Perhaps the most difficult skill to learn as a woman soldier is not to cry when angry or frustrated. Men see crying as weakness or lack of emotional stability. From a woman’s perspective, it is neither. Rather, it is a natural response women have been conditioned to believe is acceptable. Crying is how women vent anger, frustration, and fear. In a military setting, however, particularly if you are a leader, crying is not acceptable.
Lt. Col. Shugart called in his commanders and staff for a classified briefing. For the past week the battalion had been on standby for a crisis situation, so now everyone in the battalion was on edge. He told the company commanders and the staff that they were deploying that night to the main area of operations where warring factions had been battling for weeks. Capt. Zirkel, the S-1, suddenly began to cry. She could not stop the tears, and when she emerged from the commander’s office, her staff saw her crying. Although they were anxious before, now nearly all of the young soldiers were overcome with fear.
Women understand the hazards of crying in situations such as this, but they don’t always know how to prevent spontaneous tears. The dynamics of anger, fear, and frustration are the same with men and women, but the outward manifestation is not. This isn’t to suggest that women soldiers should completely eliminate crying or begin practicing cursing and throwing things, although there may be a place for acting that way at times. Rather, women soldiers must learn to avoid crying in front of other soldiers. This is easier said than done, but it can be done. With practice, women can control their tears just as well as men can. Not every anger and fear producing situation can be avoided, so practicing what you will say and do makes the difference. Make a strong commitment to yourself: “No matter what happens, I am not going to let them see me cry.” Keep telling yourself this and fight those tears. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up. Keep coaching yourself and stay determined. Grit your teeth and take deep breaths if necessary, but don’t let yourself give in and cry in front of others. Even though you succeed in suppressing the tears, you will still be angry and frustrated. So after the situation is over, go someplace where you can cry if you still feel the need. Take a walk or go into the latrine, turn on the water full blast, and cry. You will feel better, and soldiers won’t see you doing it. You can’t entirely eliminate the emotions, but you can control if and when you cry. The more often you are successful at controlling your tears, the easier it will become. After all, you are taking a short course in what men have had at least eighteen years to learn.
For more information, read Move to the Front: Military Leadership Secrets from a Woman Soldier by Colonel Jo B. Rusin, US Army Retired