No need to cry. // Allie Rosenberg
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On January 1st, 2014, I drafted a list of New Year’s Resolutions: exercise three times a week (did NOT succeed there), eat healthily (absolutely did NOT succeed there either), and manage stress appropriately (…I don’t even want to talk about it). As a corollary to my final resolution, I added, “Don’t cry.”
Let me provide some context. During the fall semester of my sophomore year, I took a course on the psychology of gender. One of the topics that stuck with me addressed gendered behaviour in the workforce, specifically in regards to emotional display. Stress and anger management reflect this disparity, as women tend to demonstrate emotions that are perceived as vulnerabilities. Women often cry, for example, when stressed, angry, upset, or sad; men, on the other hand, tend to restrict such behaviour to “explicitly sad” events (e.g. funerals), events in which crying is considered socially acceptable.
I quickly realized that, though I could not cry at Nicholas Sparks movies or exhibit any emotional response to heart-warming Folgers coffee commercials, I was certainly guilty of demonstrating my emotions in situations that were not “explicitly sad”. And so, I developed a new approach to feminine empowerment: I would mimic the emotional patterns of men, crying only when genuinely sad. Knowing still that I failed to cry at truly sad events, I went even further, haphazardly declaring the “don’t cry” corollary.
The year that followed was ultimately an exercise in emotional control and self-awareness. When operating under stressful circumstances, I learned to breathe deeply and collect my thoughts before speaking. I learned to control the waver that occasionally entered my voice, and I learned to approach leadership opportunities with diplomacy; that is, my levelheadedness allowed me not only to control my own emotions, but also to reason with others. I felt powerful and confident, directive yet approachable.
At the same time, however, I struggled to understand these feelings within the context of catharsis and emotional expressiveness. What kind of a society rewards unhealthy behaviour – namely, that which equates emotional control with actual lack of emotion? How concerned should we be that, despite acknowledging the existence of gendered differences in emotional display, we perceive women’s emotional displays as weak, as “less than”? Furthermore, how concerned should we be with the fact that these perceptions extend beyond the boardroom, producing very real disparities in the representation of women and men in high-level careers (headlines declaring Hillary Clinton as “too emotional” for office come to mind)?
These questions and many more should be asked when considering gender inequality within the workplace, as we certainly have a long way to go. In the meantime, however, we can move forward with dry eyes and a quest for answers.
Written by Allie Rosenberg