Tuesday, October 9, 2007

when the tears come a flowing

I've pissed myself off a number of times in my adult life by crying when I was angry. There have been professional situations where I've lost my cool and cried and then beaten myself up about it later. Like the time when a woman told me that her meal was not what she'd ordered and that I must have made a mistake and that I was the worst waitress she'd ever had. Or the time my ex boss announced to the entire staff at a meeting that the mistake I'd made was due to my lack of experience. That night at the restaurant I locked myself in the walk-in freezer and bugged my eyes out in front of the blasting cold air vent to stop the tear flow. That day on my old job I stormed out of the meeting in a fit of rage and tears and got in my car and promptly ran into the curb and blew out my tire. Both effective ways of dealing with anger, I know.

I've been contemplating this thing about losing my cool over the past few days because I majorly lost it last weekend when I missed my connecting flight home from Frankfurt due to a delay out of Istanbul. The woman at the Luftansa counter was being bitchy and unhelpful. I was indignant at first because I thought I'd insist on a flight and be accommodated. But as it turned out, that wasn't the case. There were simply no flights. Meltdown ensued. I wasn't even surprised when the bitchy attendant softened even though that was not what I was after. I was upset with myself for crying. I did not want to cry. I wanted to do anything but cry. But I was frustrated and angry and totally incapable of controlling my emotions. She gave us the emergency exit aisle for the next flight out the following morning and let us use the Luftansa phone to make as many calls home to the U.S. as we wanted.

Over the years I've learned how to harness my anger. I've gotten better at getting mad and knowing how to channel my anger into words rather than tears. But not always. Men have more permission to get angry. When women express anger we're bitches. When we cry we may be perceived as weak, but generally we elicit sympathy, too. The friend I was traveling with later told me she had been shocked when she turned around and saw me crying, but that she was happy because we got special treatment because of it. Which felt strange. I got something in exchange for an emotional breakdown. I wonder how the Luftansa lady would have reacted if she'd been facing a grown man rather than a grown woman in that moment? Would she have been as sympathetic? As accommodating? I suppose this is a double standard. Not the worst that exists, to be sure, but still. There's always some reminder, if you're paying attention, about how very different men and women are treated---for better or worse, I'm not always sure.


1 comment:

Maya Reynolds said...

Brooke: You've touched upon an issue that has plagued me all my working life. I cry. I cry when I'm happy, I cry when I'm sad, I cry when I'm angry.

The happy/sad tears are not a problem. The anger tears, on the other hand, were a significant issue to me during the time I was in the corporate world.

People (men AND women) invariably sneer at tears during an argument. They see tears as a sign of weakness. Worse yet, those tears often had the effect of devaluing my arguments. This drove me crazy.

I was thirty and a member of an all-male (except for me) lead team running a company with 1,300 employees before I hit upon the solution.

When things begin to heat up in an argument, I hold up my hand and say: "I'm Italian. I cry. It's genetic, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Ignore the tears because I assure you, I will."

It made all the difference in the world. Prior to that, when the men saw tears, they felt obligated to pull their punches and to "tend" to me. They also felt angry because, to them, I was playing an unfair card--they perceived it as my crying because I was losing.

Once I made it plain that I was going to continue holding up my end of the argument, things changed.

I knew I'd solved the issue when a new member of the lead team tried to make our VP of HR back down in an argument with me when he saw I was crying. The other five men in the room said, "Don't let those tears fool you. She's not going to let up on him."

I now tell my younger female associates neither to be embarrassed by their tears nor to use them as a weapon. Simply work on through. No one else can shame you. Only you can shame yourself.