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Clinton's emotional response has brought maelstrom of opinion
By Emily Krone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/9/2008 12:33 AM

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Hillary wept.

Actually, her voice broke and she got a little misty-eyed, but you wouldn't know that from the overwhelming media response to her emotional display.

At a campaign stop Monday in Portsmouth, N.H., Hillary Clinton welled up when describing her passion for politics.

Perhaps no unshed tears, in the history of crying, have garnered so much attention.

Major metropolitan newspapers splashed headlines across their front pages.

The unshed tears led the newscasts of major broadcast outlets. Bloggers speculated about whether they were genuine or of the crocodile variety.

It's unclear what Clinton's show of emotion says about her or her candidacy. But the media and public frenzy surrounding the display says something very definitive about American society, and persisting stereotypes about women and leadership.

"I'm surprised they're making such a big deal of it, but they are," said state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican. "They're highlighting it because she's a woman."

Indeed, the media largely ignored similar displays of emotion by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has welled up not once but twice on the campaign trail.

The disparate treatment highlights the double standard for male and female leaders, said Sabrina Braham, an executive coach for women in business

"When a man cries, it's out of character and considered raw and powerful," Braham said. "If a women cries, it's expected she'd do that, or she's trying to manipulate.

"Hillary didn't cry, her voice broke, and it was all over the media. 'Oh my God, maybe she's not as tough as we thought,'" Braham said.

Three deeply held stereotypes -- about women, about power and about Hillary Clinton -- collided Monday, said Adam Galinsky, a professor of ethics and decision in management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

"What's really interesting, is (that) her expressing this type of emotion in some way violates our stereotype of leadership, confirms our stereotype of women, but also violates our stereotype of Hillary as a robotic individual," Galinsky said.

It can be nearly impossible for women to navigate these competing stereotypes, said state Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat.

"It's a Catch 22, because at some point in time, if you're too tough as a woman, you're criticized," Garrett said. "Women are more apt to show emotion, but when we do, it's linked to weakness."

Americans are just starting to reconcile traditional paradigms of leadership -- established by men -- with female leadership styles, Garrett said.

"The framework for power is based on how men have defined it," Garrett said. "We're treading on a new landscape, where we're having to rethink what women in powerful positions are supposed to be."

Women -- and men -- should be allowed to show weakness, said Diane Swonk, senior managing director and chief economist for Mesirow Financial and author of "The Passionate Economist: Finding the Power and Humanity Behind the Numbers."

"From my own experience, vulnerability is strength," Swonk said. "It's being human and embracing humanity and understanding that things can be hard, but that doesn't make us less resilient."

Swonk said economics is the study of human behavior, and understanding human vulnerability makes her a better analyst.

In politics, too, a stiff upper lip is overrated, Mulligan said.

The legislator copped to crying twice on the House floor, once over a budget that she felt didn't do enough for her constituents.

"You don't want people to think you're less than professional," Mulligan said. "But on the other hand, I think you're good if you care, because people who don't care, they're more likely to sell out."

Even state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, the House Democrats' no-nonsense majority leader, asserted, "There's nothing wrong with someone choking up or tearing up. I think that a male or a female person on the campaign trail is entitled to some moments of emotion."

Females might be entitled to some moments of emotion, but ambitious women shouldn't indulge in them, Braham warned.

Braham coaches CEOs of major corporations and operates the Web site womensleadershipsuccess.com.

"It's not OK to cry," Braham said. "People who don't know how to control it don't get promoted."

That might be changing.

Younger career women say they've cried at work, and haven't suffered any professional consequences.

"I feel like our generation is more understanding and relaxed about things," said Jackie Spring, who worked at an investment bank before enrolling at Northwestern's Kellogg. "When I talk to my girlfriends, they say, 'Oh, I've cried at work.'"

The coverage of the crying issue might not help Clinton, but it could help society, said Elgin Area School District U-46 school board member Maria Bidelman, a school administrator with a background in social work.

Bidelman once teared up -- in frustration -- at a heated school board meeting.

"It was an emotional response, and we're not allowed to have that," Bidelman said.

"Maybe it's good we're having this discussion at such a large level, because our society hasn't allowed it for so long, maybe it will open things up," Bidelman said. "I think it should be something we're appreciating and allowing, something we shouldn't get so freaked out about."