Belfast Telegraph

Men who mock sobbing Andy Murray do damage to their own sons

By Jane Graham

We really need to look at the way we bring up our young men. Last weekend, the once infamously awful British Davis Cup tennis team enjoyed a historic victory over tournament favourites France. What's remarkable is that it was almost entirely down to one player, who'd just come out of an exhausting Wimbledon run, but was pushed to take part in every match possible.

By the end of his third match in three days, Andy Murray was dragging his six-foot frame around the court with the energy of an old cart-horse lugging a cast iron carriage. Every sinew in his neck strained. His eye sockets were as dark as wells.

When he won the point - oh, yes, he still won; he won every match - he slumped in his seat, bowed his head and had a little sob. Probably triggered by exhaustion and a touch of emotional swell.

This was the climax of a performance verging on the superhuman. Which, within minutes, inspired fans on social media, as well as a sports radio text line, to label Murray's display "shameful" - because he cried at the end.

Murray was "an obnoxious crybaby", a "pubertal 15-year-old", an "embarrassment". No matter that he had just displayed the stamina and fortitude of an Olympic colossus; for some, that brief exposure of vulnerability was inexcusable.

It's easy to write off Murray's critics as petty-minded, knuckle-dragging fools. The problem is that there are quite a few men out there (and, yes, judging by their names, the nature of the forums they frequent and basic common sense, I'm assuming they're all blokes) who feel discomfort with any male display of emotional frailty.

They squirm at the thought of it. They regard it as a humiliating capitulation to feminine instincts that real men rise above. And they are passing on these harmful notions to their sons.

I've just come back from a week at CenterParcs, my own capitulation to years of pleading from my children. Actually, secretly, I surprised myself by enjoying it enormously. But I did observe a worrying number of men behaving ridiculously.

CenterParcs is a hive of adrenalin-rushing activities and tests of ability, many of which - shooting, quad-biking, paintball - are generally regarded as masculine preserves.

Thus, it brings out the worst in silly men. I saw a furious father berate his nervous prepubescent son for "being shown up" by a girl who bettered his archery score. I watched a fat, red-faced dad push his scared skinny kid down a vertical slide in the pool, telling him not to be "pathetic".

Meanwhile, little girls squealed with pleasure while their parents held them gently in the water, or cheered on their efforts on the field, even when they turned their backs on speeding balls, ran away from bigger opponents, or fell off their bikes.

We know girls are under ludicrous pressure when it comes to their appearance.

And lots of us are on a mission to challenge those decades-old norms. But the pressure for boys to behave a certain way, to deny fear, sadness or weakness, is just as damaging.

What some men assure us is harmless banter, rolling their eyes when protective mums tell them to "go easy", is simply bullying. It doesn't result in an army of brave, self-contained giants; it creates a bunch of lonely, angry human facades, who look tough and act tough. Until something goes wrong and they crumple like torched paper dolls.

Some will mess up their own families. Some, their depression noted, will get lucky and be helped back to a fighting mental health.

And a tragic few will take their own lives - still the most common cause of death in British men under 35. How embarrassing.

A poor excuse for election strategy

This week, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman instructed party members not to oppose Tory welfare cuts which punish people in low-paid work, single parents, aspiring under-25-year-olds and those who dedicate themselves to caring for ill or disabled loved ones.

With murmurs of discontent in the ranks, Tony Blair stuck his tuppence in to support Harman, telling the party if they moved to the Left (ie stuck up for too many unlucky, disadvantaged folk), they'd keep losing elections. It seems the party's only idea is to chase Conservative voters, rather than lure Left-leaning non-voters. The red flag is flying sorrowfully at half-mast today.

Disabled people must not feel alone

Melanie Reid, the revered journalist who was paralysed after a riding accident five years ago, said this week when she realised the extent of her disability, she offered her husband the choice to leave her for "someone who could make love to him, someone who could walk with him. Instead of just a lump of meat". He told her not to be "so bloody stupid" and stayed.

He's obviously a decent chap, but what's most striking is how burdensome Reid felt, how her guilt led her to such a painful self-sacrifice.

This may be the hardest battle disabled people face; fighting it with them should be a priority for any caring society.

Belfast Telegraph

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