Masculinities and emotional expression in UK servicemen: “Big boys don’t cry”?

Lauren McAllister, Lisa Fellin, Callaghan Jane

Research output: Contribution to Specialist PublicationArticle


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.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Specialist publicationJournal of Gender Studies
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2018


  • Military
  • servicemen
  • mental health
  • emotion
  • masculinities


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