A funny thing happens when water wells up in a woman’s eyes and—God forbid—falls out. It seems those tears, salty and shameful, trigger a mighty trumpet to blow, signaling to the world that weakness has arrived. Never mind the strength she’s had to develop just from living in a world that scrutinizes her so deeply. She is definitively weak. Her leaking eyes are my witness.
And though a woman’s tears they may look similar to regular, run-of-the-mill tears, know they are not. They belong in a class all their own, far away and separate from everyone else’s. Because other tears have meaning. They bring about empathy and compassion. Baby tears, for example, are considered a valid form of communication. When a baby cries, people know there is an issue that needs to be addressed. Man tears are sweet, endearing, and sometimes sexy. Even whiny kid tears, which can be soooo annoying, get more love than the cleansing waters a woman produces. Silly me, here I was thinking all tears mattered.
Over the past week, I have been bombarded with comments regarding my “Mind your own womb” blog post. Though much of it was positive and quite moving, I was struck by the number of women who were upset with my “portrayal of women.” According to said comments, I made women look weak by suggesting that we cry all the time.
First off, can we talk about the fact that I only mentioned three women in the whole post? There is a 30-year-old, a 34-year-old and a 40-year-old. That’s it. Sure, I mentioned various scenarios that I knew would apply to many different women, but at no point did I mean for this tiny group of ladies to be a symbolic stand-in for all womankind. The fact that so many people would assume this is, well, pretty crazy to me.
Second, can we talk about the fact that I only described these women as crying in response to this one particular, highly personal matter? At no point did I say that they cry all the time, every day, about everything. In fact, it seems it would make more sense to assume they spend most of their time NOT crying. But then, I wrote it, so perhaps I’m able to read into what others can’t.
Third, can we accept, claim and rejoice in the fact that crying is a natural and healthy part of the human emotional response? And though not all women are frequent criers, the ones who are have nothing to be ashamed of. I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling many of these decriers who found fault with my portrayal probably consider themselves feminists. They probably felt like they were standing up for the portrayal and progression of women. Good for them. Please do stand up for what you believe in, but recognize that equating crying with weakness does nothing to further the cause of women. And recognize that crying is only considered weak because it is a so-called feminine trait. It crying were considered masculine, no one would have a problem with it, and they’d probably be encouraging us to do it more.
But guess what? I’m that type of feminist who doesn’t feel the need to take on so-called masculine traits to be valid. I’m the type of feminist who feels comfortable crying (or not crying) as much as my little heart needs to, and I recognize that different women handle different emotions differently. And I’m so cool with that.
But since you want to equate tears with weakness, let’s take a closer look at that. I’m reminded of my late aunt Umaimah Khalifah (may Allah have mercy on her soul), a true pillar of strength in my family. She died in 1999 and left a void no one could ever fill. Talk about strength. This is a woman who was always looking to help others, always looking to give—even when she didn’t have much herself. I remember it like yesterday. She would say, “If there’s enough for one, there’s enough for two.” Wasn’t no way you were coming in her house and not sharing whatever you had! She used to let a whole group of us, my cousins and I, come over her house to spend the night. She never complained, never seemed in a rush to send us back to our parents. Her heart was so full of love and kindness…and strength.
She was one of those “I only fear my Lord” sort of women. I remember she took all us kids to an amusement park once. It was probably around 5:30 pm or so and it was time for Asr (the 3rd daily prayer for Muslims). We just assumed we’d make it up when we got home, but she wasn’t having it. She found a nice spot in the grass and made us pray on time, right there in the park. While we were embarrassed and concerned about onlookers, she stood tall and unbothered. She didn’t care who looked or what anyone thought. My aunt would let no one interrupt her connection to God. She was loving, kind and unapologetically Muslim. And she was also a crier, a huge crier. She cried so much that her nickname was Boo. She’d cry if she hadn’t seen you in a while. She’d cry for happiness. She’d cry for sadness; it didn’t have to be her own. She just felt things deeply, so much that water leaked from her eyes. I assure you, there is no weakness in that.
I’m also reminded of my own daughter, a nearly 7-year-old with a heart of gold. Like her great-aunt, she feels things deeply. She’ll even get teary-eyed during touching commercials, and I swear I saw her crying once during an episode of “Iyanla, Fix My Life,” but she denies it. I guess I’ll let that one slide. Her heart is incredibly open, and that scares me sometimes because there is so much ugly in this world that I’d hate for her to take into herself. But I can’t live in fear. That would be unfair to us both. So me and my leaky-eyed child just live day to day, sunrise to sunrise. We don’t focus on the many people who lie in wait, judgment in hand as if we were made of glass and gears instead of skin, blood and bone.
And even with tears in her eyes, perhaps because of the tears in her eyes, she is strong. Every day this child becomes more of herself—more confident, more intelligent, more grounded in who she is. A few weeks ago, her first-grade class had a performance. Her teacher asked them to wear something special, so she wanted to wear a headscarf, the first time she’d done so in school. This is a decision she made completely on her own despite the fact that no one in her class, maybe even her whole school, wears hijab. But she didn’t care. She wasn’t concerned about the possible judgment and didn’t fear rejection. On that day and every other day, she was nothing more and nothing less than her entire self. That’s strength, and I dare you to tell me it’s not.
So on behalf of my aunt, my daughter, myself and everyone else whose eyes tend to leak, kiss my tear ducts.