John Boehner, Sarah Palin, and When Crying Is OK in Politics

John Boehner's tears come off as endearing.

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So far, Hillary Clinton has been the exception, not the rule. The hosts of The View recently suggested that if Nancy Pelosi had cried on election night the way John Boehner did, she'd be toast. The stereotype has been that when women cry, it's not humanizing; it's a sign that they're weak, vulnerable, and could crack under pressure.

That attitude is based on the perception that women are more nurturing and caring than men, and that crying gives "tough" men more of those attributes. But here's what's changed: The women who are in office these days are pretty tough too. For example, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who first ran for office in 1992 as "just a mom in tennis shoes," was more recently described as a "bare-knuckles brawler" who has the "ability to go for the jugular" in a National Journal profile. Joan Vennochi, a Boston Globe columnist, pointed out that Sarah Palin rarely gets emotional in her "Mama Grizzly" role. "When Palin gets kicked," Vennochi wrote last month, "she kicks back higher and stronger. Savage her and she is right back at you, waving pompoms of steel in your face."

[See photos of Palin and her family.]

Some female politicians could use a little humanizing—whether it's by crying or other means—as much as the men do. In an era when many Americans view all politicians unfavorably, a little more of the human touch could help bring more civility to politics. Otherwise, it's nothing but a crying shame.

  • See a slide show of new faces in the Senate.
  • See the women of the Senate.
  • See a roundup of editorial cartoons about Sarah Palin.