Masculinity has never been as scrutinized as it is in 2017. The virtues associated with being a man, how men are expected to act, a man’s role in the household; It’s all evolving, ever-changing, shifting.
Hardly a day goes by when the topic of masculinity isn’t the focus of some study, article, debate or media focus. Trump’s America has been engulfed by a conservative movement which brings with it a pre-defined vision of men and how they should act, as well as women and how they should act.
It all derives from Ancient Greece and the Roman’s where men lived lives of virtus, that virtue being strength, character, warriors and alpha.
Those are notions that many still expect of men today. Take this recent discussion among ESPN’s pundits on the recent Neymar press conference during which the PSG striker broke down in tears.
Gabriele Marcotti: All I’m saying is, you don’t have to go and mock the guy because he’s crying, gets emotional in a press conference and his coach sticks up for him.
Shaka Hislop: Yes, I do! Yes, I do, because if I cried in a press conference I would expect everyone here to mock me.
Craig Burley: Exactly. That’s the thing Gab, it’s because we live in a real world and not some made up egotistical world, someone who thinks the whole world should be begging at his feet. We were talking about it last week, if you walked back into a dressing room, be it an International dressing room of any repute or a club dressing room after doing that, the whole dressing room, including the kids, would mock you!
Shaka Hislop: Yep!
Significant effort would have to be undertaken to launch a defence of Neymar, in any circumstances. After all, this is the man who orchestrated the most expensive footballing transfer in history, away from football’s best team. A man engulfed by modern day materialism, just recently partaking in an advertising campaign that saw him spend £14,000 on shoes during a single trip. A man who routinely displays blatant petulance on the pitch and demands the spotlight.
All of these, are acceptable avenues of condemnation. Yet it is the ESPN’s all-male bench’s fixation on his tears, a visceral demonstration of emotion, that is problematic.
While initially defined by Greek values, manhood for the past 100 years has orientated towards a different ideal, the concept of being ‘cool.’
The cool man possesses an aura of invulnerability. A physical, emotional and psychological ideal. The issue is when we invariably fall outside of this rigid construct it leads to an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. That gap between the ideals and our practise is perilous.
The expectation Neymar has borne is startling. Breadwinner for his impoverished family, Brazil’s star expected to guide his country to a home World Cup win, the much-heralded heir to Messi’s throne. His development from a shanty town in Sao Paulo to prolific superstar is exceptional.
In an earlier segment, Burley labelled Neymar a “cry-baby” the “biggest, most petulant guy in world soccer” he aimed a series of accusations at Neymar, adding the double-caveat “reportedly, allegedly” before each claim; He wants Cavani sold, he doesn’t want his team-mates to tackle him in training, he wanted Barcelona thrown out of the Champions League.
It’s perceivable Neymar is not a stand-up individual. There are serious, legitimate criticisms to be levelled at him.
But to cite his tears as evidence of his weakness is to abide to the metaphorical map of what he, a man, should and should not do. His public demonstration of emotion is not a requirement for you to feel sympathy towards him. You are entitled to be totally indifferent. It is not, however, a cause to be mocked. A transition to launch into cheap gags about feelings and petulance.
This conversation has a victim. It’s not Neymar, or lone voice of reason Gabriele Marcotti, it’s the viewers. More specifically, the young male viewer, coming to terms with the realisation that tears are a source of ridicule, a further subconscious confirmation of the stereotypes he is exposed to since an early age.
This is the unintentional but no less determinantal consequence of language like this. Males inability to come to terms with this, to develop any real emotional intelligence, to grasp the concept of masculinity is a leading reason for domination of statistics in suicide, violent crime and antisocial behaviour.
The most damning line came when Burley and Hislop, both former players, claimed that had they done similar they would expect to be mocked in the dressing room.
Here is the world of hyper-manly football. Be a man. Man up. Emotions, sharing them, emoting them, displaying them, is a deterioration of your manhood.
Repression of a thing that makes us human.
There's plenty of reasonable sticks to use to beat a footballer, crying isn't one of them.