No I am not referring to Chris-Hanna. I have been stunned into silence by the discovery that there are pockets of the world where people still think that it is OK for a man to beat on a woman depending on what it is she did to enrage him. Wow.
No, I have moved on. Or moved back, in a manner of speaking. I have been thinking of Roger Federer and the beat down he received on the final day in Melbourne. I can’t stop thinking about his ragged crying. In fact, I’ve been struggling to find an angle to write about my feelings about his tears.
Let me admit straight up that they disgusted me. I felt not an inch of sympathy for him. On the contrary, I felt something dangerously close to contempt. It was pathetic enough that he lost a match he had no business losing, but to turn around and start sobbing like a girl? It was just too much.
At first, I was going to write from this angle of a girl. I was going to use an incident that occurred when I was about ten. My older brother and I had gone to some event. Inseparable until then, I was his reliable playmate, and spent as much time playing with trucks and toy guns as I did with dolls. In fact, more so, as I was never much of a dolls person. It was so much more fun to climb trees and play sports. Growing up in my brother’s shadow, I was very much a tomboy.
Until that day, and that event. I don’t know what it was that attracted his attention but there was a boy at this party and he made it clear that he liked me. For some reason -- perhaps because he was very cute, perhaps because I liked him too -- there was something about his persistence that frightened me. So I started to cry. My brother came upon me sniveling in the corner and commented scathingly, “Why don’t you stop behaving like a girl!” My tears dried immediately.
Have you ever had an experience -- I’m sure you have -- where the words are on the tip of your tongue but they don’t come out, and then you spend days, weeks, replaying the scene in your mind, wishing that you could go back in time and come back with a leveling retort? That’s how I felt for a long time. I wanted to say, “But I am a girl!” But I never did. Instead the moment passed, and the beginning of a gender-based differentiation between myself and my brother set in. Irrevocably.
I find myself wondering, if by some magic Federer could go back, could replay the finals, would he find a way to win? And if he lost anyway, would he find a way to not crumble, to not break down crying? Would he find some inner resilience and command himself to man up? And my larger question is still unanswered: How does one recover from such a humiliating display?
Which is not to say that I see tears only as feminine and weak. On the contrary, up until he cried after Nadal spanked his ass, I used to welcome Federer’s tears. I cherished his access to his emotions, and I lauded the ease with which he expressed them. I felt the same way about Guga, who cried freely, openly, after each and every one of his Roland Garros wins. But those were a winner’s tears. I saw them as signs of strength.
It’s funny how the same behavior takes on an altered aspect when placed in a different context. The same uncontrolled sobbing by Federer now seemed pathetic, weak, evidence of a fundamental character flaw. I could not bring myself to write about it for fear that my contempt would rip through.
And then yesterday I got an email from a friend. He was updating me on his life. He has met a new woman and is happy. His last girlfriend came straight out of “Fatal Attraction”. If only she had stopped at boiling the rabbit. And here he was writing to tell me about his new love and his new happiness. In closing, he commented on Federer’s tears: “I felt really sorry for Federer when he cried after losing but I guess even champions have bad days too. I think after seeing him cry I liked him even more cause he showed a genuine side of himself. He appeared to be more human and I think I could empathize with him. He is my hero. I enjoy reading your blog.”
And just like that I find that I am forced to rethink my views on tears, and gender, and what makes for weakness and what exactly defines mental strength.
(Part 1 of 2)