Last night, at a meeting about women and leadership, a friend of mine told a story about her daughter, who is seven and who ran from a party because the boys made her cry. I tried to remember if that ever happened to me. There were certainly times that I cried in social situations, but it was not because the boys picked on me.
Most of the jobs I have had have been traditionally held by men, or my competition was with men. At least, when I had the job, I was either the first woman to do it, or the only woman in a senior position in whatever the job was. Just to be clear, this is not a blob about how fortunate I was to be allowed to be one of the guys, because I was never one of them. And there was a reason for that – aside from the physical realities. When I got angry or frustrated, I cried. There was never a time that I saw any of my male colleagues cry about something that had to do with the job. The simple truth is that girls cry and, for the most part, boys don’t.
The first time I realized that there was a difference between the men and me, was at an event in Dallas when I was advancing a candidate through the Texas State Fair. The police (and police in Texas are all over six feet tall and weight 300 pounds – at least that’s what they looked like from where I stood), insisted that we had to walk in one direction, while I wanted to take the candidate a different way. It was a typical and ridiculous campaign situation, but I was tired and overwrought and eventually the confrontation ended when I dissolved in tears and they reluctantly agreed to do what I asked.
At the end of the day, when I was relaxing with the ‘boys’, one of them commented about my ability to get my way because I cried. And then went on to ask if, when I was a kid, any boys picked on me and made me cry. “No, they didn’t and couldn’t,” I said. And it was true. Boys couldn’t pick on me and make me cry. If I was aggravated or mad and I couldn’t find a way to express myself, the tears would come—but not because anyone called me names.
After that, and throughout my varied careers I would tell my male colleagues that if I started to cry, they should ignore it and keep talking, or yelling, at or about me, and eventually I would stop. But I didn’t want them to make accommodations because I was weeping—it seemed an unfair advantage.
Tears may be the one thing that separates men from women in professional situations. You hardly ever see a man sitting head on desk weeping unabashedly. And maybe women run into the ‘ladies’ room to do their crying – but everyone in the office knows where and what they are doing. It is never a secret. And I’m sure that there are other differences that have to do with attitude and upbringing –like guys can lose millions of dollars in a business they started and just move on to the next business, while women take it as a personal loss and sometimes never recover. Crying is the way we move on. Crying is the one element that cannot be controlled. And the unfortunate thing is that tears (especially in business) are considered a weakness, when, in fact they are often a strength. There should be no shame in tears. They are a sign that someone feels strongly about something, and that the person is feeling and compassionate.
There are women who work extra hard at composure, they feel that tears in a professional situation are inappropriate. They often don’t give a damn about other women (caring is also considered a weakness). These are the same people who think that ambition, (the new word for feminism) is something negative. None of this makes any sense to me. Women who are smart and talented should care about other women and should absolutely make sure they have the opportunities they deserve. It’s what men do all the time. They come by it honestly—they played on teams and it was always fun to make the girls cry. It’s what they’ve done all their lives. It’s why corporate America, is a boys club. I’d say it’s time for a change and time to opt for women’s tears, humanity and ambition. Time to realize these are stellar qualities and are an asset in whatever a woman choses to do --certainly nothing to be ashamed about. We’re just sayin’… Iris