If, as feminists like to claim, women are forever trying to gain respect at the office, they should ignore Gloria Steinem’s latest advice.
When the self-proclaimed voice of her generation Lena Dunham interviewed Steinem for Dunham’s newsletter, she told Steinem that she hopes “sobbing decreases with age, because I sob way more than I think is appropriate.”
The feminist godmother’s response? Cry harder.
Steinem recounted the story of a female executive who gets mad at her colleagues and then says, “I am crying because I’m angry. You may think I’m sad. I am not sad. This is the way I get angry.” Steinem adds, “I’ve always wanted to do that. It’s still my goal.”
Dunham responds that she’s worried crying in front of someone she works with when she’s mad at them gives the impression of defeat and weakness: “Crying means that he’s triumphed and I’m wrong or I’m embarrassed.”
To which Steinem answers: “Why don’t you do what I can’t do? To say: ‘This is how I get angry. I am crying because I’m angry. Because I am crying, I will live longer than you.’?”
I can only imagine the reaction of a colleague on the receiving end of such a tirade. But actually, Dunham is right. When women cry at the office it’s embarrassing and — yes — it means “he’s triumphed.”
Too many women have worked for too long to show that they are capable of keeping their emotions under control in their professional lives to be undone by such absurd suggestions from Steinem.
I have worked for men who made their female underlings cry. The smart criers did it in the bathroom. They were determined to show that there was no difference between the way they did their jobs and the way that men would.
Feminists often have trouble deciding whether women are just like men (say, in their desire to stay home and raise children) or whether they’re different from men (in their inability to distinguish drunken hookups from sexual assault). But this is a case in which women are asking to be treated the same (equal pay for equal work, right?) and need to take the professional bargain that goes along with that.
And Steinem’s advice totally ignores the different ways and reasons men and women weep. Crying when your boss scolds you or when a colleague does something that makes you mad is more than a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of desperation: Tears are a trump card for women.
Whether they’re in a restaurant with a man who’s trying to break off a relationship or a professor who is trying to offer constructive criticism, women cry because they know it will immediately elicit sympathy. It’s as if men are hardwired to respond to women’s tears. And taking advantage of that is no different — and perhaps worse — than dressing provocatively and flirting in order to get your way at the office. In other words, there’s nothing feminist about it.
There are those who wonder whether we all shouldn’t shed some more tears at the office. Look at House Speaker John Boehner: Maybe crying is the sign of a great leader — or at least someone who tried hard.
Writing over the weekend, New York Times Men’s Style editor Jim Windolf asks, “Are men who cry foolish? Weak? Enlightened? The correct answer, I am almost certain, is none of the above. Crying is part of being human, and men are probably just as human as anybody else.”
Maybe, but just because some politicians are crying to show their humanity and Jon Stewart tears up when he and Stephen Colbert are bidding farewell to their audiences doesn’t mean that crying should become a regular part of our professional interactions. Even if it’s crying in anger.
It’s not uncommon to hear employers complain that millennials don’t know how to take criticism at work. They’ve been coddled so long by their helicopter parents that they can’t fathom the fact that their work might actually need improvement.
And now on top of that, young women are instructed to go to their offices and burst into tears whenever they get mad. That’s a crying shame.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.