Friday, January 28, 2011

Men Can Cry but Women (Still) Can’t

John Boehner crying to Boy George's The Crying...Image by deepsignal via FlickrUnless you have been hibernating since last fall, you have heard stories about House Speaker John Boehner shedding tears. John Boehner’s crying on election night and on 60 Minutes even prompted this Jon Stewart spoof.

And we can’t help but laugh.

After all, Boehner is a self-professed emotional man. He’s comfortable with his own tears, so why shouldn’t we be comfortable as well?

Emotions demonstrate passion. I, for one, would rather see a leader express emotion by crying rather than pounding fists on tables, raging, or swearing. Crying is a softer expression of emotion, and one that is usually associated with women.

But there is no doubt in my mind that if Nancy Pelosi had teared up as she was trying to get the health care bill passed that it would have severely hampered her efforts. Chances are there would have been tirades and immediate calls for her to step down.

When Hillary Clinton shed a tear on the campaign trail in New Hampshire she was immediately accused of being too weak. Critics asked, “Is this how she’ll talk to Kim Jong-il?” Clinton's challenge during her presidential run was to demonstrate that she was tough enough, according to Anne Kornblut in Notes From the Cracked Ceiling. She couldn’t afford to let her guard down. Clinton’s tears were certainly as genuine as Boehner’s, and gave us a rarely seen glimpse at a softer side of her.

Does our acceptance of Boehner’s tears this mean that we are ready to embrace our female leaders crying in public?

I think not. It’s exactly because we associate tears with women that this discrepancy exists. While we view men who shed tears as having an emotional side (a good thing), we view women who shed tears as weak when we need them to be strong. What do you think?


Carol Kilgore said...

I think you're absolutely correct. Women have come a long way in the last 100 years, but we're not there yet.

Colette said...

We sure do!

Liza said...

I do think your point is right...but I wonder about Boehner. He cries SO much, more than a typical person regarless of gender, that it seems like something else could be going on...some kind of lack in any ability to control emotions. It reminds me in some way of the disease that makes people fall asleep mid-sentence. Nonetheless, tears demonstrate sensitivity and there's a important place for that in our world.

Colette said...

Liza, interesting -- I wonder if there is some kind of illness that could cause that. He is a bit over the top.

Stephen D said...

Let's give him some more time to see if this is a real predilection. I am of the persuasion that under ordinary circumstances tears from a public figure of either gender are not favorable to their image. That said, it is probably true that it would be less tolerated in a woman.

Colette said...

Yes, some readers have reminded me that 1. Muskie had a similar problem and it didn't bode well for him and 2. Women are also chastised for being too tough.

We'll see how Boehner is faring in a few months... and whether his emotions continue to swell.

One Womans Eye said...

Love this post Colette! I have been thinking the same thing. Tears come easily to me. But if I had choked in the middle of a presentation in my corporate days there would have been talk something along the line of she better toughen up. Now that John B is prone to tears we are supposed to accept them. And I'd like to, except I'm having trouble getting the double standard out of my head. Not to mention the fact that his tears seem to surge up out of nowhere, with no obvious cause and a little too frequently for one in the public spotlight. Which makes it hard to take him seriously.

Colette said...

Joanne, I've had my share of times when I really had to choke back the tears, but thankfully not too often at work.

Andree Santini said...