron Bracey, clinical psychologist
Clinical psychologist Ron Bracey said crying performs an important function by releasing stress hormones.

He thinks men are able to cry more openly now than ever before.

He said: "Some men still think it is a sign of emotional vulnerability.

"The trap is worrying about what others will think - that it will lower your status or esteem.

"But that's in your head, it's not real."

He said men should not be ashamed of showing their emotions and uses the example of the firemen who broke down after rescuing people from the Twin Towers after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

He said: "They were courageous, but real people, with real feelings."

Emotional workout

One place where it is totally acceptable for men to weep is the wailing wall in Jerusalem.

Mr Bracey said: "It is good to give emotions a good workout.

"Men often bottle things up and live with their problems longer than they need to.

"This can sometimes lead to stress-related illnesses.

Man showing signs of stress
Crying releases stress hormones
"A lot of men talk about vague symptoms, but don't know what's going on.

"A lot of men know more about how a car works than their own emotions.

"I try to bring out their emotions during a course of therapy.

"Most people who have a good cry say they feel better afterwards."

Turning crying on himself, Mr Bracey said: "A lot of male therapists find it very difficult to be around people who cry."

However he is quite comfortable with crying.

He said: "I let patients know that it is ok to cry and let them do it."

And if we want to be reassured that it is alright for men to cry, then we need look no further than the Bible.

John chapter 11 verses 1-46, tells us how Jesus wept when he discovered that his friend Lazarus had died.

Those who are more religious about football may prefer to stick with Gazza as their role model.

Tears shed at D-Day ceremony
07 Jun 04 |  Northern Ireland

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