BERLIN - People who were there said he cried for several minutes at the executive committee meeting on the morning after his defeat. As party members analyzed what had gone wrong in the state election campaign, the governor of the German state of Lower Saxony, David McAllister, burst into tears. Angela Merkel comforted him, and by now he’ll be feeling a lot better.
It is surprising that imagining a politician crying should seem so touching – especially when the politician in question is a man. But what’s really surprising is that we are still surprised. But of course in some ways that’s not so surprising. What we need to look at squarely in the eye is the fact that we’re not nearly as “advanced” as we like to pretend.
Let’s look at some examples. We live in a democracy, yet we still expect children to do what they’re told. We don’t want anybody to be disadvantaged in any way because of their background, what they look like, and so on, but those who seem the slightest bit “different” to us are routinely harassed. We women fight for the life we would like to have – without any limitations or discrimination due to our gender – yet still find it incredibly sexy to play partner to a successful man.
Yes, a big car and plenty of money make it easier for the little lady to look the other way when he’s obnoxious. She will in any case complain to her female friends about how he’s not in touch with his feelings – and express admiration for men like McAllister who can cry in public. But what happens when her own husband comes back from the office one day, pale, his tie loosened, and tells her there’s a big problem at the office and bursts into tears? What then?
It’s all about the bacon
Because the truth of the matter is this: men who are sensitive, vulnerable, scare women – especially when a sudden display of feeling might seem to presage some kind of breakdown or God forbid his ability to bring home the bacon. And men know this. So men hold back their tears and try not to cry, and may also get angry when on top of whatever it is that is making them want to cry they feel the strong pressure not to.
David McAllister’s tears came because he suffered a political setback. His tears were those of a person who is completely exhausted after an experience marked by extremes of feeling, wavering constantly between high hopes of winning and the dread of losing, and then having to face the reality that it hasn’t worked out after all. His were both tears of disappointment, but also the tears one cries when something comes to an end.
A study conducted by the German Association of Ophthalmologists (DOG) found that until the beginning of their 13th year, boys and girls cry about the same amount of time. It is only with puberty that striking differences appear in the way they express feeling – on average, males break out in tears between six and 17 times per year, while for females the figures are 30 to 64 times a year. Women cry on average for six minutes; men get things under control again in between two to six minutes.
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And while women mainly cry when faced with problems that seem insoluble or when they feel excluded, what makes men cry are empathetic feelings and when a relationship comes to an end – a relationship with a person but also with a company, association, club, team, whatever. Anybody who follows sports knows this and has seen countless male soccer players and other athletes in tears.
The same goes for male politicians, and we didn’t learn that from McAllister. American President Barack Obama wiped away a few tears after he won the election; so did Russian President Vladimir Putin after his victory. Those were tears of joy, the opposite of McCallister.
In his 1998-2005 diary, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wrote about drawing the final line under his time as the head of government on Oct. 17, 1998: "When I was a boy I was told that men shouldn’t show emotion. I find that a stupid idea. Why should there not be situations where a man has a right to cry? When something touches me, I don’t see why I should hide it."
Happily, David McAllister sees things that way too.