Allegra Stratton's tears showed she's a real person, writes FLORA GILL

Allegra Stratton’s tears showed she was a real person. There is no reason that crying should be immediately associated with weakness, writes FLORA GILL

We’re all well aware that Allegra Stratton resigned this week, but no one seems to be able to recall any of the actual words she said during her speech. Instead, all we can remember are the tears. Oh, the tears.

What happened to Allegra is every professional woman’s worst nightmare, though no doubt something most of us have come close to. As a woman, crying in the office is the ultimate embarrassment. It sparks a reaction from any surrounding men akin to if you’d suddenly whipped out your tampon: inappropriate, unsightly, and inherently womanly.

If you see a female colleague well up, you’ll be straight to her side with a hushed, ‘Quick, let’s go to the ladies’ loos’ so she can release her pent up tears out of sight.

Years ago in my office, a young woman burst into tears in the open-plan space, having been loudly scolded — by a man — following a stressful week. The crying immediately halted the shouting, but not out of sympathy.

Flora Gill: We’re all well aware that Allegra Stratton resigned this week, but no one seems to be able to recall any of the actual words she said during her speech

He was irritated, rolling his eyes at what I knew he thought was a ‘hysterical’ reaction. This reputation stuck with her for years.

His response was, quite frankly, appalling — not to mention unfair.

She was brilliant at her job, yet overnight the respect she’d earned from her career was gone. And all because tears are immediately associated with weakness.

But there’s really no reason that should be the case. After all, what’s the alternative?

For some, the way they reveal a loss of control over their emotions is by screaming, shouting or even throwing things. This is seen as a more masculine response and, while not necessarily encouraged, it’s somehow less damaging to a person’s reputation.

Yet in my view, taking out your emotions on your colleagues is a far more cowardly response than crying. Gordon Brown allegedly once threw a stapler at an aide and broke multiple phones by smashing them against the wall — a response that was literally damaging (though it did little harm to his reputation as a leader).

Unlike screaming yourself into a rage, crying does not harm others. It doesn’t even harm you. In fact, it is a cathartic process that actually releases feel-good endorphins.

As a general rule, women cry more than men — likely a result of societal pressures that give men years of training in how not to appear ‘womanly’ and ‘weak’.

Flora Gill: Of course, there will be a few people who cynically say that women use tears as a weapon, turning on the waterworks to their advantage. But, if anything, that’s even more of a reason to stop making a big deal out of crying

But crying can also be a sign of strength. When Allegra burst into tears, it was a rare glimpse of remorse and humanity in the frequently callous world of politics; a sign that she was a person like the rest of us, rather than a heartless Westminster robot.

While some may have shied away from her behaviour, I suspect many more felt closer to her.

Of course, there will be a few people who cynically say that women use tears as a weapon, turning on the waterworks to their advantage. But, if anything, that’s even more of a reason to stop making a big deal out of crying.

It’s time we destigmatised tears and got over the idea that the world of work is a cry-free zone.

Because the reality is that all of us — men and women alike — wear our emotions differently.

And I hope that one day the women, and men, of Westminster will finally realise this.

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