January 21, 2010

On being a woman who cries

Posted in Feminism, Gender issues, Personal at 1:57 pm by The Lizard Queen

I am a crier.  I cry when I’m sad; I cry when I’m happy.  I cry when I’m angry, or frustrated, or feeling shame, or just plain overwhelmed.  Movies make me cry.  Books make me cry.  I cry at things that are touching; I have to leave the room when those freaking ASPCA commercials come on TV.  I cry when someone I care about cries.  Catch me on the right day and I might cry if I’m good and startled, the way an infant will.  It’s what I do.

I have also been accused on numerous occasions, primarily by men, that my tears are manipulative, like I’m crying in front of them just to get my way, or to make them feel bad, to get attention, or… I don’t even know, really.  At any rate, I’ve been accused of being manipulative for crying.  Which, honestly, is almost funny to me—or would be if it weren’t so bloody irritating, if it didn’t reflect such an apparent profound misunderstanding of who I am and what I do—because believe you me, if I could make it so that I only cried in private, by myself, I would make that change in a heartbeat.  In addition to the accusations of manipulation, there’s the social narrative that tears = weakness, so apparently these folks are willing to believe that I (and other criers) are thinking, “Hey, so I get to appear manipulative and weak and puffy-faced?  Awesome!  Sign me up!”

All that said, then, I really, really appreciated Amanda’s take-down of this article by Spencer Morgan in the New York Observer.  A sampling:

Of course, one thing that makes the whole “crying is nothing but manipulation” nonsense have even more traction is that women undeniably cry a lot more than men.  That makes it easier for ungenerous men, and some women, to chalk crying up to female inferiority—either women are manipulative bitches who are only pretending to be that sad, or they’re hormonal messes who can’t be trusted to handle the grown-up world.  That a lot more men are likely to blow up in rage and scream and yell to the point where everyone’s uncomfortable isn’t taken as evidence that men are inferior or overly emotional, I’ll note.  But I have special hate for the notion that crying is something that women can and should have more control over.  When people take nasty swipes like Morgan’s, I want to ask them if they can drop and start crying right now, to prove to me how much it’s a matter of will and not reflex.

The whole thing is very much worth the read.  And furthermore, I think the comments thread is well worth reading, as well, especially if your reaction to what I am or Amanda is saying here is something along the lines of, “But, but—bitchez be crazy!”  (Though you can maybe stop after the first hundred or so; somewhere around 125 a dude—apparently a relatively regular commenter, from what I gathered—comes in to try to mansplain things in earnest with the argument that crying is basically just not something Grown Ups do unless they have a properly Grown Up reason for doing so, and it’s pretty painful to watch.)



  1. DavidD said,

    I was with you for two paragraphs on this one, as someone who cried enough as a child to actually hear, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” and know it wasn’t an idle threat, as someone who started crying again at movies in my thirties and now cry almost as easily as you do. Unless people use the actor’s trick of pulling out a nose hair to make themselves cry, no one cries voluntarily. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant and arrogant. Why isn’t that simply a scientific fact?

    My answer to that is long with many references to our emotional and cognitive evolution and to how psychiatrists wrongly once talked about babies being manipulative in wanting their mother, instead of just crying because they needed to cry, as we all do, except those who have turned off their talent for crying.

    I understand why others have simpler answers. It’s that same emotional and cognitive evolution that makes people as biased as they are in ridiculing crying. Other people use their own bias to ridicule those who ridicule crying, whether that bias is towards overintellectualizing everything, oversimplifying everything, overgeneralizing everything, overpersonalizing everything. Still I was surprised that anyone oversimplifies this to the point of claiming it is mere sexism.

    Nothing is more sexist here than Amanda’s claim that men aren’t judged for blowing up. Of course they are. Both genders are, as both genders are judged for tears. I’ve been labeled a lot more for my anger (I’m reminded of how I was called “impudent” once.) than I have for tears, but I’ve had plenty of both. I remember when my boss wanted to talk to me about a patient reporting to him that I had teared up as I gave her some bad news. He had already decided I must be depressed before talking to me about it, already decided what must be done, never considered that this was mere empathy. That’s our culture, where both men and women in authority are expected to know everything going on around them, even if that means making poorly informed decisions that their “gut” tells them are right. Oh heaven forbid that we are ever confused enough to need to ask for more facts than we already have, like this boss of mine needed when it came to how empathy can make a healthy person cry, like Amanda does about her subjects. I didn’t even try to tell my boss what I was really feeling. His mind was made up, no matter how ignorantly and arrogantly I thought it was. I haven’t found women to be better than men on this point. They might be with respect to crying, but certainly not with respect to anger or other things. It’s not sexist. It’s human.

    It might be pointless for me to object to anyone disposing of the judgments our culture makes against emotion as mere sexism, when my whole life tells me it’s much more than that. Still I’m doing that here. I could suppress it. If my life depended on it, I could skip writing this, as I could suppress most of my emotions and tears if the consequences of showing them were sufficiently negative. Evolution has given us both the emotions and the ability to suppress them, because there’s advantage in both.

    There have been times in my life when I had emotions I couldn’t suppress, though, like when Roger Rabbit just had to sing out, “Two bits!” Both men and women have punished me for those, as self-righteously as our culture told them they could. The messages aren’t exactly the same for both genders, but they’re similar. Be like us. Don’t think what you think and absolutely don’t feel what you feel.

    It’s not sexism. It’s about intimacy regardless of gender. I’d rather have intimacy than be a Grown Up. Oh, that’s a hard and complicated lesson. And people would still punish me if they could, despite my having learned it, because they’re whatever version of Grown Up that they are and want me to be the same. I don’t cry about that any more. I’ve almost gotten past my anger over it. I don’t expect an average human being to understand either one. If they did, they wouldn’t expect me to be like them.

    • cikpiah said,

      I guess its just normal to cry besides it is healthy..
      I cry when angry,on the movies,someone died, if Im hurt

    • douginator said,

      Wow, a lot to rise up and think about. Thank you for your comment, David.

      I really got a lot out of this.


  2. To me, crying just happens- you can’t force it or try to control it. We all deal with emotions differently, and for some people crying is just more common. Personally, I agree with you about those ASPCA commercials. Pedigree commercial too. I think dogs are my weakness; when something unfortunate happens to a dog, I’m a mess.

  3. brknhrt75 said,

    I’m a crier too. Dogs get me, but so does anything about kids in peril.

    I hate being a crier. I do feel that it makes me look weak and a little too emotionally uncontrollable. Especially when I’m discussing something with someone and I just start crying. It annoys the crap out of me.

    Anyway, good post. 🙂

  4. lyshira said,

    I remember crying in grade 4 at school. I was so upset that I told myself that no one would see me cry again.

    Later in my 20’s, I was in a particularly bad situation and I pretended to cry. I was amazed at the remorseful results. I still moved and got an unlisted number.

    I wish that I could be more connected with my feelings and be able to cry.

  5. I am a crier when I get angry. The whole, crying = weakness thing…I understand perfectly and it just makes me angrier. It’s a vicious cycle.

  6. Lola said,

    my eyes get watery when i laugh so it looks like i’m crying & laughing at the same time, people think i’m totally insane.

  7. That’s an interesting subject. I found that I cried a lot when I was a teenager and in my 20s, and now I just don’t feel like it anymore. I’m not purposely surpressing anything, I just think as one matures their feelings aren’t as confusing or new.

    Staci Layne Wilson

  8. I cried lastnight from rereading My Horizontal Life! The M&M story got me. I tend to cry not really from being sad, I cry alot when I laugh (oh Chelsea Handler!), but I cry most when I’m frustrated. When I’m mad about a situation and there’s nothing I can do to change it. That makes me cry.

    Plus just about every movie ever made. Whether it be becuase it’s simply so beautiful, sad or….pretty much anything.

    I’ll cry. (But to keep me balanced, I laugh ALOT!)


  9. Interesting post and comment thread. For me, crying’s an odd thing: I’ve never really been an easy or regular cryer, even when young. But now I’ve hit the middle ages I find that I cry more and more, sometimes even at something on the news. I don’t know anyone who thinks crying is a sign of weakness or is manipulative. But thanks for provoking some thinking on this. Cheers, Nigel.

  10. 0cigsfor365 said,

    The other day I cried on the treadmill. WTF? Isn’t that when your endorphins are being mass produced? I share your sentiments on crying.
    Check out my blog. We probably have a lot more in common: http://0cigsfor365.wordpress.com/

  11. jingle said,

    crying is your way of expressions,
    have FUN shedding tears.

  12. douginator said,

    Welcome to the human race. I too do some of these things.

    Great read, and thank you!

  13. fluctuater said,

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  14. loladahl10 said,

    Is like reading about myself.
    It seems like I care about things too much… But when I find myself crying about Rachel, from Friends, breaking up with Ross (and noticing this is the 10th time I watch that episode), I have to ask myself, am I caring too much? Really?
    My eyes need to water themselves constantly. That’s my theory.

  15. Funny Writer said,

    You brought tears to my eyes…or maybe it was the ASPCA commercial – anyway, I cried.

  16. […] to think I handle myself well in emergency situations, but I’m also completely neurotic, a consummate crier, and easily startled.  These are not ideal qualities in a first […]

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