On Societal Expectations, Gender Roles and Vulnerability in the Workplace

Today was one of those days I will likely look back on when I have been doing this for three, five, and ten years and smile.

It was an afternoon like any other; there were three things and five people demanding my immediate attention. The phone was ringing and there were a couple more people within my arm’s reach than I am truly comfortable with but this is more the exception than the rule. Feeling overstimulated and hard-pressed on several levels I had my car keys in hand and was making my way towards the door when I saw him.

My friend Willie sauntered in (as much as a man with a cane and a limp can “saunter”). Immediately the tone in the room softened a bit, for I was not the only one that missed him but I certainly made no secret of having missed him.

He has been gone from our community — from me, from us, for nearly 70 days now. I wrote in my previous entry about waiting until I got back to my car to fall apart and I stand by that decision.

I have learned a lot about vulnerability for and in front of one another since that time. Specifically I have been wondering about cultural expectations and/or gender roles regarding crying at the workplace (even when the workplace is a ministry and you are a minister).

Women are encouraged not to cry in public and especially not in the workplace. We are given this helpful advice not only by men (who it is assumed, by and large, to hold the secrets of success in the boardroom and especially dislike seeing women cry) and also by women. Look, I begrudge no one their success. I understand that most corporate settings are not compatible to showing emotion. I don’t work in a corporate setting. I also happen to be female.

It had become so ingrained in me, actually, that I needed to hide what I was feeling that it took a few weeks to let it out. That’s a problem. People were beginning to wonder if I was disaffected when really I was just trying to be a tiny bit stoic but here’s the thing – I’m not even the tiniest bit stoic and I never will be. I wasn’t made to be. So no matter what an otherwise helpful article in Forbes may say or Kelly Cutrone’s book may say I have to follow my instincts; feel what I feel; and so long as it is helpful let it show.

When my friend came through the door today I began to feel those tell-tale signs. The sudden wave of heat and tightness rose from my chest to my forehead as my color changed from peach to plum. First one bashful teardop moved slowly down my left cheek and then was in the company of many others as I realized such shame, though fleeting, was foolishness. To feel these things is the cost and the benefit of being here. Today was a payday.

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