Women don’t cry more; men cry LESS
Focusing on what makes women more prone to crying may actually be the wrong way to approach this question. What’s up with guys not crying? Dr. Vingerhoets invited us to reframe our patriarchal thinking, saying, “Most often you read about the role of female sex hormones. But I think aptly based on evidence, it’s more the male sex hormone, testosterone, that plays a factor -- it’s their inhibiting factor for crying.” So women don’t cry more; men actually cry less!
And Dr. Brizendine agrees that masculine processing plays a role here: “The hormones in the male brain go very quickly into anger. They can feel their biceps tense, and it bounces quickly into an angry reaction. Males have about 20 times more physical anger and aggression, and females burst into tears far more frequently. As they get older, their testosterone levels decrease, and men don’t feel like they have to hold up that same level of masculinity. They can get a little softer.” If you thought about every time that a man got angry as a scenario in which a less testosterone-fueled person might cry, you can begin to see that men are also emotionally volatile creatures.
This has potentially bad ramifications! Frey found that, in addition to prolactin, emotional tears contain adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), a stress indicator. He hypothesized that crying might help rid the body of stress-related toxins, which would help explain why you feel better after a good sob sesh. It also gives women a leg up on men in terms of stress relief.
“Big boys don’t cry” is a pretty real thing
Crying isn’t merely a physiological response to an event; it’s coded into stereotypes held by society at large, argues Dr. Brizendine. “How we’re raised to adhere to cultural gender expectations plays a role, and between 9 and 15, a boy’s testosterone goes up around 250 times.
“Think of it as learning to play an instrument; you practice consistently and get better and better at that thing, and at control -- little boys are always told to ‘suck it up,’ and little girls don’t hear that. Boys are trained to control tears. They’re trained to control their emotions. And if you practice that your entire childhood, by the time you become a young adult, you’ve gotten very good at it. Like an instrument, we learn to play the emotions acceding to our gender role.”
This view is certainly in line with the contemporary conception of gender as a social construct, and once again our doctors are in agreement, with Dr. Vingerhoets adding that parents aren’t always to blame: “It’s important to emphasize it’s not necessarily the influence of the parents or caregivers, but more the peers. When a 12-year-old boy starts crying for losing a game, he runs the risk of being bullied. There’s much more pressure to suppress the tears than there is for a girl.”