This week Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary will be hosting an on-line discussion about Anne Kreamer’s book, It’s Always Personal: Emotion In The New Workplace. In her column this week, Singletary begins with a confession of sorts. ”I’ve cried on the job. Many times.”
She describes being reduced to tears while working at a newspaper whose editor consistently treated African-American employees unfairly: “I did most of my weeping in the restroom because I didn’t want the editor to see me cry. Even now, the memories of working with that supervisor still sting.”
I have similar memories. My first boss liked to belittle and verbally abuse her female assistants (the male ones, not so much). When she was on a tear, I often retreated to what the other assistants called “the crying room”, the floor’s one private bathroom with a door that locked. It was our safe haven when we needed to blow off some steam by having a good cry. I mostly recall us crying because we were angry and frustrated, as opposed to sad or hurt, but we were still secretive about it, especially me. MamaSharper impressed on me early on not to cry in public—partly, I think, because she was raised in a WASP family with the usual deep-seated WASP dislike of emotionality, but also because she knew women’s tears always counted against them in our culture, especially in the workplace.
Singletary says in her column:
One of the many pieces of advice you hear about working is to never let your boss see you cry, especially if you’re a woman, even if your boss is a woman. But is this advice still relevant? Can women cry and still be taken seriously?
I’d argue that women’s public displays of strong emotion are nearly always going to be used against us, including tears. And when it comes to women’s tears versus men’s tears, there’s an especially vexing double standard. House Speaker John Boehner’s waterworks are treated as a reassuring sign that the dour old hardass is secretly a nice guy but if Nancy Pelosi had cried in public as often as he did she’d have been reviled as too soft for the Speaker’s job (of course, because she was as tough-talking as her male predecessors she was reviled as a ball-busting harpy. Can’t. Win.) The last thing I need is to be thought of as a hysterical female, so I keep a tight leash on my emotions while in the office. I recently slipped up, though.
A few months back, after an especially horrible week of family trouble—the culmination of an especially horrible year of family trouble—a client of mine whom I was enormously fond of died suddenly. My assistant and I were trying to sort out how to proceed with her existing contracts when I choked up and then, much to my shock, completely lost it. My assistant swiftly closed the door, which made me feel even worse—proof I was sobbing in public!—but she was nothing but sympathetic, and even brought me some flowers the next day. Still, I was deeply relieved that I hadn’t burst into tears in a meeting or while dealing with a client. I still feel mortified remembering it, which makes me worry that I’m becoming one of those people who thinks suppressing her emotions is a good thing.
Kreamer’s research for It’s Always Personal concluded that:
Women cry on the job more than men. Forty-one percent of women said they have cried at work, compared with just 9 percent of men. But because women are often embarrassed when the tears come, they are also the most critical of workplace weeping, Kreamer’s research shows. And yet, she says just about every woman she spoke with during her research admitted to having cried at work. And they all wished they hadn’t.
“In spite of all the benefits of tears, our culture has negative, unaccommodating attitudes toward public crying,” she writes.
Is this shame and negativity surrounding tears in the workplace something that should change? Can women cry and still be taken seriously in a society that already stereotypes us as weak and foolishly emotional? Have any of you ever cried at work and if so, were there negative repercussions?