Annamarya Scaccia is tired of feeling bad for feeling too much.
Confession: I’m a crier.
Actually, that’s not really a confession. If you know me in real life, you know that my eyes have released so much water that I could have probably revitalized a few dry riverbeds by now. I’d like to say it’s because I’m a deeply sensitive and intuitive person, but the truth is: I just have loose tear ducts.
OK, so that’s just a joke to fill in the awkward spaces left by a vulnerability I’m having trouble sharing as I write this. I’m struggling to not defend myself—to not write that I don’t cry as much as I used to or that there’s nothing wrong with using tears as a mechanism to release my emotions. Even though my intellectual side knows there’s no shame in crying, my inner critic is screaming at me right now, yelling “tears are for the weak” over and over again.
This dissonance between my emotive and cerebral halves, however, is only truly present when I’m around others. When I’m by myself and feel the waterworks begin, I just let it go. I let my cheeks act like dollar store sponges, and let my face contort to whatever emotion needs a release. It doesn’t matter if I’m crying because of another Purina Pro Plan commercial or because my depression decided it wanted to drudge up all my self-loathing. Whatever the erratic reason, I let it all hang out.
When I’m alone, I feel no shame.
But that pride I take in being able to emote in such an intense, physical way loses itself when I’m near someone else. You wouldn’t believe it if you knew me between the ages of 14 and 22. During those years, I cried in public all the time—at school, at work, on the street. I was a constant ball of aggravating emotions and I didn’t know how to keep myself in check because that period of my life was so incredibly intense. There was too much for me to process that I couldn’t allow myself to calm down, to evaluate and rationalize situations. Instead, I could only react to what I was experiencing with no consideration given to the setting.
Now, if I need to cry, I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. Or I hold it in and choke on that feeling of suffocation until I am free of other people. Of course, there’s a benefit to delaying my blubbering. It has taught me how to remain in control, and to stay cool under pressure when others are frantic. But, despite those positives, I’ve started to view my crying as an encumbrance.
Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill described this ignominy best in an interview recently about her new documentary, The Punk Singer: “There’s a stigma of if you’re a woman and working at a job, you can’t cry because they’ll see you as weak…as an animal, you’ll be torn apart.”
There’s no doubt that the humiliation I feel over my proclivity for crying is tied to the way women are viewed for exhibiting such behavior. According to a 2004 Social Issues Research Centre report, focus groups agreed that “male tears are often ‘taken more seriously’ than female tears, perhaps because men generally cry much less than women.” And, as Andrea Buchanan offered for Women’s Health, we humans-with-lady parts are viewed as “dramatic, irrational, or manipulative” if we even shed a tear. Her case in point: “When Hillary Clinton nearly broke down once—once!—on the campaign trail in 2008, the public (and the press) were divided. While some applauded her rare display of vulnerability, others saw it as a sign that she was simply too fragile (read: female) to hold the highest office.”
Stephen Sideroff, PhD, told WebMD in plain language: Crying is “still viewed by many, particularly men, as a sign of weakness.”
It’s a destructive belief I’ve heard time and time again. In fact, I was passed over for a promotion a couple of times during my retail days because my male boss felt I was “too emotional to handle it.” And I’ve let it steep its way into how I view myself. I’ve learned to be ashamed of my crying because other people considered it an indication that I wasn’t strong enough or that I couldn’t process a situation with a level head—even though my life is evidence otherwise.
So now if I find myself weeping uncontrollably in front of someone, like a coworker, my therapist, or even my boyfriend, I either apologize profusely or become incredibly defensive. I teeter between “I’m sorry I’m crying. I know it’s stupid. I don’t mean to,” or “I was crying because I was angry. I needed to let it out. It’s better than what I used to do.”
But I shouldn’t feel this way. No one—no woman, no man—should. And I’m slowly learning that crying is nothing more than an act, like eating or sleeping. It’s my body’s way of being present, of allowing me to sit with my emotions, good or bad.
It’s just something I do.
Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist and graphic designer who’s written extensively on sexual violence, reproductive health & rights, marriage equality, constitutional issues, body image, and gender roles, among other rousing topics. Her work has appeared in/on Philadelphia Weekly, Philadelphia City Paper, Prince George’s Suite Magazine, RHRealityCheck.org, TheDailyFemme.com, BLURT, and Origivation. Follow her on Twitter @sitswithpasta.