For Women’s Eyes Only: Public Crying, Hormones and Gender

To Cry or Not To Cry-

It’s almost college graduate season. If you are a young woman entering the workforce, you’ve probably heard that crying on the job is a no-no. But have you ever considered that the ability to cry is a privilege?

In my line of work, I see many people who are suffering from dry eye. I hear plenty of  patients’ stories about wanting to cry but not being physically able to. In an interview with the American Psychological Association, Robert R. Provine, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, maintains that lack of tears has “important psychological and social consequences.” He says: “Ophthalmologists have typically treated ‘dry eye’ as a medical issue, completely missing the fact that emotional communication is impaired when you lack tears.”

I’ve seen the emotional impairment that Dr. Provine is referring to. Since I deal with so many dry eye sufferers who wish they could produce tears, maybe that’s why I can’t bring myself to preach to women about if, when, where or under which circumstances, women are allowed to cry publicly. But, like you, I’ve heard the negative things people say about women who cry frequently, especially at work:

But, like you, I’ve heard the negative things that others say about women who cry frequently, especially at work:

People say, “Crying is a sign of weakness.” (Translation: You’re not a good leader.)

People say, “Women who cry are too sensitive.” (Translation: You can’t take the heat.)

People say, “Women who cry are too emotional.” (Translation: You’re unpredictable.)

I could go on.

Not only does crying at work prompt people (your supervisors, clients, and coworkers) to make assumptions about your integrity and your decision-making, it can also mak you feel personally frustrated (with yourself!) and embarrassed.

The good news? Crying at work isn’t the end of the world–or your career. Many high-powered female executives have teared up at work. Indeed, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, the business leader, and best-selling author, reportedly admitted to a room full of Harvard Business School graduates that she has cried on the job.

I won’t go into the psychological causes and effects of crying. Scientifically speaking, however, it’s interesting to note that crying does have some gender components. Several studies over the last few years suggest that women really do cry more than men.

Think about it. At the Oscars, who’s more likely to get choked up: The Best Actress winner or the Best Actor recipient? In a soccer world cup, who’s more likely to shed a happy tear: A winning player from a female team or one of the male champions?

One reason might be that compared to men, women have smaller tear ducts that overflow more quickly. Other studies have pointed to a hormone called prolactin that can be found in tears. Women possess higher levels of prolactin which is produced by the pituitary gland and associated with emotion, which could explain why women cry more often.

But the headlines about women crying more than men isn’t as sexist as you might think. In fact, a writer with says women’s enhanced crying ability might just be a virtue, calling it “a female superpower.”


Sources: New York Magazine, Why Do Women Cry More Than Men?;  American Psychological Association, “Why We Cry”;, “Mental Health Alert: Why Are Women More Likely To Be Sad Than Men?”


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