Estargel.” (Man up.)
“Enshaf.” (Be tough.)
“Mat’ayatsh.” (Don’t cry.)
These are all expressions that most men in Egypt grow up hearing. Imposing a sense of emotional paralysis, men are expected to be tough, dependable, emotionless, and strong.
Between cultural norms and gender stereotypes, many Egyptian men criticized how society labels men who express any kind of emotion as childish or feminine. Others highlighted that, in Egyptian culture, vulnerability and sensitivity are traits mainly associated with women, and women are often associated with weakness.
Childhood: between upbringing and schooling
Discipline begins at home, and follows in school. In Egypt, upbringing is sometimes the root of the problem. When boys are young, many of them look up to their fathers as ideal male figures. They grew up in a home with no emotions. It is impacting their whole life.
Many grew up in cold-hearted relationships with their parents. With baba (father), there were zero emotions, with mama (mother), only a little more. Not seeing their dad expressing anything positive to them or mama. They’ve never seen hugging their parents for example.
Since the repression of men’s emotions is frequently encouraged in everyday life, the cycle continues from one generation to the next. Fathers who never hug their children raise boys who are told not to show tears or verbalize vulnerability.
Almost every male child was told that they should not cry. It was treated as a weakness. ’You’re grown up now, almost a man. And men do not cry.’ In our formative years, this encouragement to suppress some of the most basic feelings like wanting to cry leads to an inexperience or unfamiliarity with emotions which almost assuredly stunts emotional growth. This leaves men with an inability to digest and process more complex or compound feelings.
Meanwhile, many Egyptian households use the silent treatment to deal with conflicts and arguments. With no communication or confrontation, suppressed emotions accumulate with neither the parents nor the children coping with them the healthy way. In many cases, this causes defensiveness, stress, and anger management issues.
Egyptian culture teaches men to be aggressive in order to survive.
“In pre-school, the male teachers’ responses to boys crying were ‘man up’ , ‘don’t cry like girls’, or ‘a’yotaa’ (crybaby). Even if a boy likes a girl, if his classmates find out, they will keep shaming and making fun of him, so it’s top secret when you love a girl in elementary or middle school. You should never talk about your emotions in front of them or you will be labeled as gay or ‘tary’ (soft).
In Egypt, many schoolboys are bullied for crying. The bullying is not intentional, but rather bullies have been raised to think that any show of emotions — namely crying— is not tolerated and can be used against them. Although crying is deemed unacceptable for young boys, anger on the other hand, which can be dangerous, is lauded as masculine in many cases.
You grow up your whole life learning that men don’t show emotions because that is weak or unmanly or childish, or frequently go even further and say sexist things like ‘don’t be like a woman’ or [other] homophobic remarks. So in order to feel accepted, you learn from a young age to repress your emotions and that you are not to express anything but explosive anger.”
As boys grow up and get into relationships, they are confronted with the opposite sex. And since communication has been hailed as the key to the success of any relationship, many men struggle to reveal their emotions to their partners, in fear of being judged or looked down upon.
June, an Egyptian girl’s tweet about healthy expressions of emotions from men went viral. In the tweet, she described her happiness when her partner discards his ego and expresses his feelings openly with her. A tsunami of negative replies from Egyptian men followed her tweet, describing what she said as “a trap”, and advising fellow men not to “fall for this”. These men’s replies maintained that women were part of the problem since they see men’s tears as weakness, rather than candor.
Navigating societal pressure
Replacing sadness with dark humor is another way of hiding unpleasant emotions. Although humor is a form of expression, many men use it to hide how they truly feel or how they are being affected by an experience
Between financial burdens, grief, failed relationships, and career struggles, Egyptian men are often expected to swallow their pride and show no sign of weakness.
Although many complain that Egyptian society pressurizes women, it is also a main cause of toxicity and trauma for men. Our society is a source of pressure for both genders. Fortunately, with increasing awareness of the importance of therapy, many men have started to reach out for help to learn to express themselves and be comfortable in communicating their inner feelings.