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This Photographer Challenges Gender Stereotypes With Images of Men Crying, Women Laughing

“Showing emotion and leveling with the people around you only shows strength”

Maud Fernhout is a 19-year-old Dutch photographer with a penchant for people — not just men and women, nor the simple exterior versions of themselves. Fernhout is in it for her subject’s deepest thoughts and feelings.


Fernhout’s most recent project started as a written work on stereotypes, gender roles, the media and human rights, and quickly evolved into a contrasting series of photographs that speak for themselves: “What Real Men Cry Like” and “What Real Women Laugh Like.”

Aditya (19) I used to see myself as strong because I did not cry; now I feel weak because I cannot cry.

The two series of images are a compelling exploration of the human face conflicted with emotion, in that each one tells a similar story and evokes parallel emotion, but is complex in its identity.

What Real Men Cry Like” makes you wonder what it is that caused these men heartache. Some look more distraught than others; some could have been crying for hours, while others likely found it challenging to shed even a single tear.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Be a man.[/quote]

“How many of us have been told this or have spoken the words ourselves, and what does it even mean?” Fernhout writes, describing her motivation behind the series and how she hopes viewers will respond to the raw images. “Is being a man really suppressing your emotions; acting as if you do not have them (for example by not crying), even when others are not around?”

Job (18) For me, crying is not showing your weakness. When I cry, I can accept my feelings and I'm able to continue. It makes me stronger

“I think showing emotion and leveling with the people around you only shows strength and personality, not weakness,” she adds. “Though these photoshoots have often been challenging and have raised more controversy and discussion than the girls' version, I will forever cherish the meetings of souls I had with some of these guys.”

Fernhout says in the end it's not even about crying – the series is really all about opening up.

What Real Women Laugh Like” runs a similar narrative, Fernhout writes. In the series, each woman looks so effortlessly at ease, thrilled to be loosening up in the wake of something so hysterical, she was forced to close her eyes and let out a giggle.

Andrea (19) Jsem pyšná na to, že jsem št'astná. Jsem pyšná svůj smích. Jsem pyšná na to, že jsem žena. Proud to be happy. Proud to be human. Proud of my laughter. Proud to be a woman.

Of the series Fernhout says:

“It is in my experience rather 'normal' for girls to hate their laughs. They suppress it, especially in public occasions, or cover their mouths with their hands - something not very common with men. Just picture your brother, dad, or any other male figure in your life, laughing loudly with their hands in front of their faces. Exactly. I feel there is a discrepancy when girls are simultaneously told to smile, but not laugh. It makes us feel that teeth and wrinkles are not feminine, are not beautiful. Well, here are some girls who will show you different. Who will tell you different. Who have hopefully in joining this project told themselves different.”

The 19-year-old college student also acknowledges the titles of the project, as referring to the subjects as “real” men and women has not been shy of its critics. To that, she says, “There is no such thing as a ‘real’ man/woman, and the use of the word is merely symbolically; with the series I try to oppose the ‘real’ stereotype that is in place, showing that the opposite is ALSO ok, not ONLY. And in showing that the opposite is ok, I indirectly mean to address the fact that all expression of emotion is ok, and that gender stereotyping is the problem.”

Explore the images of the “Real Men” and “Real Women” and see for yourself if you can decipher what each portrait has to say. Check out Fernhout’s personal website for more of her photography.

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