For children younger than three, most of us agree that crying is acceptable, especially if they are in physical pain. But even for adults, crying is acceptable during periods of grief. Indeed, we often look askance at a person who does not to cry at a funeral or memorial service of a close friend, loved one, or family member. And crying in such cases is not only acceptable, but helpful, both for men and women. From WebMD:
Men and women both feel better after crying, especially when experiencing a major loss.
“But men are more likely to cry as a result of positive feelings, like at sporting events, whereas women are more likely to cry as a result of negative feelings, like in personal conflicts,” says study author Moira Maguire, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at England’s University of Luton. “Women also tend to feel more emotions when they cry, particularly anger, frustration, fear, self-pity, and powerlessness,” she tells WebMD.
That last point may come as a surprise to some men. That’s right, guys, women don’t just cry when they’re sad, or when their team wins/loses the Super Bowl. They may even cry when they’re angry. ScienceBlogs’ Tara Smith has a thoughtful post about crying in academia.
Tara considers how the emotional benefits of crying often conflict with a woman’s professional goals. There’s the problem of appearing incompetent before a male colleague or superior, the problem of not wanting to invoke the stereotype of a woman crying “to get her way,” and the problem of not wanting to appear fragile or unstable. She links to two other posts and describes the times when she almost cried in a professional setting:
Twice was with my advisor in graduate school–letting him know (both times) when I was pregnant. You might think the second time would have been easier, but that one was actually more difficult because he’d been very good with the first pregnancy and I felt, by having another child, I might be pushing the limits of his patience a bit. But he was still very good about it, causing me to cry with some relief after I was alone.
Most men have been conditioned from a very young age not to cry in situations such as this, and women, clearly, are aware that men are uncomfortable with crying. But since women generally haven’t been encouraged to suppress the urge to cry, then it’s much more difficult for them to do when they would prefer not to cry. There’s little evidence that this is a biological difference between women and men — rather, it seems to be socially conditioned. And, as Tara observes, crying probably should more acceptable, especially in extremely emotional situations like the ones she describes in her post:
Academia (and other high-pressure, high-stress jobs) is enough of a pressure cooker as it is; punishment shouldn’t be feared when we release some of that steam in a healthy way.