Big girls don't cry
A couple of weeks ago, my best friend and I got into a disagreement. I won't say it was an argument- we almost never argue about anything. But I think this really caught her off-guard, because my own reaction caught me a little bit off-guard.
You may recall, because I think I blogged about it, that once upon a time I was accused of being a crier. You know, someone who cries a lot at work.
Ironically, at the time I did not cry much at all, and I have never been the sort who cries to try to get her way (or to get an A).
I thought my friend recalled this too, and that she would understand my feelings on the matter, partly because she's one of those people who has always made me feel loved unconditionally. I've always thought of her as a very understanding person.
So today when I ran across this link to the Society of Women Engineers magazine I happened to flip through it and found this article on pages 66-67 under the heading Career Toolbox.
And here is what reminded me of the disagreement with my friend:
Under a paragraph that begins, "is it okay to show emotion?" The authors say that tears are understandable when there has been a death in the family. But tears are not appropriate, they say, when an insult is directed at you, when a performance evaluation doesn't go well, etc (I'm paraphrasing but that's the gist of it).
My conversation with my friend revolved about her boss, who apparently has been bursting into tears a lot at work. My friend, uncharacteristically I thought, had neither patience nor respect for this behavior, and said as much.
I said, well, I think you're being a little unfair. Your company has been doing layoffs, morale is bad in general, but also you never know what else is going on in her life.
And then I told her I've been finding myself unable to not cry at work lately.
There was dead silence when I said this.
Eventually, she said, Well, the thing is that I can see how you might get blindsided by something really awful and not be able to control your reaction...
...and she trailed off. I said yeah, that's the thing. There are things every day... and I'm trying not to but it's just so unbelievably awful. And I can't leave yet... I'm just trying to get through the day without crying most days until I can leave. And I don't think I want to go on medication because I'm fine when I'm home. I'm fine when I'm anywhere else. I just can't leave yet. So I can imagine if your boss feels like that, I said.
And then I said something that I guess must have shocked her, which was that I don't really see the point in having a workplace where crying is forbidden, anyway.
Dead silence. This is not a good sign, when she's saying absolutely nothing at all.
Now I didn't mention this, but my friend is from a military family. I think this is part of why she believes it is, as the SWE women apparently do, inappropriate to display any kind of emotion in public. Unseemly.
But it was actually one of my male "mentors" who said he thought it should be fine to have emotions, even in science, and that you shouldn't have to bottle it up because it's not really healthy for anyone to do that.
Huh, I thought, at the time. In fact, I thought he was nuts.
But after I thought about it a while, I realized what he was getting at.
Because in a way, at the end of the day, it is just a rule that everybody agrees to follow.
I'm not sure it's a rule with a lot of functional purpose, or much data to back it up. Is it really better for productivity in the long run? Or morale? Isn't it just another way of preventing everyone from communicating about the issue of job satisfaction (or complete lack thereof)? Isn't it just another way of making sure that workplace behavior is mostly inauthentic posturing? And is that really the best way to be? Pretending all day that everything is okay?
Meanwhile, I've seen posts from some of my fellow bloggers, e.g. complaining about students who cry.
What do you think? Is crying in professional settings bad for everyone? Or is this just more of that cultural baggage that comes from a long tradition of male-domination in the workplace?