For crying outloud

Linda DeMers Hummel

September 09, 1991|By Linda DeMers Hummel

FOR THE "don't get mad, get even" section of my persona, the best news out of Washington this summer is that Pat Schroeder is keeping a list.

Four years ago this month, you may recall, Rep. Schroeder, D-Colo., announced before assembled media that she would not seek that year's presidential nomination.

Then, as has been abundantly documented, she cried. Actually, her eyes welled with tears, and for a moment she could not speak.

For her public show of emotion, she found herself criticized across America. A woman editorialist for the Washington Post wrote, "I'm starting to feel pretty cynical about the kind of examples our most famous elder sisters are setting for us young women."

The New York Post called Schroeder "a symbol of precisely what her supporters had sought to overcome -- the stereotype of women as weepy wimps who don't belong in the business of serious affairs."

What had she done? She had shed a tear in front of cameras and reporters. Why were so many Americans ready to bury her

political career that day? Because she is a woman.

It seems we've spent a couple of decades in this country urging men to show their emotions. In the wake of doing so, we've stripped women of that right. To men we say, "Talk to us, tell us how you feel. It's all right to cry."

To women we say, "If you intend to sit in the board room, keep your guard intact unless you want to be the one taking notes and retrieving coffee."

Pat Schroeder had a moment when her guard lifted, and she did a perfectly human thing. Instead of acknowledging that the sensitivity displayed at that moment is one of the qualities that make her a dynamic congresswoman, we turned on her.

That's when she began her list. The latest entry is Mikhail Gorbachev, who, while recounting his three days as a coup prisoner, brushed a tear from his eye and paused to regain his composure. We say, "Well, he's only human after all."

Ronald Reagan cried in front of groups of people whenever he spoke of his meetings with returning MIAs from Vietnam. He dabbed at his nose with a handkerchief during his farewell speech at the White House. All it got him was the "Great Communicator" label.

Also on the list of criers: House Minority Leader Bob Michel, Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, Ollie North, John Sununu, as well as enough professional athletes to form a misty hall of fame.

George Bush has been known to dab his eyes in public when recounting the commencement of Desert Storm operations. And when Norman Schwarzkopf reviewed his troops for the last time, what did he do?

We loved him all the more for it. He'll brag about it in his autobiography.

Schroeder's list is almost four years old and is filled with the names of men. That is precisely why crying is no longer a critical faux pas when done publicly. On the day that Pat Schroeder could not stop her tears, she was branded weak. As soon as enough men began doing the same thing, it became perfectly acceptable, and rather touching at that.

When Clarence Thomas was nominated early this summer to a seat on the Supreme Court, he came to the microphone in Kennebunkport with poise and strength. He spoke in deep, measured tones until he began to thank his grandparents, the people who had raised him. He stopped, choked with emotion. He began again and stopped once more. It was Pat Schroeder's news conference all over again.

In the scores of articles written about why Thomas should not replace Thurgood Marshall, I have yet to read anyone who mentions his public crying.

The bad news is that it took a group of men to decide that crying in public is acceptable. The good news is that we, as women, know we were right all along, with Pat Schroeder leading the way.

4 And now, lest anyone forget, she's taking names.

Linda DeMers Hummel writes from Timonium.

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