Masculinities and emotional expression in UK Servicemen: 'Big boys don't cry'?



McAllister L, Callaghan J & Fellin LC (2019) Masculinities and emotional expression in UK Servicemen: 'Big boys don't cry'?. Journal of Gender Studies, 28 (3), pp. 257-270.

Dominant discourses of military servicemen position them as more prone to psychological damage than the general population, but as reluctant to seek psychological assistance, because of the military culture of ‘toughness’, a military masculinity, that values stoicism, emotional control and invulnerability and implicitly excludes ‘feminine’ characteristics like emotionality. This is seen as a barrier to military personnel seeking help, by implicitly discouraging emotional disclosure and expression. This article presents an analysis of semi-structured interviews with six male military and ex-military personnel, focused on their experience and understandings of emotion, emotional expression and ‘mental health’ in the military. The dominant construction of military masculinity certainly renders some forms of emotion inexpressible within certain contexts. However, we argue that the construct is more complex than a simple exclusion of the ‘feminine’ and the ‘emotional’. We explore how the highly masculine notions of military solidarity and 'brotherhood' create a ‘safe’ masculine space within which men could share their emotional experiences, but also highlight how this space for emotional expression is relatively constrained. We argue that these notions of solidarity and brotherhood open a space for emotional connection and expression that must be respected and worked with creatively, in therapeutic and other interventions.

military; masculinity; emotion; mental health; combat

Journal of Gender Studies: Volume 28, Issue 3

Publication date31/12/2019
Publication date online12/02/2018
Date accepted by journal15/01/2018
PublisherTaylor and Francis

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Professor Jane Callaghan

Professor Jane Callaghan

Director Child Wellbeing & Protection, Social Work