London 2012 Olympics: Masters of the crying Games
BIG boys do cry. At least Sir Chris Hoy, arguably the biggest one of them all, does. Standing on the podium last Thursday night, just moments after taking his fifth gold medal to become Britain’s greatest Olympian, the Edinburgh-born surveyor’s son let the tears course down his cheeks, his face overcome with emotion as he reflected on his win. It was, he said afterwards, “quite overwhelming”.
For all that it is meant to be about sport, shedding big soggy tears the moment you win – or lose – is swiftly becoming one of the resounding themes of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Hoy arguably set the pace, welling up whilst carrying the flag during the opening ceremony. Since then we’ve seen South African 200-metre butterfly gold medallist Chad le Clos with lip aquiver on the podium, Scottish judo star Euan Burton burst into tears live on camera after losing in the second round, and American gymnast John Orozco weep openly after falling during the vault. Even Boris Johnson had a good old blub at the opening ceremony (and possibly let fall a few tears of pain after he got stuck on a zip wire in Victoria Park) and seemed more than happy to tell the world about it. Perhaps the Olympians are taking their cue from Andy Murray, who had half of Britain in tears when he unabashedly let the tears flow after losing the Wimbledon final last month.
But whilst crying men at sporting events may be nothing new, attitudes towards it have certainly changed. When Paul Gascoigne burst into tears on the pitch after receiving a yellow card during the 1990 World Cup, he was roundly ridiculed, and mocked for years afterwards by a particularly cruel Spitting Image puppet. And when Olympic rower Garry Herbert broke down when he won gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 he was decried as a “cry-baby”. Now, the likes of Murray and Hoy are lauded for shedding their tears in public.
“It can be beneficial for sportsmen to cry in public,” says Dan Jude, deputy editor of men’s magazine FHM.
“They can be perceived as quite robotic and not necessarily filled with personality, so it’s an opportunity to show there’s a beating heart beneath their muscular exterior.”
Chartered psychologist Dr Andrina McCormack agrees. “There’s no question that society is now allowing men to show their emotions more openly,” she says. “Traditionally a man was head of the family and had to be the strong one regardless of what happened. Now that women are taking a stronger role the balance has changed, both in society, and in those we see on stage or in sport. The balance of strength and responsibility isn’t so weighted on men now so they are allowed to show their emotions much more. It’s no longer seen as unmanly to cry.”
Indeed, it’s not just our Olympians who are welling up. A recent survey by the Social Issues Research Centre discovered that around 30 per cent of British men had cried within the past month.
“At the moment I’m seeing a lot of men who have been made redundant or who are having difficulties,” says McCormack, who is based in Tayside. “More and more men are coming to see me to say, ‘Listen, I’m having real stress at work, what can I do?’ That is a shift. I’m seeing a great shift in men showing their emotions.”
And it’s no bad thing, says McCormack. “It has to be good that men are opening themselves up a bit more, rather than bottling things up and locking their emotions away.”
A straw poll of male contemporaries revealed a mix of attitudes to crying in public. “What’s wrong with a good greet?” asked one. “Very cathartic. If we hadn’t spent so many centuries suppressing our emotions we might have been a less destructive half of the species.”
Others were less forgiving. “I think they should button it down,” remarked another. “Bit of stoicism would be refreshing. You never saw Alf Tupper or Muhammad Ali blubbing!” And a third admitted that even the thought of weeping in public was terrifying. “I live in the constant fear that I’ll cry at my wedding,” one confessed. “I’ve already had to wipe a few tears subtly away at a chum’s wedding during a very heartfelt speech by said chum’s dad.”
So why, despite the societal shift, is it still difficult for some men to show emotion publicly?
“It shows weakness,” says psychologist Dr Abigael San. “The perception is still quite often that it’s not acceptable to come across that way. It doesn’t mean that they are weak of course, but generally, that’s what’s thought.”
So if men will perhaps show emotion in front of their partners, they are less likely to in front of their peers. “It would be exceptionally difficult for a lot of men, even now, to cry in front of their mates,” says San. “There are still very strong barriers against it.”
“I think watching sport is the only arena where it’s totally acceptable to shed a tear publicly,” says Jude. “I’ve cried over Arsenal’s losses before without any hint of embarrassment, but I wouldn’t do so in public about anything else.”
In 2008, artist Sam Taylor-Wood produced a collection of photographic portraits entitled Crying Men. Featuring Hollywood faces including Robin Williams, Daniel Craig, Jude Law and Benicio del Toro bawling their eyes out, it made for an arresting – and unusual – sight.
“Some of the men cried before I even finished loading the camera, but others found it really difficult,” said Taylor-Wood at the time. “People can decide for themselves which they think are the authentic tears and which they think are fake. It’s about the idea of taking these big, masculine men and showing a different side.’”
San says it is partly images like these that are helping men let their guard down.
“Celebrities and sports people crying makes it more OK,” she says. “People see it and copy it and it becomes the social norm. Or at least, not quite as much of a taboo as it used to be.”
But what do women – for centuries lauded as the crier amongst the sexes – make of men who weep?
The survey conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre discovered that 90 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men think it has become more socially acceptable for men to cry.
“It depends on the situation, but most women would think it was a good thing to see a man who lets his emotions out,” says McCormack. “If they’re stressed or lose their job or if someone dies it’s natural for them to have emotions.”
“There’s definitely less of a stigma around a guy showing their emotional side,” says Jude. “That said, most women would accept that if a guy bursts into tears every ten minutes then he’s probably a bit too much of a cissy. But in the right circumstances, it’s totally acceptable for a bloke to have a bit of a sob.”
McCormack adds: “I think for women, seeing a man cry is almost a relief. It’s as though they can say: ‘That’s good, I’m seeing him clearly for the first time’.”
Read it and weep, boys. «
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