11/17/2010 01:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Boys Can Cry

When John Boehner cries, as he did at a press conference the morning after the election as the anticipated new speaker of the House, he wins plaudits. So different from the time when Senator Muskie ran for president and was pilloried for shedding a tear in a snow storm in defense of his wife. But was it a tear or a snowflake? No matter, it made him look weak.

Boehner's tears were different. They revealed his humanity, showed he's a good guy. A headline called him " John the Weeper." Critics went so far as to say what a pleasant contrast this was to the "steely" Nancy Pelosi. No show of emotion, what a pity.

What if Nancy Pelosi had cried when she first became speaker of the House? We know the answer; she would have been toast. An emotional woman, third in line for the presidency? No way.

If there was ever a question whether gender stereotypes still exist, that question was answered in the post-election press coverage of the out-going and incoming speakers.

Remember when Hillary Clinton had a "welling up of tears" moment the day before the New Hampshire Primary in 2008? The media went wild. Can she be commander in chief, John Edwards questioned. Others commented that at last the ice maiden had melted. Or, was it a ploy to gain sympathy?

Women in leadership cannot cry without raising a storm of commentary. When I held a press conference to announce that I would not be seeking a fourth term as governor, it was an emotional moment for me. Was I doing the right thing by leaving my position, voluntarily? As I stood at the top of the stairs, waiting to go down to the first floor of the Vermont State House where the press was gathered, I told myself, "Don't cry, whatever you do, don't cry."

I got through it without a tear, until the very end when I looked at my weepy staff. I reached for a handkerchief, just in case. That's when the camera flash went off. That was the photo they used. I hated it.

When women and men can shed an equal quantity of tears in public, that's when we'll have equal power.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.