This post is part of Scicurious's great idea to take a comprehensive look at an issue of Women's Health, and the advice offered therein for health, sex, love, dating, etc. I'm dealing with the article on Cry Babies, by Joel Stein, filed under Sex and Love.
My dad was a "life of the party" sort of guy, and the kind of dad you could count on to put down the camera and produce an oversized white handkerchief to mop up the blood from your freshly gashed knee on the way into church on First Communion day. He might forget to straighten your veil, which would be crooked in the photos, but he would comfort and calm you, stop the bleeding, and make sure you could go on with the procession into church.
Only once in my life did I see my dad cry.
Years of an ongoing family trauma had wrested tears from him. I was so shocked and embarrassed to catch him unawares in his private grief that I backed out of the room without a word, though I went downstairs and alerted my mother to the disconcerting state of affairs. More alarming still, she seemed unsurprised - so he had done this before, in this same way. It was only a few years later that he died, officially of a heart attack brought on by black lung disease, though privately many of us felt the cause was overwhelming grief.
Dad was a Johnny Cash fan. As a teenager, I naturally thought Johnny Cash was completely for losers, though I did chuckle along with Dad when Johnny sang "A Boy Named Sue".
And he said: "Son, this world is rough
And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
And I know I wouldn't be there to help you along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
And it's the name that helped to make you strong."
Years later I've come to appreciate Johnny Cash more than I did as a callow youth, and lately have been listening to the American Recordings and subsequent albums a lot. American Recordings includes a cover of Loudon Wainwright's "The Man Who Couldn't Cry".
The audience thinks this song is hilarious but Johnny does not look like he is laughing.
Writer Joel Stein is a satirist, of sorts, and he has offered up a satire on men and crying for Women's Health readers. But as Margaret Atwood's Offred observes in The Handmaid's Tale, "Context is all." Women's Health readers likely are not used to encountering satire in their Sex and Love columns, as the comments on the online version of Stein's article suggest. If you browse some of the other articles in the Sex and Love category you will find that Stein's satire is indeed completely out of context. "The Romance Paradox" purports to give useful advice to women who want to have their career and a man who will open doors for them, too - you can blame it on biology! " Same Guy, Better Sex" tells you why your relationship hotness fizzles after two years (hint: evolution!) and what to do about it. "Candid Dating Tips" is a short video of hot guys telling you how to text your dude and turn him on, without irritating him.
In this context, Stein's smartass satire makes no sense. In fact, if he did his research on the mag, as a writer would generally do before submitting a piece to a publication, one way of reading his satire is as a giant fuck you to the editors and readers of Women's Health. He's basically satirizing everything that is published in their pages.
A dirty little secret is being kept by many smart, independent women: In relationships, they'd prefer not to wear the pants. In fact, they long for their men in love to kick it old-school by, say, opening the car door, picking up the dinner tab (at least in the early days of dating), and eventually, asking Dad's permission for their hand in marriage. Because while women say they want an emotional dude, a man who displays his feelings too readily will turn off many women because he appears feeble...At the very least, we need women to stop giving us mixed messages.
Can you tell which parts came from "The Romance Paradox" and which parts from "Cry Babies"? They kinda fit nicely together.
If you write a satire that is a pastiche of every gender stereotype ever about men and crying, then publish it in the Sex and Love section of Women's Health, you end up with FAIL, because nearly everything already published there is trite, cliched, full of stereotypes, and calculated to reinforce existing heteronormative gender relationships while purporting to support your Modern Working Girl Liberated Lifestyle (Secretly Longing For A White Knight To Rescue You From The Hell That Is Your Daily Grinding Existence Of Wage Slavery).
Who knows what a truthful, useful column about men and crying in the Sex and Love section of Women's Health would look like? It could talk about the ways in which men are expected to suppress their tears, and how they learn to do so from the earliest ages ("be a little man, son! it doesn't hurt that bad!"). Or maybe it could take that last comment on the Cry Babies article as a starting point:
My boyfriend cries waaaaay too much. I feel like he only does it when it's going to either get him something he wants or to prevent something negative from happening (like me breaking up with him).
and talk about the ways in which some men do deploy tears strategically in relationships, as a mechanism of control.
Personally, I think Women's Health readers would be better off listening to Johnny Cash, and asking themselves why the audience thinks the line "In jail he was beaten, bullied and buggered" is so fucking hilarious. There's a world of information about men and crying right there for the asking, if only we'd pay attention.