Feminists will weep, but I turn on the tears to get my own way
19:38 GMT, 5 September 2012
My supermarket trolley was piled high with shopping in anticipation of the birthday dinner party I was throwing for my husband that evening, and time was ticking away fast. So when I opened my purse to pay for my goods and discovered I’d left my credit card at home, I could have cried.
Only I didn’t. Well, not at first. Smiling sweetly at the customer services assistant, I explained my predicament and asked if I could pay by cheque. Her response was an unapologetic ‘no’.
Could I leave my name and phone number and pop back later with the cash Another ‘no’. So I began to beg. Take my engagement ring, I said. My Wimbledon tickets Anything so I can get out of here and back to my oven. But nothing worked.
What women want… When a woman cries she's on her way to getting what she wants, says Angela Epstein
Clearly relishing her power, the assistant remained inflexible. Angry, irritated and almost expiring with frustration, I demanded to see the manager. A few minutes later, a nice man with flaxen-coloured hair and kindly eyes appeared beside me.
It was at that moment that I realised the only thing that would work was a radical change of tactic. My voice wobbled, my posture crumpled and heavy tears formed as I made my soulful appeal.
‘Please,’ I begged. ‘I’m a regular customer here. I’ve left my children with a baby-sitter. I have to get home, I haven’t got time to come back. I’m preparing a special birthday dinner for my mum.’ (I thought this would inspire more sympathy than the truth that I was merely cooking for him indoors.)
‘Surely a cheque is good enough, even without a bank card’ I pleaded, employing an Oscar-worthy vibrato quiver in my voice.
The manager’s face visibly softened as he told me he’d let me pay by cheque just this once.
‘Oh, thank you! You don’t know what this means to me,’ I sobbed, pressing a sodden ball of Kleenex into his hand.
Many feminists will cringe at such blatant emotional manipulation. As for me, I’m happy to douse the embers of those burning bras with my unapologetically girlie tears.
The fact is that when a woman cries — either by default or design — she’s on her way to getting what she wants, especially if her emotional display is directed at a man.
Only last week, celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman was quoted as saying women are easier to defend than men because they are more inclined to cry. Once a female suspect is at a police station facing a charge of drink driving, he argued, she may be crying so hard that her powers of comprehension are shattered — and this emotional distraction can be used as a defence in court.
‘When it comes to a defence, they can be an unwitting beneficiary of that emotional state,’ Freeman says.
I take his point, having once had my own collar felt at the roadside. Driving home from work, I’d made a dash through some traffic lights as they changed to red.
Even in court: Celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman (pictured) has been quoted as saying women are easier to defend as they are more likely to cry
Moments later, I saw the dazzling flash of a police light in my rear-view mirror. ‘Oh, officer,’ I stuttered after he’d pulled me over. ‘I didn’t mean to. I was late picking up my little girl and I was so upset at the thought of her being the last one left in school.’
A lump formed in my throat, and the tears started to fall. ‘I know, it was such a stupid thing to do. . .’ I said.
‘It was,’ the gentleman police officer replied as I continued to release a flood of watery apologies. Then he let me off with a caution. I drove off slowly, mascara dribbling down my chin, feeling glad that, once again, my tears had come to my rescue.
I’ve always been a cry-baby. Perhaps it’s because I’m a volatile red-head, so my emotions are difficult to keep in check. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest by some years, and as a child only had to whimper before someone came scuttling to my aid. Whatever the reason, I’ve always found turning on the tears is the most effective means of getting my own way.
Only last week, I sobbed bitterly when the washing machine engineer said he wouldn’t be able to come back for a few days with the part he needed because he was so busy. My tears worked: he managed to rejig things so he could fit me in the following day.
I wasn’t always a tactical tear-monger. In fact there was a time when I castigated myself for this affliction: for bursting into sobs at the first breath of conflict.
I particularly loathed it when my tears were provoked by any professional criticism. Early in my career as a junior reporter, I remember getting a dressing-down from the editor for failing to unearth a vital part of a story about the local agricultural show.
I stood in his office, my throat burning, telling myself: ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry.’ I managed not to, but back at my desk I buried my head in my hands then fled to the loo, my face soaked with tears.
So much for what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; at that stage in my career, I was as weak as a kitten.
Yet in recent years, having faced the emotional issues that really matter — getting married, having children, the maturity of age, the strength of professional advancement — I’ve actually come to appreciate how useful it is to turn on the waterworks, and I no longer battle to stem the flow.
A few months ago, a male friend and colleague misunderstood a remark I made when we were at a public function. Under his breath, he let me have the full blast of his displeasure.
The next day, I called to see him at his office to apologise, and as I told him how much our friendship meant to me, the scalding tears started to flow.
I felt the hot flush of shame, but part of me also realised that a watery appeal could demonstrate genuine remorse.
My friend seemed almost embarrassed by my tears, making a feeble joke about my being a pathetic woman, and the matter was swiftly settled with a hug. We’ve never mentioned it since.
Tear factor: Angela last week sobbed bitterly to convince an engineer to complete work on her washing machine (posed by models)
Of course, the impact of tactical tears depends very much on who is on the receiving end of them. Some people, women in particular, despise it, feeling it smacks of an innate weakness which undermines the sisterhood.
No wonder Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg was recently criticised for encouraging women to cry at work, revealing that she regards her tears as part of her success.
Speaking to some aspiring entrepreneurs, she said: ‘I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. I try to be myself.’
Men, on the other hand, perhaps feel stung by the fact that they have reduced a woman to tears. It makes them feel like the playground bully, causing them to recalibrate and rescue the damsel they have plunged into distress.
Or maybe they’re simply embarrassed by the whole emotional dog-and-pony show, and want it to go away.
To them a weeping woman is hormonal and emotionally unstable, and that’s not a scenario they wish to be a part of.
Ultimately, being a cry baby means you’re target practice for those who despise such emotional manipulation. No doubt I’ll be in for same scalding criticism for admitting my position. It may even make me cry.