Thursday, March 5, 2015

Further Thoughts on Women Crying at Work

A female friend of mine who has worked both in and outside of the home had an interesting point about yesterday’s “Work, Tears, and the Commodity of Justice” post.

She said: “what always bothered me about the whole anti-crying mantra was that it’s ostensibly directed against losing control [and] letting one’s emotions get the better of them at work. Meanwhile, if some psycho throws a tantrum, screams, yells, etc. that’s not viewed as unfavorably as crying.” 


I couldn’t agree more, and it’s an interesting and subtle sign of misogyny in the workplace, when you think about it. 

I’ve advocated on this blog for the power of healthy crying (see prior post: "The Power of Crying," 11/1/14). But crying at work, specifically, comes with some unique psychological baggage, particularly for women working in a male-dominated field or workplace.

Many women, whether for biological reasons, sociological reasons, or some combination thereof, deal with anger and frustration through crying. I can recall an extremely stressful work experience over the summer where I was brought to the edge of tears/actual tears in a very public setting and was doing everything in my power not to completely break down. A male co-worker the same age as me who was going through the exact same work experience with me did a great job of talking me off the ledge, so to speak. He was stressed out too, for all of the same reasons. But I noticed how differently he handled an identical set of emotions. 


He was not at all critical of my tears; he was sympathetic. But it did make me think: why do I feel ashamed about my particular chosen expression of stress, when typically more “male” expressions of stress are not similarly criticized and urged to be suppressed?

I wrote yesterday that crying at work contributes to a sense of powerlessness and helplessness for women at work. Reflecting on the reasons for that, perhaps it’s because men are taught not to cry, and women working in a man’s world are taught to act like men in order to succeed.

I also wrote yesterday that I like to mentor young women and that I try not to do anything to ever make them cry. But I’ve also had young women professionals and law students cry in my office about various things, work-related and not. I don’t feel critical toward them when that happens; I feel sympathy, because I know that: (a) this is simply the way many women deal with frustration; and (b) we are all told we are not permitted to have that frustration, which sends us into a shame spiral of further tears. And in a way, I feel honored that some of these women are willing to experience real emotion in my presence. There are older female professionals that I go to for the same type of comfort.

Men, on the other hand (as my friend correctly points out), can throw a full-on temper tantrum with relative impunity. Those tantrums are viewed as an exercise of power, authority, leadership, and other attributes with positive connotations. A woman’s tantrum, however—even WITHOUT tears—is viewed as an unhinged bitch losing her shit and becoming hysterical. Indeed, the very word "hysterical" derives from the Latin word hystericus, meaning "of the womb," and hysteria was originally defined as "a neurotic condition particular to women caused by a dysfunction of the uterus." (See:http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hysterical).

To sum it all up: when a woman expresses frustration, with or without tears, she is hysterical, sick, weak, and belongs in an institution. When a man expresses frustration, he's just doing a really great job. 


I don’t know what the answer is. There probably isn’t one. But it’s an interesting dialogue and an interesting issue to cross the horizon of our collective feminist conscience.

1 comment:

  1. I see a lot of truth in this article. Thank you for validating women.

    ReplyDelete