Women's Health: Cry Babies

This post is part of Scicurious's great idea to take a comprehensive look at an issue of Women's Health, and the advice offered therein for health, sex, love, dating, etc. I'm dealing with the article on Cry Babies, by Joel Stein, filed under Sex and Love.

My dad was a "life of the party" sort of guy, and the kind of dad you could count on to put down the camera and produce an oversized white handkerchief to mop up the blood from your freshly gashed knee on the way into church on First Communion day.  He might forget to straighten your veil, which would be crooked in the photos, but he would comfort and calm you, stop the bleeding, and make sure you could go on with the procession into church.

Only once in my life did I see my dad cry. 

Years of an ongoing family trauma had wrested tears from him. I was so shocked and embarrassed to catch him unawares in his private grief that I backed out of the room without a word, though I went downstairs and alerted my mother to the disconcerting state of affairs.  More alarming still, she seemed unsurprised - so he had done this before, in this same way. It was only a few years later that he died, officially of a heart attack brought on by black lung disease, though privately many of us felt the cause was overwhelming grief.

Dad was a Johnny Cash fan.  As a teenager, I naturally thought Johnny Cash was completely for losers, though I did chuckle along with Dad when Johnny sang "A Boy Named Sue".

And he said: "Son, this world is rough
And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
And I know I wouldn't be there to help you along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd have to get tough or die
And it's the name that helped to make you strong."

Ha ha!

Years later I've come to appreciate Johnny Cash more than I did as a callow youth, and lately have been listening to the American Recordings and subsequent albums a lot. American Recordings includes a cover of Loudon Wainwright's  "The Man Who Couldn't Cry".

The audience thinks this song is hilarious but Johnny does not look like he is laughing.

Writer Joel Stein is a satirist, of sorts, and he has offered up a satire on men and crying for Women's Health readers.  But as Margaret Atwood's Offred observes in The Handmaid's Tale, "Context is all."  Women's Health readers likely are not used to encountering satire in their Sex and Love columns, as the comments on the online version of Stein's article suggest.  If you browse some of the other articles in the Sex and Love category you will find that Stein's satire is indeed completely out of context.  "The Romance Paradox" purports to give useful advice to women who want to have their career and a man who will open doors for them, too - you can blame it on biology!  " Same Guy, Better Sex" tells you why your relationship hotness fizzles after two years (hint: evolution!) and what to do about it.  "Candid Dating Tips" is a short video of hot guys telling you how to text your dude and turn him on, without irritating him.

In this context, Stein's smartass satire makes no sense.  In fact, if he did his research on the mag, as a writer would generally do before submitting a piece to a publication, one way of reading his satire is as a giant fuck you to the editors and readers of Women's Health.  He's basically satirizing everything that is published in their pages.

A dirty little secret is being kept by many smart, independent women: In relationships, they'd prefer not to wear the pants. In fact, they long for their men in love to kick it old-school by, say, opening the car door, picking up the dinner tab (at least in the early days of dating), and eventually, asking Dad's permission for their hand in marriage. Because while women say they want an emotional dude, a man who displays his feelings too readily will turn off many women because he appears feeble...At the very least, we need women to stop giving us mixed messages.

Can you tell which parts came from "The Romance Paradox" and which parts from "Cry Babies"?  They kinda fit nicely together.

If you write a satire that is a pastiche of every gender stereotype ever about men and crying, then publish it  in the Sex and Love section of Women's Health, you end up with FAIL, because nearly everything already published there is trite, cliched, full of stereotypes, and calculated to reinforce existing heteronormative gender relationships while purporting to support your Modern Working Girl Liberated Lifestyle (Secretly Longing For A White Knight To Rescue You From The Hell That Is Your Daily Grinding Existence Of Wage Slavery).

Who knows what a truthful, useful column about men and crying in the Sex and Love section of Women's Health would look like?   It could talk about the ways in which men are expected to suppress their tears, and how they learn to do so from the earliest ages ("be a little man, son! it doesn't hurt that bad!").  Or maybe it could take that last comment on the Cry Babies article as a starting point:

My boyfriend cries waaaaay too much. I feel like he only does it when it's going to either get him something he wants or to prevent something negative from happening (like me breaking up with him).

and talk about the ways in which some men do deploy tears strategically in relationships, as a mechanism of control.

Personally, I think Women's Health readers would be better off listening to Johnny Cash, and asking themselves why the audience thinks the line "In jail he was beaten, bullied and buggered" is so fucking hilarious.  There's a world of information about men and crying right there for the asking, if only we'd pay attention.

20 responses so far

  • Snarkyxanf says:

    Can we kill "wear the pants" as a phrase yet? Maybe it made sense when women in jeans was still considered borderline cross-dressing, it just seems dumb to me now.

    I'm curious if it's Stein, the purported "smart, independent women" he's writing about, or both who seem unable to imagine a man demonstrating virtues politeness and investment in a significant other, good relationships with her family, and an adult expression of emotions without it being an anti-feminist, tab-paying, paternalistic-marriage-proposal, not-appearing-feeble Chivalrous White Knight scenario? Surely it's possible to be compassionate, considerate, and a man without treating women like it's 1950.

  • [...] this week. Perhaps you’d like to read about why your body is telling you to cheat or about men who are cry babies. Good [...]

  • My understanding is that abusers are among the men who cry the most, and they use their tears to manipulate their victims into thinking that they really don't need to leave.

  • lucy says:

    I saw a sign in my department's administrator's (who is a woman) office today:

    Four things that a woman should know how to do:
    Look like a girl
    Act like a lady
    Think like a man
    Work like a dog

    I found "look like a girl" to be particularly distressing.

    I am not sure why I am sharing this. I just felt like I needed to call someone and just yell WTFFFFFFFFFFFFFF into the phone, and this seemed more reasonable.

  • Zuska says:

    This blog is always available for women who need to shout WTFFFFFF at the world when faced with overweening moronic clueless dumbfuckery.

    • theshortearedowl says:

      WTFFFFFFF!!!

    • jc says:

      PATRIARCHY HURTS MENZ TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      The "think like a man" was the worst for me. No thank you.

      sorry, couldn't resist the PHMT yawp.

      • Katherine says:

        I just had an email forwarded to me showing the different types of earthquake in "non-engineering" terms, i.e. animated .gifs showing bouncing breasts. Because all non-engineers think that way, especially the women WTFFFFFFFFFF. But I have to be chill because "oh Katherine's open-minded, she won't spoil our fun" thanks guys >_<"

        And the best part is that I'm an engineer, and it was also sent to the other engineers that I work with. And the women sitting around me laughed at it...

      • D. C. Sessions says:

        Oh, it's quite important to be able to think like a man. Right along with "think like a bean counter," "think like a marketeer," "think like the idiot who has approval authority over your budget," and all of the other strategic necessities.

        I kinda doubt that's how it's meant, though.

  • becca says:

    "My understanding is that abusers are among the men who cry the most, and they use their tears to manipulate their victims into thinking that they really don’t need to leave."
    Citation plz?

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Drug Monkey, eindiainsurance, Anna Chio, MasterPM, mark grip and others. mark grip said: Women's Health: Cry Babies | Thus Spake Zuska: This post is part of Scicurious's great idea to take a comprehensiv... http://bit.ly/aq2jpv [...]

  • Comrade Svilova says:

    Like Change, I have to wonder if Joel Stein really meant it as satire. He is kind of a major a**hole, after all.

  • [...] Spake Zuska: Cry Babies. A piece on men who cry too much, which was supposed to be…satire. Unfortunately, context is [...]

  • Lab Rat says:

    The Female Eunich while being very badly dated has a lot about the "look like a girl"bit. It's true though...wearing layers of make-up, shaved everything, impractical clothing, and stupidly high heels is "dressing up": when kids do it we call it play, when men do it we call it slightly weird, when woman do it it's normal.

    And of course the best quote from Tamara Pierce's Alanna: "Men think exactly the same as women, they just make more noise about being able too."

  • Stacy Hurt says:

    I had a boyfriend that cried at the drop of a hat it seemed. It wasn't out of some premeditated means of control. He was just an emotional being and when things touched him he let it show. I may not have liked it all the time but I respected the hell out of him for being able to let his feelings wash over him and then watch him deal with the underlying causes and free himself of the issues.

    As a reverse: I was raised by my mother. After years of watching my mother's manipulative tears I believed that girls who cried were silly beings who couldn't shoulder the slightest weight or solve the simplest problem without becoming the ill fated princess longing for some twit prince to rescue her after she had a complete emotional meltdown. It wasn't until much later as an adult that I learned the truth in life that it's ok to be moved to tears by genuine feeling; and it's quite all right to accept help from women OR men if needed.

    so go figure. It's not just the 'men thinking like men' (be strong, tough, don't cry, etc...) it happened to some of us girls too.

    As an aside; When I took a Women's studies class the instructor (A woman) made the statement that stereotypes are never based in anyway on truth (or fact). I still do not believe that. But I do agree it's wrong to make sweeping generalizations on such things.

  • DuWayne says:

    It is absolutely beyond me how anyone can listen to The Man Who Couldn't Cry and find it the least bit humorous. That is up there with how I felt when I learned that it has been taken as gospel for years and in most psychology circles still is, that women experience depression at exponentially higher rates than men - not occurring to very many until recently that men just might express depression differently. It fits nicely into this idiotic fucking paradigm wherein men are somehow biologically immune to the "Hystereea of Teh Womenz."

    We're not and our culturally driven inability to reconcile our emotions is killing us and perpetuating inherently sexist, often misogynistic gender paradigms.

    You can blame it, at least in part, on biology. "Like all other animals, humans evolved to ensure healthy offspring. Millions of years ago, women wanted to mate with strong, resourceful, stable partners who could help provide for and protect their children," says Helen Fisher, Ph.D...

    For fucks sake, can we please stop quoting this woman and her fucking commonsensical nonsense?! This is an embarrassment to people who are interested in or engaged in legitimate evo-psych research - the sort that doesn't make sweeping claims based on "that makes sense" assumptions. You can correctly assume that anyone making factual claims about the evolution of protohuman/human cognition are so full of shit it's overflowing.

    "It's social modeling: We're given these scripts about the male-female dynamic," [Emmers-Sommers] explains.

    I love how the quote we get from Emmers-Sommers is truncated like this. Having read a couple of her papers (and more importantly understanding the social modeling theory of communication), I suspect the reason the author didn't give us more, was because it would have directly contradicted much of the rest of the article.

  • Had I not read your blog post before the actual article, I don't think I would have realized immediately that it was satire. I never know what to expect form those magazines, so an article saying career women really just want a manz to rescue them wouldn't be all that surprising, even if it was right next to an article saying the exact opposite.