Francine has a bone to pick with her boyfriend. Eddie comes home haggard and stressed, night after night, unwilling to share the drama that’s obviously going on at his office. When she asks him how he’s feeling, rather than welcoming her concern, she senses that he tenses up. Eddie’s face seems to turn to stone as he grunts, “I don’t want to talk about it.” If she badgers him further, he turns his head away, becomes absorbed in the newspaper, and withdraws all eye contact—leaving Francine feeling left out in the cold and probably angry.
This scenario repeats itself night after night in millions of households. Yet it might help to understand that whereas a cardinal rule for female nonverbal behavior is, “Thou shalt be animated,” one of the Ten Commandments of masculinity is, “Thou shalt not be vulnerable.” Rather than revealing their emotions on their faces, men have learned to internalize them. They mask.
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Face management is paramount to many men. It is the corollary to control, and control is a bedfellow to power. The male monotonic face conveys: “You can’t move me, you can’t shake me; I’ll decide if I let you in (and I probably won’t). I’ll decide who is in control of my emotions.” The masked man is a mystery. Does that mean men don’t have feelings? Of course not. But they don’t show their emotions. Whether in a business situation or a marital dispute, a man’s stone face can become incendiary.
The male lack of eyebrow activity is a case in point. Whereas the brow lift is an integral element of a woman’s nonverbal repertoire, its absence is part of a man’s monotonic face—nothing moves. Men report the political value of this kind of facial management: It prevents anyone from knowing what they think and feel, which although detrimental to interpersonal relationships is often key to survival on a job. They don’t want to let others see that they’re afraid or doubting themselves. It behooves men in the workplace (but rarely in intimate relations) to hide their true emotions. As one man explained, “If everyone really knew what you thought or felt about your job, you wouldn’t have it.”
Indeed, men can keep a straight face when something strikes them funny, they can hide attraction to another woman when their wives are present, and they can suppress anger at their bosses. To do this, they substitute, de-emphasize or neutralize their facial expressions.