[Paleopsych] NYT: Big Girls Don't Cry
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Sat Oct 15 01:16:13 UTC 2005
Big Girls Don't Cry
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM
WHEN women first joined the executive ranks of corporate America a
generation ago, they donned sober slacks and button-down shirts. They
carried standard-issue briefcases and adopted their male colleagues'
More than two decades later, women have stopped trying to behave like
men, trading in drab briefcases for handbags and embracing men's wear
only if it is tailored to their curves. Yet there is one taboo from
the earlier, prefeminist workplace that endures: women are not allowed
to cry at the office. It is a potentially career-marring mistake that
continues to be seen as a sign of weakness or irrationality, no less
by women themselves than by men.
For evidence consider a recent episode of NBC's "Apprentice: Martha
Stewart," in which a young woman whose team had just lost a
flower-selling contest told Ms. Stewart that she felt like crying. Her
admission elicited no sympathy from her prospective employer, only
blunt career advice.
"Cry and you are out of here," Ms. Stewart said. "Women in business
don't cry, my dear."
Women in politics don't either, judging by Geena Davis's performance
as the steely Mackenzie Allen on ABC's "Commander in Chief."
Discussing the pilot episode, in which Allen navigates a political
minefield to ascend to the office of president of the United States,
Ms. Davis told a reporter from The Chicago Sun-Times, "I did not cry
in my pilot - no!"
For reasons both biological and social, scientists and sociologists
say, women are more inclined than men to feel the urge to cry when
they are frustrated. Yet Martha Stewart is not the only woman
executive who expects her underlings to remain dry-eyed. Many other
workplace veterans also impose the rule and through seminars, books,
Web sites and private conversations, recommend tricks for how to
"I hear women being called crybaby all the time, even by other women,"
said Lori Majewski, the managing editor of Teen People. The judgment
can be unfair, she said, because sometimes women cry for good reason.
Nevertheless, she said, "women need to be vigilant, to hold it in."
Ms. Majewski, 34, knows what it is like to cry at work because she has
done so herself - once. She was in her early 20's and had a scare
about a magazine cover photo shoot falling through. Her boss took her
aside and told her she needed to remain composed in front of her
She has since handed down the lesson to her own employees, suggesting
that they leave the office and take a walk if they feel the need to
cry. "Don't even go into the bathroom," she said. "If you go into the
bathroom, someone's going to see you and the gossip gets around."
When a woman does cry at work, she should address her superior about
it directly, Ms. Majewski said. "Go to your boss and say, 'I was quite
overtaken with emotion, it's so not me, I hope you understand,' " she
said. "Just don't blame it on your period."
Some women pinch their skin, bite their lips or breathe deeply to stem
tears while at work. Advice on the Society for Women Engineers' Web
site, swe.org, suggests anticipating and rehearsing difficult
situations. An article about crying on Womensmedia.com, advises
emotional detachment: "Compartmentalizing feelings is also a good
skill to learn. Practice not acting on a feeling you have."
Crying at work is different from crying at a wedding, a sappy movie or
at someone's hospital bed because it is typically triggered not by
compassion or even sadness but by frustration or anger. And at work
people are expected to react rationally to such feelings.
"When people show emotionalism in the workplace, they are not taken as
seriously," said Mary Gatta, the director of work force policy and
research at the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
Men learned this lesson back in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries, when the Industrial Revolution structured the workplace and
the workday, and required a disciplined work force, said Tom Lutz, the
director of the M.F.A. writing program at the California Institute of
the Arts and the author of "Crying: The Natural and Cultural History
of Tears." Factory managers trained their workers to be calm and
rational, the better to be productive. "You don't want emotions
interfering with the smooth running of things," Mr. Lutz said.
Women for the most part did not receive this particular kind of
on-the-job training. Nor did they usually learn, as boys did, that it
was acceptable to express frustration in other ways.
"Men are allowed to be more direct," said Marianne LaFrance, a
psychology professor at Yale University. "They can pound table tops
and yell and throw something against walls and do various kinds of
physical acting out. Women's mode of expression is supposed to be more
passive, more childlike." She continued, "If women could act out like
men, there would probably be less tears."
Temper tantrums are typically frowned upon at the office, too, but
they are still considered more acceptable than crying, said William H.
Frey II, the director of the Alzheimer's Research Center at Regions
Hospital in St. Paul and the author of "Crying: The Mystery of Tears."
Nature may also make women more prone to tears than men, he said,
explaining that both boys and girls cry about the same amount until
the age of 12.
But by the time women reach 18, they are crying four times as much as
men, said Dr. Frey, who has conducted research on behavioral,
personality and genetic aspects of crying and who has also studied the
chemistry of tears.
Scientists do not know exactly why women tend to cry more easily, but
Dr. Frey said several factors may be at work. One is the hormone
prolactin, he said, which is present in mammary glands and induces
lactation but is also found in the blood and in tear glands. Boys and
girls have about equal levels of prolactin levels in their blood
during childhood. But from ages of 12 to 18, the levels in girls
gradually rise, and that may have something to do with why women cry
more than men.
Tear glands in men and women also differ anatomically, and that, too,
may lead women to cry more easily, Dr. Frey said.
Many women remember crying or wanting to cry at some point in their
careers, especially when they were starting out. Jenny Oz LeRoy, the
chief executive of LeRoy Ventures, which operates Tavern on the Green,
recalled her first difficult days in the kitchen at the restaurant her
father owned: "I was the only girl in the kitchen, and there are these
guys being testosterone-driven egomaniacs. They were like, 'Get out,
let the guys handle it.' " She ran out of the kitchen crying, but
returned minutes later and pressed on. "I thought, 'I'm not going to
let some guy in a jacket make me feel stupid,' " she said. "You're so
watched as a woman for everything you do."
Ms. LeRoy has since learned control. "Nobody wants to see the boss
fall apart," she said. "Or, on the other hand, everybody wants to see
the boss fall apart."
While women have moved into managerial positions in droves, they
account for less than 1 percent of the Fortune 500 chief executives.
This fact - as well as persistent, if shrinking, gaps in pay and
promotions between men and women - may make women all the more
conscious of their own workplace behavior. "Women are still contending
with being seen as doing the job," Dr. LaFrance said, "not as a woman
doing the job."
A recent study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found
evidence that men's tears are viewed more positively than women's. "It
seems that because men are less frequently noticed crying, they're
given the benefit of the doubt," said Stephanie Shields, a professor
of psychology and women's studies, who led the study.
"When a man cries, it leads people to think he's a sweet, sensitive,
caring individual," Dr. LaFrance said, but when a woman cries, she is
often seen as "emotionally labile."
Jarrod Moses, the president and chief executive of Alliance, an
entertainment marketing firm that is part of Grey Global Group, said
he looks down on crying at work because he dislikes extreme behavior
of any kind. "I am a true believer in keeping the game face when
you're in the office setting," he said. "You have to manage your mind.
I think a lot of people lose respect for people who can't. Frankly, I
Dana Spain-Smith, the owner and chief operating officer of DLG Media
Holdings, which owns Philadelphia Style and DC Style magazines, said:
"I definitely have had times when I've had to step out of the office.
There's a perception, not that I'm the woman, but that I'm the boss.
It makes the employees nervous. There has to be certain type of 'we
look up to her.' "
Executives like Susan Lyne of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Anne
Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, were models for
the president on "Commander in Chief," according to Rod Lurie, the
executive producer of the series. And while his fictional president
may be unlikely to break down in the Oval Office, would a real woman
as president need to be as stoic?
"Unfortunately," Mr. Lurie said, "she would have to be more stoic than
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