Turning on the Tears: Should Men Cry?

Is the weepy "Bachelor" a sensitive sweetie or just a crybaby?

March 4, 2009 — -- The final tear-soaked episode of "The Bachelor" was remarkable for the star's dumping the winning bachelorette for the runner-up, but what really has people talking is the endless waterworks -- and the tears didn't come from the women.

Jason Mesnick is likely the weepiest bachelor ever. He sloshed through the final episode, tearing up at least a dozen times, raising the question: When is it OK for men to cry?

Mesnick's crying has endeared him to some viewers but painted him as a target of insult for others.

"I thought it was sweet to see a guy cry for a change and any girl would be lucky to have him," one "Good Morning America" viewer commented at ABCNews.com.

"I like a sensitive guy as much as the next woman, but unless someone just died or you have just cut off one of your limbs, cut out the waterworks," another wrote.

"GMA" went to a U.S. military base to ask the most macho of men what they thought about turning on the tears. Even there, the reaction was mixed.

"I totally think it's OK for a man to cry and I think there's times when it's totally warranted," said Marine Maj. Tony Bancroft.

U.S. Navy Lt. Jim Tomaszeski disagreed. "I don't cry at all and it's not really on purpose. I just find other more constructive things to do," he said.

And Navy Lt. Brian Hartman, the son of former "GMA" host David Hartman, said he remembers crying only once in his life.

"The only time I can remember where I cried specifically was when I learned Diane Swayer was married," Hartman said jokingly, referring to the "GMA" anchor.

When it comes to crying, psychologists say that the difference between men and women may be a learned response.

"If you look at brain scans of people expressing emotion you'll see men feel the same emotion, but we display it in different ways. We're culturally told here in America we don't cry as men," said Jonathan Bowman, an assistant professor at the University of San Diego who specializes in male communication.

While shows like "The Bachelor" are known for emotional drama and tugging -- sometimes ripping -- at the heart strings of the contestants and audience alike, Mesnick is hardly the first high-profile man to choke up in public.

Politicians Cry Too

Mesnick may have earned a few critics after the tears, but at least it did not cost him a presidential campaign.

During a 1972 news conference the media reported that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Edmund Muskie teared up in response to a newspaper attack on his wife. Afterward, he was dubbed by critics as too sensitive for the White House, although Muskie maintained the moisture on his face was caused by snow dripping on him.

A few decades later, however, Bill Clinton proved glassy eyes could look distinguished, Tom Lutz, a professor at the University of California, Riverside told The Associated Press in 2007.

"Bill could cry, but [his wife] Hillary can't," Lutz said. "We're talking about dropping a tear, no more than a tear or two."

President George W. Bush and his father have gone teary in public, the younger known to get especially emotional when talking about casualties of war.

In one of his most emotional moments, President Obama got choked up when he talked about his grandmother in November.

Though quivering lips from male politicians have been generally accepted by most, female politicians have historically not been so lucky.

When Hillary Clinton got emotional on the campaign trail in 2008, her moist eyes got mixed reviews at best, something some experts say was unavoidable.

Men's 'Distinguished' Tears to Women's 'Overemotional' Crying

In 2007 Penn State published a study that focused on the responses to both men and women crying. Though subjects responded about equally and negatively to both men and women crying outright, they reacted most positively to men with moist eyes.

"Women are not making it up when they say they're damned if they do, damned if they don't," Stephanie Shields, the psychology professor who conducted the study, told the AP. "If you don't express any emotion, you're seen as not human, like Mr. Spock on 'Star Trek.' But too much crying, or the wrong kind, and you're labeled as overemotional, out of control and possibly irrational."

When Ellen DeGeneres wept on national television for a dog she was asking to be returned in 2007, fellow comedian Bill Maher joked that it was hurting the chances of Americans electing a woman to president.

"At this moment, when the entire nation is saying, 'hmm, can we have a woman president? Maybe they're too emotional,' I don't think this is helping," Maher said on his talk show. "If I was a woman, I would be embarrassed right now. I would be embarrassed for all womankind."

The study also reflected a shift in judgment of male crying compared in the last three decades, "especially since Sept. 11, 2001," Shields told a Penn State research magazine.

After those terrorist attacks, few criticized David Letterman or Jon Stewart when they choked up on air.

One reason their emotional moments are so well remembered and why Mesnick's tears may have caused such a stir is because, according to Jonathan Rottenberg, people perk up more when a man cries.

"We pay attention to who is crying. It causes us to search for what's going on," Rottenberg, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, told ABC News. "We think it's important. This is especially true for men, because men report crying less often than women, so you know there must be something really the matter if a man cries."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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