How do you feel when you watch someone cry? When tears wet a person’s cheeks, and their nose runs with snot and they sob in spasms, it can be really difficult to watch. Some people would rather drink bleach or walk barefoot over hot coals. When someone cries… you want to do something about it, like comfort the person, or try to cheer them up. Or maybe you want to turn and run. If you’re a man, you’ll do just about anything to make a person stop crying. Men often feel powerless when confronted by tears. We wilt at the sight of waterworks.
Playing with our responses to crying, there’s an online art project that’s spawned an internet trend celebrating tears. The project asks people to post videos online of them crying in front of their webcam. To many, this may sound like the worst thing in the world to watch. But the project is deceptively genius because of the reactions it provokes. You’re a voyeur watching someone cry, unable to do anything, but soon it’s no longer about them, it’s all about how their tears affect you.
Crying online isn’t new. You may remember the guy who sobbed and begged the world to leave Britney Spears alone. His tears and pleading were actually hilarious. This art project is completely different. It’s partially inspired by the snarling, spitting, cussing spirit of 90s riot grrrls. And so far, only young women and girls are brave enough to post videos. You may ask: How is it brave to cry in front of your webcam? Sounds kinda pathetic… or dramatic… or self-indulgent. But to these young women, crying is a new emotional form of feminism. The previous generation of riot grrrls expressed their anger, but these young women are turning sadness into strength. Instead of the middle finger, they show the world their tear-streaked faces.
In the videos, the women and girls rarely speak, instead they sniffle and sob, some shudder with emotion, yet by exposing their moments of weakness, somehow they flip social power on its head. They challenge you. Are you brave enough to post a video online of you crying? And they don’t care if you judge them because they’re above your judgment. They know everyone cries. But they don’t hide their tears.
Critics label these “crying videos” just more proof of our narcissistic culture. Others see them as advertisements of female weakness as spectacle. And to others the videos are an erotic tool. Tears are many things to many people.
French journalist and artist, Dora Moutot, created “Webcam Tears.” Moutot found inspiration in video artist and photographer Laurel Nakadate’s gallery-based exhibition “365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears.” Nakadate’s exhibition focused on large format photographs of the artist crying. In an interview Moutot described the exhibition’s effect on her: ”It was just pictures of her crying, rooms and rooms of her crying. And I felt that it was my exhibition. I always took pictures of myself crying since I was sixteen.” She adds, “I thought — this was a great idea — but it should be bigger, it should be about other people.”
A member of the Tumblr generation, for whom privacy is extinct, Moutot used social media to create her art project. She put out a call online for submissions. Young women and teen girls began recording themselves and sending her videos. Moutot collects, curates and presents the videos of her and others in a collage, a sort of virtual gallery installation. It’s kinda like a visual buffet of tears.
“I knew that people would have a big reaction. Whenever someone does something weird online, no one really cares. You can see cannibalism online. You can see whatever. But if you see that someone is sad or vulnerable, people always react.” Moutot recognizes the undeniable essence of raw emotion. It’s what gives her project a simple yet engaging quality.
Journalists and bloggers often suggest the crying girls in the videos are sad obsessives seeking attention. Some say their tears are faked. Moutot is quick to address the accusations of fakery and narcissism. “I select the videos I think are real. Fake videos… I don’t even bother putting them online. I try to screen for honesty. I know some of the videos are real because I know some of the girls from the internet. They’re girls I talk to, and because they’re feminist girls, they take the stance — ‘Fuck off, I have hairy armpits, whatever, I will show everything online.’ It’s because they’re a new generation of girls, they’re very riot-grrrl.”
Moutot’s work celebrates the fact today’s young women and girls don’t let what others think limit them. Pro-sex feminists like Madonna and recent Slutwave artists like Brooke Candy insist a woman must be allowed to enjoy every aspect of her femininity, including her sexual appetites and her want to be desired. In the case of Dora Moutot and “Webcam Tears,” she insists women can experience moments of weakness without them becoming a defining label. She sees the “crying videos” as feminist protest. She and others like her refuse to be shamed for how they feel.
The artist describes her project in terms of social power: “It’s a way to say ‘I don’t care what you think.’ We do cry. I cry a lot. It’s just so easy to make me cry. And I don’t feel I should be embarrassed. Whenever a girl starts to cry, she fights it and tries to put her tears away — to push them back. You freak out and ask yourself, ‘Should I leave? I’m going to look ridiculous.’ But I think I should just stand there and cry. And keep talking. It’s your fault if I cry. You should feel bad for making me cry. Not me.”
We all know something posted online can be used for purposes never intended. Since her project lives online, others have used Moutot’s work for their own needs, such as the people who get off using it as “emotional porn.” She recounts, “I had one problem when I posted a video of myself and I was crying in a way that I didn’t know was very sexual. I had no idea about that. And the video went viral. All of these guys were commenting, saying things like, ‘Oh yeah, she really wants it.’ I was shocked. I got scared. I went onto sado-masochistic sites and blogs where it had been re-posted. I had to contact Tumblr and ask they take the video down.”
It’s a rare type of S&M called “dacryphilia.” Usually, it’s men. And they get hard when they see a woman cry. A website devoted to young women crying is basically a dream porn-site for them.
Moutot reflects, “I played a bit with this website. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking would happen — but now, I know certain men, they like tears. Before, I was like whatever… I’ll just put it online. But now if I think there’s a chance it will be seen as too sexual, or for instance, if the angle of how my webcam is filming me allows one to see that I have big lips I won’t put it online.”
But Moutot doesn’t judge these guys. She’s surprisingly diplomatic about her art being used as erotic fuel. “I don’t mind them masturbating, but this is not porn. They do whatever they do when they watch it. I don’t care. But I don’t want it to be officially on a porn website. Or if it is, I want to create it myself.”
The SlutWalk protests articulate why women shouldn’t have to limit their social activities due to fear of how men will respond. Moutot’s work shows yet another avenue of modern life where women are confronted by a world filled with predatory eyes. It never gets easy, even when a woman is online and anonymous.
When women first entered the workplace in great numbers in the 1960s, they did their best to “man up.” In the 80s, women began wearing altered men’s jackets with over-sized shoulder pads to look more masculine. This ridiculous masquerade totally failed. Just check out the 80s film Working Girl and you’ll probably laugh your ass off at women’s business attire from that time. Today, young women don’t want to imitate men. Instead they feel free to remain feminine, armed with all the skills, perspectives and emotions women bring to the boardroom. Crying is just an expression of one of those emotions.
Moutot has strong opinions about crying in public, ”I don’t like that we always have to pretend that we’re okay. You can be fucking sad and be crying. There is no problem in being weak. I hate this idea that we have to be strong all the time. Or present ourselves as strong when we aren’t.”
In popular culture, crying is weakness and synonymous with women. Boys aren’t supposed to cry. Real men don’t show weakness. However, if you’ve ever seen your father cry, you know how powerful the moment was, and how the bond between you grew stronger. But it’s not the rarity of those moments that makes them powerful. Crying brings people closer. It heightens feelings of empathy, which are being diminished by all the time we spend staring at a screen. Ironically, “Webcam Tears” increases empathy while you stare at a screen.
Writer-performer, Tina Fey, offers us a more frank opinion on crying in her book, Bossypants: “Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.” Tina’s right! Smart women don’t relinquish any aspect of their power. Feminism instructs women and girls that they’re equal members of society and that their entire emotional world is equally valid. According to the Tao Te Ching, water is stronger than rock and steel. These young feminists recognize tears are stronger than silence and repression.
If critics say these women and girls are just narcissistic for sharing their tears online, then the critics don’t get it. It may be narcissistic, but there’s also something else going on. Women and girls are grasping strength from moments of weakness. They’re finding catharsis. And by posting it online, they’re saying to each other — it’s okay to cry. The idea crying is a shameful, purely female emotional response or an embarrassing loss of control is outdated and it emotionally impoverishes everyone.
Pushing forward a new spirit of feminism and online culture, Moutot says, ”Send me videos. Guys send me videos. And old people send them!“
Yep, this is a very different generation. One that thinks sharing videos of crying makes people feel better and that it’s an act of social defiance. It’s also a way for women to enjoy the freedom previous generations handed forward. Sure, it’s probably not what Gloria Steinem and Susan B. Anthony had in mind for women of the 21st Century but it’s the same feminist ideal — equality. Today, women and girls live in a world where their feelings matter. So… if you’re feeling tough enough to expose weakness, record yourself and share your tears with the world.
Check the project here: http://webcamtears.tumblr.com.