Before writing this article, I thought of all the times I’ve laughed, and realized that I too often cover my mouth when I do it. Where did this behaviour come from? I can only assume that because gender norms are so dictated to us by society, this response was yet another example of manufactured behaviour. Why do I do this?
My only thought is that I don’t want to show an ‘indecent’ part of myself — the inside of my mouth — and risk making people feeling uncomfortable. Or most likely, I don’t look good when I laugh, and therefore don’t live up to the beauty expectations society places on women.
How did I develop a behaviour to conceal something so natural as joy?
Men face similar pressure to conceal their emotions. Everybody cries (or at least has the ability to), and it’s an important emotional release that allows us to recover from grief or heartache more quickly. Yet we all contribute to these gender expectations, whether we acknowledge it or not, and we put these labels on ourselves, too. A man might judge another man for crying even when he knows he’s done the same, and even if he too was mocked for crying in front of someone. We perpetuate these cycles with each other, but we can also break them if we just choose to accept and love ourselves wholly and recognize that expressing ourselves, whether through an open mouthed laugh or a single tear, is a functional and beautiful part of being human.
The recent #metoo hashtag has helped uncover the sheer volume of sexual harassment, assault, and/or abuse that most women experience in their day-to-day lives. By coming forward and sharing their personal experiences, women can offer each other new perspectives, and shed light on those times when they weren’t sure an incident crossed the threshold of harassment. This is an example of breaking the cycle. Not only is this positively affecting and uniting women from all over, it’s also giving men a deeper look into the lived realities of the women around them.
While you could call this hashtag divisive, as something striving to pit women against men and blaming them as the perpetrators, I’d argue it’s the opposite. Men often feel ashamed to admit they have either witnessed harassment or experienced it themselves. And women aren’t asking for sympathy, we’re asking for accountability — and for change. It’s clear this issue is systemic, given the frequency of these experiences, so how can we fix it?
One way may be to view each and every individual as a valued being worthy of respect and love. This doesn’t come from how we treat others, however, but how we treat ourselves. We need to stop censoring our emotions.
19-year old photographer Maud Fernhout from the Netherlands decided to create a photo series about overcoming gender stereotypes. She created two photo projects — “What Real Men Cry Like” and “What Real Women Laugh Like” — and has outlined her goals for them:
With this project, I try to get people thinking about how we view gender and gender roles. Why do we tell men not to cry, but to ‘be a man’? And what does that even mean? Why do women cover their mouths when they laugh, and why is it so weird to imagine a man doing the exact same thing? I am not trying to tell anyone who or what to be. If you identify as ‘a man’ and don’t appreciate crying, then don’t do it. But if you do feel like wiping away a tear while watching the notebook and eating ice cream in bed, don’t let something as trivial as gender roles hold you back. And girls, let those teeth shine. Joy is beautiful, and so are you.
Check out our related CE articles, like These Beautiful Drawings Showcase How We Stereotype The Female Gender & Why We Need To Stop and These 4 ‘Ordinary’ Men Got Made Up & Photoshopped To Match The ‘Ideal’ Male Body.
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