It’s a classic scene. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably heard the line. It’s right up there with “I’ll have what she’s having” and “Nobody puts baby in a corner” (although I was a little surprised it didn’t make it onto this list of famous movie quotes). Just in case you are unfamiliar, or if you’d like to get re-acquainted, here is the scene from the 1992 sports comedy-drama, A League of Their Own
Disclaimer: I love this movie, this is a great scene, and Tom Hanks is bae. I’m not attempting to criticize the movie, but rather examine the dynamics of the interaction portrayed, which while more dramatic and entertaining than everyday life, nevertheless depicts some pervasive social norms.
Let’s look at what’s going on in the first minute and a half of this scene. Jimmy Dougan (Tom Hanks) is the coach of the baseball team that Evelyn Gardner (Bitty Schram) plays on. Evelyn makes a mistake that costs the team their lead, which makes Jimmy yell and Evelyn cry. And what strikes me about the scene is that it’s not Jimmy’s anger or Evelyn’s sadness and shame that get in the way of everyone’s day moving forward: it’s Jimmy’s reaction to Evelyn’s crying. Which leads me to 2 questions:
- Why does it make Jimmy so angry that Evelyn is crying?
- Why is it perfectly acceptable for a him to yell for an extended period of time and make everyone uncomfortable, but unacceptable for a woman to cry softly and make him uncomfortable?
Think about how this interaction would go if Jimmy wasn’t bothered by the fact that Evelyn was crying–if he expressed his anger and disappointment in her performance on the field by yelling, and she expressed her sadness and shame by crying, and then they moved on with their day. While it would make a crappy movie scene, it would make everyone’s lives involved so much easier.
I’d like to argue that the “problem” with crying in public (at work, in social settings, on the sidewalk when you see a homeless kitten) is not the person crying, but with the extreme discomfort crying elicits in many onlookers. But what if it wasn’t a problem?
Allow me one brief story to drive my point home. In 2008 I worked with a performance art company in Amsterdam, Netherlands. One day we were in a company meeting, and somebody’s cell phone rang. “Ooooooooh!” I thought, “Someone is going to be so busted! God, how embarrassing for them that their cell phone is ringing, how unprofessional, they must feel like such a jerk.” But then, something shocking happened: nobody cared that the cell phone was ringing, and the meeting just continued on as normal. You see, I had been conditioned to think that an errant cell phone ring was a problem big enough to warrant bringing everything to a grinding halt and shooting death-glares at the offending party. And because that’s what I’d been conditioned to think, I never considered that there was an alternative. Nobody had to fix the problem because there was no problem. Nobody had to get mad, or embarrassed, because there was no problem. It blew my mind.
What if seeing somebody cry didn’t have to make you feel uncomfortable? What if we were as accepting of crying in public as we are of laughing, or yelling, or smiling? What if crying was just another thing that happens sometimes, and that didn’t have to stop everything else that’s happening?
What if there was crying in baseball?
Until next time,
The Cry Babe