On Crying (At Work) While Female

Posted by: Emma Hickey, Senior Content Contributor

If you’ve ever watched The Hills, then you may be familiar with Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port’s tough-as-nails boss Kelly Cutrone. In addition to her reality TV career, which also includes stints on Bravo and America’s Next Top Model, Cutrone is a PR maven and author of the book If You Have to Cry Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You. The title says it all—there’s no place for tears in the office. 

New York City real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran made a similar comment during a 2015 episode of Shark Tank, when she told a teary female entrepreneur that, “You’ve got to give up this crying stuff. The minute a woman cries, you’re giving away your power. You have to cry privately,” and, “when I get a woman who’s crying, I refile her in my head in terms of potential because I don’t trust her in terms of keeping a cap on her emotions.” 

In 2014, the Huffington Post asked Morning Jo co-host Mika Brzezinski about crying at work, and she answered, “Every time I have cried at work I have regretted it.” She told a story about when she was fired from her role as a CBS News correspondent and cried in front of the president of CBS News. She finished her story by saying, “there was no place for those tears in that moment. If anything, when you cry, you give away power.”

Cutrone and Corcoran both draw on the idea that women, whether it’s a mother-figure or a female Venture Capitalist, must teach other women not to cry at work. Corcoran and Brzezinski both use the same language to articulate why a woman should not cry at work—because it gives away her power. When multiple people pull from the same word bank to discuss a particular idea, as Cutrone, Corcoran and Brzezinski did, it’s worth asking who generated that word bank in the first place. Where did they all learn to use the same vocabulary when discussing women crying at work? The answer, of course, is from society, and they came to believe it through internalized misogyny. 

In a 2017 article, Buzzfeed describes internalized misogyny in these terms: 

When women police their own behaviour, and that of other women, to conform to societal ideals, even when it's detrimental to them or devalues women.

Buzzfeed compiled many great examples of internalized misogyny in that article, but my favorite is a sentiment I’ve heard many times before, genuinely expressed, from women I love and respect. It goes something like, “I just get along better with men than women. There’s too much drama with girls!” This kind of comment hinges on a reality in which all women are more dramatic than men, and that the woman speaking is superior to other women because she aligns herself with men. It’s harmful, limiting, and untrue to say that women as a whole are more dramatic than men, but you probably already knew that. The part I find most interesting in this example is the line of division it draws.

This type of comment implies that the speaker is not like other women, as though being a part of that group is a bad thing. It creates distance between the woman expressing this idea as a individual, and other women as a whole. This kind of remark makes it clear that the speaker believes she’s superior to other women because she’s more like men and this kind of attitude displays that the speaker has totally bought into misogyny, and internalized it. Corcoran’s comments about crying in the workplace similarly create division among women and apply an unfairly earned badge of superiority to women who are perceived as more like men. Both examples also demonstrate the way in which internalized misogyny serves the patriarchy, because it divides women, and aren’t all groups weaker when they’re divided?

Crying at work is a tricky thing. I’ve certainly done it, and I think it’s a normal and necessary part of being human. I also don’t think it’s something that should happen with great frequency, simply because if your job is regularly drives you to tears, then it’s time to make a change. Outside of that scenario, however, there isn’t anything wrong with crying at work. My biggest work cry came from a place of caring deeply about what I was doing, combined with committing a lot of time and energy to my project—too much time and energy, as it turned out. My tears were a culmination and release of all that, and it was ultimately a turning point for me. 

I was also lucky enough to experience that moment of great emotion surrounded by three supportive women, my manager and two coworkers, who did not subscribe to the Cutrone, Corcoran and Brzezinski school of thought around female tears in the workplace. My colleagues didn’t view my crying as me giving away my power. They didn’t refile me in their minds in terms of potential. They didn’t apply a learned stigma to me because I cried, rather they understood my tears to be a normal reaction to a stressful scenario, and instead of judging me, they supported me. I think this is a more productive reaction to a crying colleague, and there’s no reason we can’t all be that way for each other.  

Crying is natural. Given the amount of time most of us spend at our jobs, crying at work is also likely inevitable. Because it’s such a normal part of being a human, reacting judgmentally to the tears of coworker is a learned behavior, just like reacting judgmentally to someone’s body hair is a learned behavior—and women bear the brunt of it all. The next time you see someone crying in the office, if your first instinct is one of distaste, take a step back and question what force is at work influencing your negative feelings. Try to unpack it. Don’t let the internalized misogyny get you.

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