Who says men don’t cry? The changing roles of men in a patriarchal society.

by | Jun 7, 2023 | 2 comments

Man gazing into the distance
“In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an anti-patriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.”
Bell Hooks

Author, The Will to Change Men, Masculinity, and Love

Patriarchy has been traced back to the Fertile Crescent in 4000 BC, which once considered the “cradle of civilization” in Mesopotamia. The prevailing reason for patriarchy in a society is the result of men seeing themselves superior to women. This social construct, in which the biological differences between men and women are exaggerated, is to give men a dominant, masculine role while women have a subordinate, feminine role.

Patriarchy has remained a system of relationships, beliefs and values embedded in political, social and economic systems that structure gender inequality between men and women. In America, patriarchy was the accepted societal belief upon the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620 – under a grey sky on an austere slip of land. It wasn’t until the Women’s Movement demanded gender equality, that the construct of patriarchy was challenged and the definitions and attitudes concerning “masculinity” and “manhood” began to change.

Patriarchy forced the expectation for men to be stoic, competitive, dominant, aggressive – and to preserve. Best summarized in Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, If patriarchy suggests restraint to be a distinctively male virtue; something believed women were not biologically capable of due to, for example, hormones:

If you can keep your head when all about you,
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
you’ll be a man, my son.

Today’s meaning of manhood is evolving, adapting, and redefining what it means to be masculine in response to changing work patterns and new family demands on men who feel distress and insecure about their new gender role. Many men find it hard to reconcile the traditional view of manhood due to greater gender equality at work and home.

Often, in our day and age, the sense of failing to portray the ideal male figure promoted by advertisements, Hollywood films, and social media, can provoke men to have defensive reactions and express a resentment towards women that too often turns aggressive or abusive – emotionally and physically.

Although the traditional masculinity credo – that men should meet a challenge with a level head and firm convictions – is still alive. Twenty-four hour news cycles and social media influence seem to communicate a different message. Many men feel that everything is an attack on them, which is to be combated with hyperbolic insults, instead of a punch in the jaw, and that it’s okay to act like a jerk, and being shabby is normal and smart.

Do a deep dive into the history and evolution of patriarchy, as I have over the years, you’ll find that before we became farmers, during the hunter-gatherer ages, men and women were basically equals. Although, obviously, there are no firsthand accounts of what the sexual relationship between a man and woman was during this period, anthropologists assume as a fact that people were not monogamous –  people were essentially equal and no one had anything, so there was nothing to fight about.

That changed when people settled down and took possession of land and turned to agriculture and animal husbandry. People began to amass land, animals, crops and discovered minerals. People began to own things that were important – things they wanted to pass on to their children.

How, then, in a non-monogamous society how could a man be sure that the child his woman was carrying was his? The answer was to invent another social construct: marriage. Marriage can be considered a social construct because, technically, humans invented the concept of saying “I do.” Although living together in family units does happen in nature, you’ll never see a chimpanzee getting down on his knee to “pop the question”. So, historically, marriage was never intended to be a union of equals, which many researchers find has caused the present turmoil many men feel when faced with gender equality.

But masculinity and manhood are not universal, primeval, or unchangeable, they are a social construct. A social construct that has a history and can change with the cultural evolution of gender equality. And when there is no longer a need to assert gender superiority, men can show the same emotions as women. They can be sensitive, empathetic and vulnerable without the need to be aggressive and violent.

Although the level of masculinity frequently displayed in movies tells a different story, men who are calm, humble and gentle are the characteristics many women look for in a partner these days.

Traditionally, as a boy matures, peers, parents, and, even, girlfriends, would tell them things like:

Boys don’t cry

Don’t act like a girl

Be strong

Man up

And more and more frequently, parents are telling their sons not to act out but to “use your words.” This encourages boys to speak up about their emotions. For boys to learn this is critical since research has shown that as boys grow to manhood “silence can kill”, linking the high rate of suicide among men before their 50’s to men having been taught at an early age restraint in sharing their emotions.

Dr. Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, finds that gender roles change “very, very” slowly and are most often the product of an individual’s upbringing.

“It’s more convenient and comfortable for people to follow gender roles that they’ve grown up with,” he finds. “If you look at the studies, girls are asked to help out with activities more than boys are.” 

“It’s more convenient and comfortable for people to follow gender roles that they’ve grown up with,” he finds. “If you look at the studies, girls are asked to help out with activities more than boys are.”

According to a 2017 analysis, girls who are 15 to 19 years of age spend about 45 minutes a day doing household chores. Boys in the same age group spend about 30 minutes. Even though parents nowadays are trying to teach their boys more gender-neutral roles, he finds in his research it’s still a struggle.

A recently published Gallup Poll reports that although women comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they still fulfill a larger share of household responsibilities, dividing household chores among largely traditional roles. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, current trends indicate it will take at least 208 years for the U.S. to achieve true gender equality.

In the meantime, we should celebrate the changes that are emerging and continue to encourage boys and men to speak up about their emotions. The below study, Healthy Masculinity, conducted by Princeton University demonstrates the different outcomes between adhering to male stereotypical behaviors and encouraging a fuller range of emotions.

Avoiding help-seeking (medical attention, emotional support)
Not showing weakness, presenting as tough, expecting other men and boys to be tough(er)
Restricting emotions to “acceptable” ones for men (anger, happiness, jealousy, lust)
Caretaking exclusively, being the “breadwinner”
Pressuring other men to behave in stereotypically masculine ways

This can lead to men not taking care of themselves, not recognizing that others need help, and in some cases actually hurting other people.

Asking for help when needed
Showing vulnerability
Expressing a wide range of emotions (sadness, fear, shame, kindness, tenderness)
Developing healthy relationship skills (active listening, communication, nonjudgmental support, seeking out consent)
Feeling comfortable in emotionally nurturing roles
Calling out/in other men who engage in behaviors that are disrespectful or aggressive

This allows men to take care of themselves, recognize when others need help, care for others, and contribute to a more respectful culture for all genders.

While we still think of mothers as more sentimental than fathers, research shows that fathers like to hear how much their children love them and why they think their father is a superhero – the one that saves the day and make his child’s life better – just as much as mothers like to hear praise from their children on Mother’s Day.

Now that’s gender equality!


  1. Understanding this would lead to a lot of people having healthier marriages! It should also serve as a mandatory reading topic for teen males. Thanks for netting this out so succinctly.

  2. This article is very insiteful as it pokes at “the sleeping dog.” As a Black male baby boomer, all of the stereotypical terms listed in the attached Princeton University article were very familiar to me as a child. It’s great that there is open conversation and diaolog about this now because as the article alludes to, the silence is the “pressure-cooker” where men often simmer quietly until they decide to end it all. Two years ago, I lost my second friend to suicide. I was compelled to speak out on the subject myself when the widow said to me, “I don’t mind if you talk about this because I’d like to expose the demons that lerk in the hearts of men that keep them from talking.” On a more personal level I, like most men I’ve met in my age group, NEVER heard my Father say, “I Love You Son.” I’m sure he did. He just “couldn’t” say it. Thanks for the article.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Notifiedof blog posts like this!

Sign up for Nancy's monthly newsletter and receive insightful messages and notifications of new blog posts. You'll also be "in the know" about new book releases. 

Recent Comments

on all blogs

Around Which All Things Bend Book Cover

Legal Disclaimer

The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship. I am a writer who is also a lawyer, helping lay people learn about law-related issues. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.

Pin It on Pinterest