Can a politician cry in public?

Sure ... if he's a man.

By Catherine Price

Published December 20, 2007 10:20PM (EST)

Earlier this week Rush Limbaugh made headlines by asking the idiotic question of whether America might not be ready for a female president -- not because of politics or ability but because we wouldn't want to watch her get older. (Even more idiotic was the media coverage -- my favorite was a spot on TV after a story about a double murder in the Bronx that said, "Is America ready to watch a woman get old? Reactions after the break.")

But I just came across another pressing question: Should a president be allowed to cry? The Associated Press asserts that the "political risk of emotion" seems to have faded a bit -- that is, of course, if you're a man.

Apparently the most recent political tears to fall have come from the eyes of Mitt Romney -- twice in one week, in fact. And so far, people don't seem to have freaked out. The article notes that even though people like Edmund Muskie (who supposedly cried after reading a newspaper attack on his wife in 1972) have had their political careers marred by misty-eyed moments, these days, a few tears won't send you packing. That is, of course, if you're a man -- former Rep. Pat Schroeder reports still getting letters criticizing her for needing tissues when she announced that she wouldn't be running for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

USA Today ran a follow-up blog article asking, "Maybe men can cry now, but what about women politicians?" My answer: They still can't. Think about it. If John Edwards were to shed a tear, he'd probably be praised for empathy. If Hillary Clinton did the same? I'd hate to see what Limbaugh would say.

I think that being a good leader requires empathy, and that strength need not be defined as stoicism. So I'm not against leaders whose eyes well up in appropriate moments (not during, say, negotiations with Iran). But it's too bad there's still such a double standard -- because women are considered more emotional and weaker to begin with, an errant tear only serves to amplify the stereotype. For men, on the other hand, it can actually win them some votes.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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