In a recent post about going back to work I alluded briefly to the Enhanced Tear Duct, which is surreptiously inserted by obstetricians between stages two and three of labour, along with the Guilt Gene and the Total Fuckwit chip. Bursting into tears whilst on maternity leave is fairly acceptable, if not expected of a post-partum female; a friend of mine with a small baby recently felt so let down by her butcher’s inability to provide her with a free-range chicken that she cried non-stop for three hours. When she told me the story, nothing about it struck me as bizarre. Partners the world over are used to their emotional wives blubbing at NSPCC trailers and welling up in the middle of a discussion about putting the bins out. Baby group mums positively revel in the opportunity to provide a muslined shoulder for the irrational tears of post-natal women crying about their sleepless nights, unfeeling husbands, dead hedgehogs, poor mobile reception…
I accept all this as part of the lot of a mother, and whilst I still can’t quite hold my head up high in town after last year’s tearful confrontation in the Royal Mail sorting office, at least on maternity leave I could always fall back on the “just had a baby” excuse, which – let’s face it – is only one up in the credibility stakes from having one’s period. But now I’m back in the big bad working world I am dismayed by my inability to control my tears, which rise to the surface like a natural spring. Last week I summoned a team member to my office for a ‘quiet word’ about their performance. It wasn’t a particularly confrontational encounter, yet I had to cut short the meeting as I was close to tears. I wasn’t the one being rebuked; no-one was shouting at me or criticising my work; so why on earth would I feel like crying?
This week I should have been on a course. It was a residential course, necessitating a disproportionate amount of effort to co-ordinate working schedules, organise extra childcare (the nanny is wonderful, but she has to sleep), and beat the snow blizzards by leaving several hours early. Half an hour into the opening input it became evident that I had been booked onto the wrong course, and the entire episode had been a monumental waste of time. When I called the department responsible, I was incandescent. Did I shout at them? Did I threaten a grievance? Did I explain my frustrations and suggest ways of improving their customer service? Of course not; I burst into tears and gave up trying to explain my feelings through the hiccoughing mess of crying. Credibility score? Zero.
I know of no male colleagues who burst into tears because they are “just so angry” or who find themselves welling up in solidarity with the cleaner, whose parrot – and life-long companion – has just fallen off his perch. I find it ironic that the very skills which make women valuable employees; compassion, empathy, emotional intelligence, are those same attributes which render us a mere teardrop away from a withering glance from our male counterparts. Tears make women appear vulnerable, which translates as incompetency and an inability to cope. This physiological reaction to emotion is just not tolerated in the workplace, putting women – and particularly mothers – at a distinct disadvantage. Far from breaking through the glass ceiling; we’re still bouncing off the Kleenex cushion.
It makes me so angry, I could cry.
Photo credit: Tochis