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Thanks, Obama, For Confirming That It's Totally Fine For Powerful Men To Cry

Finally, in 2016, crying is not a sign of weakness.

Real men don’t cry. Except, of course, they do. All the time. And it’s OK. Crying, especially for guys, is having a moment.

While delivering an impassioned speech this week about new gun control measures, President Barack Obama cried. His tears came as he spoke about the first-graders -- “every time I think about those kids it gets me mad” -- who were shot dead in Newtown, Connecticut, in the infamous 2012 mass shooting. 

His critics pounced, of course. But the tack most of the haters took is telling. Instead of ripping apart Obama for the simple act of crying, calling him “weak” or questioning his masculinity -- real things people still actually say and maybe believe about men who cry -- they accused the president of faking it. Of shedding crocodile tears.

It says a lot about the state of weeping in 2016 that the majority of the president's most virulent haters didn't call him out for actually crying.

Most people are cool with crying these days. In politics, at least. And in sports, too. Kobe Bryant is a big cryer, for example. The business world, alas, is another story. We'll get to that later.

Remember John Boehner? The former speaker -- or, rather, weeper -- of the House cried an Olympic-sized swimming pool of tears during his time in office: When he met the pope. When he was sworn in. But also during a tribute to a revered golfer and while listening to Irish music, according to Politico

Of course, there’s still a deeply rooted cultural notion that women cry and men are stoic, pushing down their feelings and putting up brave faces until they collapse under the weight of all that repressed emotion with a sad, middle-aged heart attack. 

That's probably why men are given more credit for crying than their female counterparts. If a dude cries, something must really be the matter. If a women cries... well, she's just being a chick, right? This is still something people think. The New York Times' Gail Collins calls it the "crying gap."

There are clearly cultural influences at play here. And like so many "gender" differences, this one looks pretty heavily socially constructed. There have been times in U.S. history when it was more acceptable for men to cry, so more men cried. Studies of various countries have reported smaller differences in cry frequency between men and women.

A lot of the science that purports to prove that women cry more than men relies on self-reported "empirical" data. Guess what? Men -- except Boehner, maybe -- are still less eager to admit they shed tears. One recent study claims women's tear ducts make them cry more. Sure, testosterone may inhibit tears, but this is too complex to be reduced simply to biology. 

 

Back in the stone ages of the 1970s, a presidential candidate named Edmund Muskie cried on the campaign trail while defending his wife. The tears, which Muskie later tried to say were actually snowflakes melting on his face (lol), were political suicide for the Maine senator. “That moment punctured the campaign and eventually led to its collapse,” wrote Amy Chozick in a 2008 Wall Street Journal piece.

Obama is not the first president to cry publicly -- that distinction actually goes to the first president. George Washington is said to have cried at his inauguration in 1789. 

Abraham Lincoln, apparently, was big into tears. It wasn't uncommon back in his day.

"Lincoln cried at the right moments in his speeches,” Tom Lutz, who wrote an entire book about the history of crying, told The Orange County Register a couple of years ago. During the 19th century, he said, crying was a rhetorical skill. A good orator knew how to turn the waterworks on and off.

Crying at work is a fraught thing. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has said it's fine. "I think we are all of us emotional beings and it's OK for us to share that emotion at work," she said.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told Oprah Winfrey (herself no stranger to crying) that he cried in 2008 when the recession forced him to lay off workers. 

“I think the currency of leadership is transparency,” Schultz said. “There are moments where you’ve got to share your soul and conscience with people and show them who you are, and not be afraid of it.”

Still, these are outliers. The Huffington Post recently asked a bunch of well-known women what they thought about the issue and many thought crying at work showed a lack of control -- not a good look, particularly for an executive.

"Senior leaders consistently report that crying detracts from one’s executive presence," said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a well-known economist and consultant. "Crying, I found in my research, is just one of a menu of communication blunders that, in a mere instant, can suck the executive presence right out of you."

It's enough to make you break down.

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