WHY IS CRYING A PROFESSIONAL TABOO?
When Jill Abramson was fired from her role as executive editor of the New York Times in May, publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. told the newspaper’s staff that it was because of “an issue with management in the newsroom.” In its vagueness, the statement alluded to Abramson’s reputation for being blunt and even a little ruthless in her role. But because of that hard-edged profile, among the revelations in Abramson’s first post-Times interview with Cosmopolitan, nothing spoke to me like this admission: When Abramson received particularly scathing criticism in a Politico profile—a piece that dubbed her, among other descriptors, “condescending” and “uncaring”—she cried.
“I don’t regret admitting I did,” she says. “The most important advice I would still give—and it may seem crazy because I did lose this job I really loved—you have to be an authentic person. I did cry. That is my authentic first reaction. I don’t regret sharing that.”
Yet in my own experience, this admission puts Abramson in a minority. A couple of years ago during one of my internships, a coffee break with the full-time staff turned to talk about emotions in the workplace. “I would never cry at work,” one woman said proudly. “I did, once,” chimed in another. “But I hid in a back stairwell by the service entrance so no one would ever find out.” “There was a girl who I used to work with who did that a lot,” offered a third, rolling her eyes. “How unprofessional. Get it together.” I nodded along earnestly, feigning agreement, when in reality, my superiors had no idea that I’d cried in the bathroom that morning. In spite of my secret shame, however, I filed that conversation along with the other general career lessons that I’d gathered over the years: Don’t cross your arms, work expediently, don’t cry. Done. It even seemed obvious.
At this point I should admit that I am “a crier.” I can’t say whether it’s chemical or environmental, but it is genetic in some way or another: My father has been known to shed a tear when his beloved Rangers lose (or win) a big game, and music is one of my mom’s biggest triggers. I must have inherited some sort of inverted gene: When I am furious or utterly aggravated, I cry. To crib Abramson’s phrase, crying is my “authentic reaction” to situations of duress. But as my career continues to progress, I struggle with the “strong” woman I aim to be and this knee-jerk, emotional reaction.
And therein lies the paradox: Powerful women who don’t overly emote are considered cold and condescending (see: Abramson, Clinton, Stewart); women who reveal too much are perceived as unstable. It’s an unfair polarization, and a sexist one at that. But I am willing to bet several of my typing fingers that the majority of working women would much rather be seen as the former than the latter, because at least it equates us with strength. To that end, I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that Abramson only revealed that she criedafter she had left her position of power.
Interestingly enough, though my former colleagues would have me believe otherwise, I am not the only one who brings her emotions to the office. In an oft-cited study conducted by Anne Kreamer for her book It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in The New Workplace, 41% of surveyed women admitted to crying in the workplace in the past year, while only 9% of men admitted to the same. But before you feel defeated, hear this: Studies have shown that females have six times the amount of tear-inducing hormones as males, plus other social aspects that make us more hardwired to cry. With science on our side, why are we so reticent to shun the stigma that comes with showing emotion?
I’m not saying that falling to pieces on a daily basis—especially in a professional environment—is productive at all. Being able to keep calm (and carry on) in a crisis is probably one of the most valuable skills not spelled out on our résumés. But, for me, crying is how I deal when shit really hits the fan—and it doesn’t detract from my job performance. It’s a quick catharsis: A few (silent!) tears give way to an extremely clear head in a matter of minutes. Some people get angry, some people tune out, some people isolate themselves. I cry. And I’m tired of feeling bad about it. After all, Abramson isn’t ashamed of being fired. And she’s not ashamed of admitting that she cried about it, either.
Posted on: elle.com