Recently a good friend and mentor from my work transferred back to Washington, D.C. after her yearlong rotation in Chicago. Before she left, a few of us were standing around the common area in our office. Someone suggested that we do a roast/celebration for my friend during her last team meeting with us. They said I should tell some stories about her. I said I wouldn’t be able to do that without crying, and a young, male coworker remarked, “Wow. I can’t imagine you crying about anything!” It was just a comment. I know he didn’t mean much by it. Perhaps he even meant it as a compliment, but I heard it as an insult.
I’m a loud, assertive, confident woman, particularly at work, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a real person capable of a full range of human emotions. Sure, people at work don’t tend to see me cry. (Not because I never cry at work but because when I cry at work I do it in the bathroom like the seasoned professional I am.) But in other situations I cry quite a bit. I’m one of those people who cries when I’m sad but also when I’m happy or excited. I once made a list of 40 things that make me cry, and that wasn’t even close to being comprehensive.
It used to be that women were seen as mothers, virgins, or whores, but in the working world we’ve added a new archetype: The bossy bitch. The bossy bitch carries the attributes of a successful man, but on her they are perceived as negative. It is why she is called bossy not assertive. And the bossy bitch is viewed as less pleasantly feminine than her less outspoken counterparts. She doesn’t smile at you, so she is a bitch. Clearly, the bossy bitch doesn’t cry.
No, the bossy bitch never cries.
Except for when she thinks about the fact that people see her as a bossy bitch.
Or when she works really hard on something only to have someone else completely redo it.
Or when she makes a mistake that anyone else could make (and probably has), but she tortures herself about it because she feels like if she shows any flaws her successful facade will crumble.
Or when her imposter syndrome is so strong that she assumes she’s being called into her boss’s office because she did something wrong, but she is actually told she is being given a bonus for her excellent work.
Or when she’s trying to list her strengths for her annual self-assessment but can’t help remembering when her favorite college professor asked if she wanted to know why he thought she was going to be successful and she eagerly awaited hearing the secret of her greatest asset (intellect? creativity?) only to be told she’d be successful because men want to fuck her.
Even the bossy bitch cries sometimes.
The wonderful thing about people (even women!) is we aren’t just one thing. I am the strong, successful woman that my coworkers tend to see. I can also be quite fragile. I’m both intensely serious and outrageously goofy. I’m incredibly smart about some things and incredibly ditzy about others. If you can’t imagine me crying, stick around for a while. (Or watch this YouTube video of me reading my Listen to Your Mother essay.)
Just because someone seems strong doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings, and just because someone openly shows their feelings doesn’t mean that they aren’t strong. Remember that.
Oh, and as for that team meeting, I chose not to share any stories. I wrote my friend a card instead. And I didn’t cry. But just barely.