Men Crying in Public

July 10, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Would Ozzie Nelson have cried in public, or Ward Cleaver? How about Dwight Eisenhower, or Richard Nixon, or John F. Kennedy? They might have misted a bit when the flag passed, but whatever grief they might have felt they showed in private, if there.

There’s been a real role reversal when it comes to tears. It is now American men who are actively crying in public, either grudging masculine tears or a real spill. Who’d have thought it? There are still some old rules, though–acceptable times and places for the shedding–on a basketball court, for example, or ball field or tennis court. Whether slumped stoney-faced and red-eyed in defeat or elated with victory in a locker room free-for-all, men can be visibly moist. Of course, that’s always been somewhat true.

Men who’ve proven their heroism or manliness on a playing field or a field of battle have always been given a dispensation. Try any day at the Vietnam Memorial and you are likely to see many tears, either the old style, half-masked ones, or the full-tilt, new style ones.

Men can also cry now quite visibly over the loss of a child, as baseball great Rod Carew did recently when facing the press after his daughter, Michelle, died of leukemia. Or they can cry over the loss of a leader, as many, including the gravelly-voiced, usually restrained Henry Kissinger did when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

SPOKESMAN: (February 1972) By attacking me, by attacking my wife is–

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: But nowhere is the turn to tears more noticeable than in the ranks of politicians. They were never supposed to let down. Remember Ed Muskie weeping while defending his wife’s reputation back in 1972?

He was out of the Presidential race after that. Those days are gone. Now even button-downed Bob Dole has been crying on the campaign trail. When he mentions either his war experience or his tough childhood in Kansas, he chokes up, reassuring his audience that he is, indeed, human, one of them. And Bill Clinton is the master of the quivering lip and dampened eye, all adamant sincerity.

He’s a man of his touchy-feely generation, bunches of whom now gather in coliseums to celebrate God and masculinity en mass while crying openly. The only politicians who can’t cry in America are women. That’s what we’ve come to. That’s how liberation has been turned on its ear. Just think of Pat Schroeder.

PAT SCHROEDER: I could not figure out how to run.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: When she withdrew from the 1988 Presidential race, she was hounded for her tears. Absolutely everyone, male, female, feminist, counter-feminist, had their say. See, we just knew women were wimps. Just think what would happen if Hillary cried in public. The entire media would lunge into full tilt dissection mode.

The problem is if you’re female, you have to feel a little ripped off, as if our tears had somehow been appropriated, snatched by men who are now turning them into an asset.

ANCHOR: (NBC Today Show) Ms. Hathaway, good morning.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: When little flier, Jessica Dubroff’s mother, wept on the post mortem talk show circuit, there was scant sympathy for her, just excoriation for her having failed her maternal duty by letting her daughter fly in the first place. Wasn’t it the dad who was up in that plane with Jessica? Never mind, the mother should have protected her was the consensus, so no tears for her. We’re in a new flip-flop world where men can cry and women can’t. And I’m still trying to figure out whether this is progress.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.