Home > Daily Struggles, Moron Management > What Are Tears For?

What Are Tears For?

You absolutely must read these two posts:
Tara at Aetiology writes about There’s No Crying in Academia!
Her post was inspired by Am I A Woman Scientist? who wrote That Little Sucker Just Saved Your Life.


Both posts are about crying in the workplace – women do, men don’t (usually). Men think women are weak when they do. But women are usually crying not because they feel weak, but because they are frustrated and/or angry. Am I A Woman Scientist? writes:

I have cried once in a professional setting, and come close to crying twice. All three times, it was a stress release, because I was quite close to punching someone in the mouth…In hindsight, I wonder why I didn’t just walk away… maybe that’s why women end up crying… the stress gets so high that, instead of just walking away like we should, we loosen the one stress valve that won’t get us arrested for assault.

I think women’s crying is a healthier response to stress and anger than punching something (or someone), or bottling it up inside until it comes out somewhere else (at home? take it out on the wife and kids?) But it isn’t acknowledged as what it is, a display of anger and frustration, like throwing a chair or a punch. Instead we get told we are displyaing weakness. Which is a clever bit of propaganda, because it’s another way to deflect and hide the reality of women’s rage. Women’s rage, you see, is not supposed to exist, especially not women’s rage at men. So, (1) it must not be displayed in forms that we commonly acknowledge as markers of rage and frustration, and (2) when it is displayed, we will label it weakness.
One of Tara’s commenters suggests that a good way to keep from crying, if that’s what you want to do, is to keep your chin up -literally. That raising your chin keeps you from crying. It’s also a more defiant posture, which is maybe a good thing to adopt when someone is lecturing you, as Am I A Woman Scientist’s advisor was doing at the time that she cried. You know that line from a Suzanne Vega song: “They only hit until you cry; after that you don’t ask why.” Once she started crying he quit lecturing her on her bad behavior as a student. Once they think they’ve broken you they stop; they don’t realize that at that point you still want to strangle them. Anyway, the chin up thing may enable you to keep your composure, if that’s what you want to do, until you can think of what you want to say or do to the moron in front of you.

  1. Laura
    February 15, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    If I were a square on a Monopoly board, I would be Water Works. I cry all the time, about even trivial things — not because they get to me, exactly; crying seems to be one of my first responses to stress. This happened a lot to me in school: I’d tear up if a teacher called on me and I didn’t know the answer; I’d tear up if I suddenly realized I hadn’t studied for a test. I think most of my public tears are due to embarassment and surprise, being caught with my guard down.
    I have cried in front of a professor once, almost cried in front of a few others (I’m sure they could tell I was upset, but I held it in until I could flee to the bathroom). The real breakdown came when I had missed a test and had to meet with the prof, who I didn’t think would let me make it up. I was worried about failing the class with a zero for a test grade. The almost-breakdowns came from academic advisors who were criticizing me for various issues I had with projects, research, etc. In all of those cases I felt that I should have done better, and was mad at myself and felt ashamed and kind of worthless.
    I’ve graduated at now work as a tech in a research lab, where I have cried in front of my (male) boss once. He asked me to come talk about something completely innocuous in his office, and I was going through a hard time in my personal life, coincidentally. I became convinced that he was going to yell at me for something, and as such I was really on edge when I walked in. He started asking me questions about work and I just lost it. It was embarassing, but he didn’t seem to make a big deal out of it. I don’t think he knew how to react, so we kind of cut our meeting short and never spoke of it again.
    I try really hard to control my emotions in professional situations, but I’m one of those people who wears their feelings all over their face, and I do wonder if this will end up hurting me.

  2. Karen
    February 15, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Fury, fear, and frustration have all made me cry at one time or another. When I’m feeling these very strong emotions, I can’t NOT cry. Men are not good at interpreting this well, though my saying “ignore the tears, it’s something I can’t control, but I’m still thinking straight” seems to help.

  3. February 15, 2007 at 6:29 pm
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