The Politics of Tears

On January 6, Presi-dent Barack Obama revealed that he, by means of executive action, would be taking measures to further expand gun control in the United States. The President’s actions mark a huge step forward toward conquering a chronic problem that has affected so many. The contents and significance of the speech, however, were concealed and forgotten as multiple news sources focused mainly on Obama crying as he talked about the young victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Their active decision to publicize only the tears of the President detracted from the urgency of the actual political issues at hand.

Newspaper and broadcasting companies grabbed the attention of their audience as they focused their headlines largely on Obama’s tears, oftentimes not even mentioning the speech itself. “The Washington Post” headlined an article, “President Obama cried in public today. That’s a good thing.”

As a male and a leading public figure, Obama is an easy target for the media and society, expected to uphold the standard as a tough leader and a strong man. As the President, he must maintain his composure at all times, and as a man, he is pressured to conceal emotions that diminish his masculinity. Such scrutiny of public figures’ expressions of emotion by the media is not specific to just Obama. This problem extends to people of all genders and races.

At one point during her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton’s open expression of her emotions was scrutinized by ABC News. They particularly focused on Clinton’s emotions and predicted her failure in the election based on the grounds that she seemed to be an overly-emotional woman.

We live in a society where crying is often perceived as a sign of weakness. As a young boy, I too was well aware of the humiliation that came with shedding a tear. To eliminate the belief that tears signify weakness, we must first understand and acknowledge the negative and untrue stigma of crying as a sign of weakness placed on everyone, regardless of identity. The media must cease to target politicians and public figures as showing so-called weakness when crying.

Had this stigma not existed, “The Washington Post” could have focused more on the brave steps Obama took that will save American lives. “The Post” could have used its powerful platform to highlight the significance of the shining example Obama set for the nation in its steps towards limiting gun violence. But until our society removes itself from the false assumption that crying implies weakness, we may never hear about such truly important issues at hand.