Crocodile tears?

So there is something that’s been bugging me, and I haven’t said anything because it’s all a bit contentious. I can hear the arguments already: about how I’m cold-hearted, or blinkered to the concerns of others, or so biased that I just can’t see the hurt some people are feeling. But do you know what? I’m going to say it anyway.

So here it is: what on earth is going on with all these female MPs being reduced to tears lately?


It started with Labour leadership challenger Angela Eagle, bemoaning her ‘agonising decision’ to resign by insisting that ‘it’s just not working’. A couple of days later we had Margaret Beckett, again pleading for Jeremy Corbyn to resign by comparing him unfavourably to the eight previous Labour leaders she has felt able to be ‘loyal to’. And then of course there was Ruth Smeeth, who left an antisemitism event in tears after being accused by a supporter of Corbyn of ‘being part of a media conspiracy’.

As a woman, I am embarrassed.

This is an incredibly stressful time for our politicians, I get that. The disastrous EU referendum project brought out the worst in everybody, breeding hatred and animosity that has been felt at every level of our society. My social media timelines have been filled with anger and with grief, and I have no doubt that many tears have been shed behind closed doors over what is happening to our country.

But to do it in public, when what is happening to our country is actually your job, your responsibility? No, that does not sit comfortably with me at all.

I know what it feels like to be pushed to the edge, to be beaten down by the system and by the task that lies before you. As a teacher and a leader in secondary schools I felt that biting pain of tears behind the eyes both in the classroom and in meetings, but I did not let my smile drop until I was alone – or at least alone amongst the most trusted of my colleagues. It takes strength, but keeping those emotions at bay is vital not only to maintain a semblance of professionalism but also to be able to continue to act professionally.

These women who have let down their guard have not been overlooked in some private place: they have let their emotions rise to the surface in front of politicians and journalists. And I do not believe they have done it because they are weak. If I did then I would not be writing this. These are strong, powerful, empowered women – they are choosing to let themselves cry.

The reasons why are to me pretty clear. There is a narrative at work here, a narrative which is placing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in role as bullies. There are undoubtedly within the people who have flocked around Momentum (as with any political cause) those that give the whole movement a bad name. But to blame it on the movement itself is laughable. Jeremy Corbyn is a peacemaker, a champion of kindness and equality, a speaker of truth. He is not a bully. He is being bullied, that much is certain, by the PLP and the media. But I have yet to see his emotions show in public beyond a flicker of resentment and a determination to continue with the job he was elected to do.

And this steely resolve is being used against him. Women are crying as they say his name, and he is being aligned with the bullies. And I do not think that is fair.

It is not fair on him, and it is not fair on us.

Just over a year ago, Tim Hunt and Boris Johnson were at the centre of a furore over gender discrimination: Hunt said, and Johnson agreed, that ‘when you criticise [girls], they cry’ – that ‘it is a scientific fact that women cry more readily than men’. They were despicable comments to have made, and revealed a truth about the underlying misogyny in our society that women have to battle against every single day in order to be taken seriously.

I cannot help but feel that, with their tears, Eagle, Beckett and Smeeth have taken us back even further.


Writing Bubble


6 thoughts on “Crocodile tears?

  1. Rebecca Ann Smith

    This is interesting Sophie. I’m struggling to work out if I agree with you… I certainly agree JC is no bully. He’s being subjected to an extraordinarily vicious and anti-democratic smear campaign by the PLP and the media, and there’s a whole lot of dirty tricks and manipulation going on (and those recent tears were quite possibly part of that). On the wider issue though, should we all rein in our emotions in public? Another way of thinking about crying is that if it’s genuine and not manipulative it can be sign of emotional intelligence, even if you do it in public. It’s a way of showing vulnerability which isn’t often comfortable, but can lead to greater intimacy and connection. Perhaps I’m biased because I’m an inveterate crier, and have even, on occasion, cried at work. I wasn’t proud of it (in fact it was *horribly* embarrassing) but looking back I can also see how letting others know how frustrated and overwhelmed I was feeling led to things changing for the better. (Not that I’d recommend doing it in the classroom!) I’d be interested to know what you thought of Obama’s recent public tears? ( And at the risk of posting too many links, if you don’t already follow this podcast then the ep called ‘The New Norm’ put out on 17 June is all about emotional vulnerability in the workplace: Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I totally agree with all of this! I am absolutely not saying that tears in public is as a rule a bad thing – I’m way too emotionally open myself to be able to claim that. I think for Obama to cry for shooting victims is totally appropriate, as were the many tears shed for Jo Cox in Parliament. There’s just something about these particular incidents that makes me feel uncomfortable about the agenda (and gender) of those involved… There’s a story also doing the rounds about a male MP (a supporter of Corbyn) who was seen in tears in the garden of the house of Commons, overwhelmed with anxiety and fear – but he had taken himself out of the media glare to offload. I can completely understand why people might be pushed to the edge by what’s going on in parliament right now but I guess I see a similar distinction between tears in the classroom and the staffroom as a teacher – knowing when it’s ok to let go, and when you have to keep it together because people are relying on you to be strong and in control, and will in fact begin to panic if you start to lose it…. I will check out the podcast you linked to – it’s an area generally that I find really interesting! Thank you for your calm and measured comments – there is definitely lots to think about 🙂

  2. Clair Chaytors

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and yet each time I suggest something similar to those around me I am shot down for being cold-hearted. I’m not un-emotional, but if I can hold it together after everything I have been through I expect those in positions of great power to do the same. This is predominately important when difficult circumstances call for strong responses and strong leadership. To be perfectly honest, I feel that those in the media, although not all, turn on the tears as and when it suits and it’s hard not to be sceptical considering the world is watching. Funnily enough, I can not quite imagine Theresa May turning on the water works when it doesn’t go her way, and I hope she doesn’t prove me wrong.

    p.s I have got to re-post your piece!

  3. Pingback: Crocodile tears? | bookwormmummy

  4. maddy@writingbubble

    Firstly I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to comment! I’ve been thinking about this post since I first read it though and I agree with you at least in part. I think it’s unfortunate how crying can be used as a political statement. Personally I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness but of passion and strength of feeling. Or it can be, at least. And yet, as women we have to know how our tears can be interpreted by others. In terms of perception by the outside world, women crying is not the same as men crying and can leave us open to all sorts of sexist comments. Real, genuine tears can be powerful and compelling though. I once cried in a meeting despite totally trying not to but it had a really powerful, positive impact. It turned out to have been the ‘right’ thing to have done in terms of outcomes despite the fact I was trying so hard not to. So maybe it’s about being genuine? Using tears to manipulate is ‘playing your girl card’ in the worst way. Politics at the moment though – urgh. It just feels like a shambles and I’m not sure what to think about any of it a lot of the time! Thanks for this thought-provoking post and for linking it to #WhatImWriting xx


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s