But Really, Is It OK for Men to Cry?: A Retrospective


Following House Speaker-designate John Boehner’s Sir-Weeps-a-Lot moment on 60 Minutes recently, along with the salty, flowing waves of 2010 man-tears (including Charlie Rangel’s please don’t censure me sobs and Chris Brown’s spontaneous waterworks at a Michael Jackson tribute), the Today Show is once again bringing to the forefront the question: “Is it OK for men to cry in public these days?” (FYI: 58% of their pollsters say yes, if it’s sincere).

And yet, this intriguing query seems so familiar.

Way back in 1998, Jet asked “Is it OK for strong men to cry?” and answered “Men who are definitely masculine and strong in their identity [examples: Michael Jordan, Ving Rhames, and even the “eccentric” Dennis Rodman] are in touch with their emotions and are not afraid to shed tears; they know that it will not distract from their masculinity.”

In 2005, a post on Urban Grounds reflecting on Senator Tom Coburn’s tears during his Senate hearing speech to confirm Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court (and the desire of another blogger to slap him in the face and yell, “You can act like a man”) deemed it okay for a man to cry during President Reagan’s funeral, taps, U.S. Olympic Hockey Team wins, and a few other things.

In 2007, the UK’s Sunday Times noted “It’s Okay for Men to Cry.” And, in fact, that while “new research suggests a change in attitudes toward men who cry in public,” it’s actually less okay for women.

In 2008, the Art of Manliness blog pronounced it okay for men to cry while watching Old Yeller (and a few other tearjerkers, like Brian’s Song and Rudy), as well as while seeing their beloved vehicle totaled, but not okay to cry when they don’t get their way, or during Beaches, or when someone really needs them not to.

In 2009, Good Morning America asked, inspired by the epic weepiness of Bachelor bachelor Jason Mesnick, “When is it OK for men to cry?” They don’t ever really get to an answer, but there’s this money quote, from a researcher: “Men report crying less often than women, so you know there must be something really the matter if a man cries.”

And so on. This has been going on for years.

If indeed there’s a perk to Boehner crying at the drop of a hat, it’s that perhaps he will help put an end this whole weird freaked-out-about-gender-roles-but-pretending-not-to-be crying-in-public debate by taking it off the table — certainly that “less often than women” argument no longer holds true in his case.

Our view: At the end of the day, it’s just as okay for men to cry as women to cry. And it’s probably healthy, to some degree, to let out all those pent-up feelings somewhere. But imagine Nancy Pelosi, or your coworker, or that girl you date, crying in public when someone brought up schoolchildren. You’d think she was off her rocker. And probably infertile. Plus, crying isn’t even fun. Try boxing!

The key learning here is that it’s not just who’s crying, or what gender they are — it’s why they’re crying. A death of a pet or a human, your son telling he loves you for the first time (watch the clip below; skip to the Jon Hamm part), an amputated limb, your house burns down, you find out your favorite delivery place is closed when you’re really hungover, or some other grand travesty, like war, or even a grand salvation, like being pushed out of the path of a speeding bus before it hits you — fine for tears. Weddings are a gray area. Baby births are probably okay.

But do we really want it to be okay for everyone to be crying in public all the time? This is why we didn’t take a job in daycare. For less dramatic events than the above, man or woman, consider grinning and bearing it, or self-medicating through the pain. (Ladies, don’t ever blame public tears on PMS, for all of our sakes.)

And “public,” that’s really the rub: It’s most importantly where you’re crying. Do it behind locked doors or in your shower with the water running, and not on 60 Minutes. No one will be any the wiser. Except for the news outlets, who will suddenly be very upset that this debate is finally over, once they have a slow news day and realize it.

Addendum: If you’re going to cry like Democratic presidential candidate Senator Edmund Muskie after the press called his wife a cussy drinker, don’t claim the face wets are from snow. Be a man: Own it!