Ariana Grande broke down last week, while performing on stage during her Sweetener tour in the US. Her fans immediately took to Twitter with concerns about the singer’s well-being, wondering if the 26-year-old was well enough to continue performing. Instead of downplaying her vulnerability, Ariana responded with an open, very emotional statement.
‘I feel everything very intensely and have committed to doing this tour during a time in my life when I’m still processing a lot,’ she wrote on Twitter. ‘So sometimes I cry a lot.’ When fans still weren’t convinced, she continued, ‘Sometimes we have waves of sadness! That’s OK. I’m not afraid of it.’ It was a powerful message to send out to young women, because so many previous generations grew up equating tears with weakness. For all too long, a woman withholding her emotions has been seen as a sign of strength, and a crucial part of being able to succeed in the workplace.
Journalists Kristin Grady Gilger and Julia Wallace address their experiences of learning to hide their emotions at work for fear of being dismissed as ‘hormonal’ and ‘manipulative’ in their new book There’s No Crying In Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What It Takes To Lead. The book includes the untold stories of more than 100 female journalists, from those who sued their way into American newsrooms back in 1970 with a landmark sexual discrimination lawsuit, to present-day female editors still facing discrimination.
As Kristin explained, ‘Newsrooms have always been tough, male-dominated places where you can kick a trash can, but you better not show any sign of weakness. I’m not endorsing that, and I actually think it’s changing, but the title gets across the point that the women who have risen to the top of news organisations have not had an easy time of it.’ Of course, the same can be said of most traditionally male-dominated industries. Our discomfort about how tears will be seen is not without foundation: a 1991 study found that women who cried during an emotional movie were liked less, while men who cried were liked more than those who didn’t. Twenty-five years later, a university review had similar findings; men’s tears were seen as humanising while a woman’s suggested a lack of control.
Just last week Serena Williams wrote an open letter saying women in the workforce ‘are not allowed to have emotions’. She noted that when male athletes push back against referees, they are seen as ‘strong’, but when women do the same, ‘they’re labelled emotional, crazy and irrational’. Meanwhile Theresa May said that if a male PM’s voice had cracked, as hers did during her resignation speech, he would have been praised for his ‘patriotism’, not asked, ‘Why is he crying?’
But things are slowly changing. When actor Ellen Page wept freely during a recent TV interview about LGBTQ+ rights, it was read as an expression of her passion for the cause; and Meghan Markle was praised for being moved to tears during a Commonwealth ceremony recently. Even Theresa May’s tears were regarded by many as humanising. In that vein, Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive and author of Lean In, has argued that at work, ‘sharing emotions builds deeper relationships’. Researcher Brene Brown has spread a similar message, including through a TED talk that went viral, that a willingness to be vulnerable is a sign of strength.
Meanwhile, more companies are ‘creating safe spaces for people to bring their full selves to the table’, according to women’s business coach Lauren Armes. ‘With the rise of women being more powerful and influential in business, we’re accepting [they] are more emotional creatures – and that’s a wonderful thing,’ she says. ‘It comes with more creativity, compassion, and a different set of perspectives that will ultimately benefit their company.’ And that’s nothing to cry about.