Men in tears:
" Will the world whimper to an end if 'strong and silent' is no longer manly?"

October 21 1998


In 1972, Edmund Muskie was a front-runner for the presidential nomination of the U.S. Democratic Party. During the New Hampshire primary, he choked with anger and seemed to cry because of a couple of nasty newspaper articles. One was a hoax, the other an article attacking his wife. The result was that he was perceived as weak and incapable of leadership, and his campaign collapsed.

We've come a long way since then. Indeed we've learned to value men's tears. Today, crying in public can be a good political move. When Jimmy Swaggart, the well-known TV evangelist, was found in the company of a prostitute, he went on the air sobbing "I have sinned." Wiping crocodile tears from his face, he admitted that he had been involved in more than ministering to the woman. More recently, a former hockey player, Sheldon Kennedy, cried as he admitted to drinking eight beers before crashing an expensive Hummer, causing $20,000 damage. While seeking forgiveness for his drinking and for the marijuana found in his possession, he attributed both offenses to his trauma from having been abused. And, the world recently witnessed a teary-eyed President Clinton confess: "I have sinned."

Nowadays, it appears that big boys do cry when they are caught doing something they aren't supposed to do. Crying, whether it is a quiet trickle down the cheek or a full-blown sob, has become a way to convince others that one is repentant.

All of this is a result of feminist efforts to change male behaviour, to feminize men. The "strong silent type" is no longer to be admired. Rather, he is regarded as a defective person -- a paternalistic dinosaur, conditioned to withhold his emotions, to be insensitive, incapable of intimacy. The modern man must be trained to be empathic, emotionally expressive and courageous in exposing his vulnerability and pleading for help. Only men capable of shedding

tears are real men, we are told.

What do these new tears mean? When babies cry, it is thought to be an inborn response, a cry for the protective presence of the parent. Babies cry because they are hungry, thirsty, wet or in pain. When adults cry, their tears can mean much more -- tears of grief, joy, surprise, gratitude and even exhaustion. But according to modern thinking, crying is also a form of communication with an evolving language all of its own. Jeffrey Kottler, a psychologist who describes himself as a "student of tears," believes that "we are approaching a new era in the language of tears, one in which -- as never before — the benefits of selective crying are appreciated."

Crying isn't always spontaneous; not all tears are genuine. An actor learns to cry on cue. Tom Hanks's tears of joy in Philadelphia won him an Oscar. A trembling speech in Coming Home earned Jon Voight the Best Actor's award.

But crying on cue does not require acting lessons. Virtually anyone can fake it. Remember Susan Smith? Her tears brought waves of public sympathy and led the police on a wild goose chase for the abductor of her two small children until it became evident that she had drowned


For centuries, crying was considered one of the female wiles. Women cried to get sympathy, make others feel guilty, avoid responsibilities and come out on top. As far back as the 1600s, Samuel Pepys recognized such a capacity when he wrote in his famous Diary: "And she so cruel a hypocrite that she can cry when she pleases." Not much has changed in the last few centuries. Recent surveys indicate that almost 50 per cent of women admit using tears to get their way in disputes.

Men seem to have learned the lesson. Somehow, men have been persuaded to devalue their masculine strengths and their faculties of reason in order to appear more nurturing, sensitive and emotional. Thus, we can expect to see more and more of them crying in public. Swaggart, Kennedy and Clinton may be the forerunners of a new era in our social evolution: homo criens -- men who cry.

Crying is now part of our cultural motif, not just in personal moments of anguish or exhilaration, but on public occasions, too. It comes in handy when you want to appeal to emotion rather than reason. Recent studies have shown that accusers who cry in court are perceived to be more honest, credible and reliable than those who remain calm, regardless of whether the facts support their stories.

Kottler predicts that "we are approaching a time of tears." But will these new tears reflect honest expressions of deeply felt emotion, or will they be more superficial and self-serving?


While nobody reasonably subscribes to the Big-Boys-Don't-Cry belief system that brought down Muskie, how do we cope with the deluge of contrived tears? Once we worried that civilization would come to a cataclysmic end, the result of male aggression. Perhaps T. S. Eliot was more accurate when he predicted: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."

 Cartoon by Lurie
@ Dr.Tana Dineen

by Dr. Tana Dineen, special columnist,
The Ottawa Citizen