Guys Punch Walls, Girls Cry

Photo by Jill Greenberg

I’ll never forget sitting in a creative director’s office, having come in with a seemingly benign comment about a digital partnership, only to be berated for a full forty-five minutes straight.

The thing is, it took me by surprise. We had an incredible, award-winning campaign under our belt and had worked flawlessly together over the past six months. It was a relationship other account leads in my position dreamed of and I loved the work.

But for some reason, that day was different. And I walked into a trap.

I’ll never forget sitting there during the first fifteen minutes of yelling, thinking that we could still be rational and treat each other like we had the last however six or so months we’d been working together. I don’t know what went wrong in his morning. I don’t know what was different about that day. But there is no hiding what happened. I was verbally abused. And not only that, it occurred in front of a young girl I managed and mentored, who looked helplessly on as I sat and took every hateful word. She watched as I started to uncomfortably twitch in my seat. She noticed when my breath grew shallow and how I blinked back the tears that were collecting at the corners of my eyelids.

And once it stopped and he could tell that I was visibly upset, I lurched out of my chair and found myself in the nearest bathroom stall where I could appropriately ball my eyes out. At the core, it was more anger than sadness. When I’m angry, the tears start to flow. I get even more angry and frustrated with myself when this happens. I wish I could be tougher and immediately think poorly of myself and over-think how I could have handled the situation differently. There are stories from other women that have pinched themselves so hard in meetings to avoid shedding tears, they’ve woken up with bruising on their arms.

This is frustrating on a number of levels. I look back and am intensely angered that a man could yell and take cheap shots at me while I was rendered defenseless. And this was because I couldn’t shed a tear. Heaven forbid I cry or I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Once those tears fell down my cheeks, I’d be immediately thought of as “unprofessional” or “overly emotional.” Yet the barbs and ridicule that came from the other side were able to viciously flow.

When I was younger, I remember calling my aunt Joan to complain about how my parents “were so unfair!” during college. I’d typically shed some tears but still talk thru what the issues were and feel so much better and clearer following the discussion. I compare it to the first moment after a good rainstorm. Everything is clearer. Even your senses feel more heightened.

And while I’m not suggesting that we start embracing emotional breakdowns in conference rooms, I do think emotion and showing emotion is healthy in certain circumstances. People need to know you are human and there is a fundamental human norm with respect to becoming emotional and shedding tears. I question whether this vulnerability is something that can be more acceptable and nurtured into a positive way of communication. Otherwise, I fear there are a lot of bathroom stall criers that have amazing input and ideas that go quite literally down the toilet.

I’ll never forget this tough as nails female creative director I had the pleasure of crossing paths with. We never worked closely together but she was the only female “CD” at my agency and there were (and still are) very few in the business. I always thought of her as so “hard core” and was taken aback when she left and had a simple line at the bottom of her farewell email -

“Guys punch walls, girls cry”

First of all, I ask that you look beyond the gender stereotypes in this statement and focus on the meta idea which is that people deal with emotions differently. It is something that resonated with me on so many levels. First of all, I was shocked that this super woman would say something so telling about herself. This person I admired from afar and who I put up on a pedestal and was emotional too. And I was like her.

So back to the outburst at the beginning of my story. What he did was unacceptable. He knew he had the upper hand and that I wouldn’t be able to respond and was rendered silent. Had I been given the chance to express myself in a way befitting to my personality, I might have been able to express a point of view that created a more healthy back and forth and ended in a resolution. But maybe not. Maybe he would have continued to rant and continued to ruin my day. But at least it wouldn’t have ended with me feeling completely helpless and weak in a bathroom stall.

Emotion is essentially a bi-product of passion and having passion for your work and being emotionally invested are important cornerstones for great work. The more committed someone is, the stronger and more thoughtful the output. Of course, this passion is something that needs to be channeled positively and can’t be unchecked.

Being overly invested in your work means that sometimes you need that release and you need that cry to help moderate the passion. It helps lessen the stress of the situation and can lead to closer and more transparent relationships. We can allow sensitive men and women to be able to let their guard down and cry and normalize this type of behavior because no one should feel small or insignificant or question their value because they care. And more so, it’s a natural way for them to show their perspective. And let’s face it, tissues are much more affordable than wall repairs.