TRIGGER WARNING: A jackass in the comments section brings up date rape in an extremely uncouth and tasteless manner.
Tonight I’m writing about something inspired by a conversation I had with someone I work with.
He’s the type of straight man who is sensitive and in touch with his emotions. He’s the type of straight man that translates book reviews on the Arab queer community. He’s the type of straight man who wants to be called out on male privilege. He’s the type of straight man who won’t freak out if you do. He’s a good man.
So, I make jokes where I tell him to let women send their own e-mails and get their own notepads.
Tonight we were walking to an event—mostly so that he could smoke profusely—and started talking seriously about gender.
“I’m surrounded with several strong, independent women,” he told me. “But sometimes it seems like they’re adopting unflattering traditionally more masculine characteristics—like emotional distance, and refusing care from someone else.”
I tried to explain that for women, it can feel impossible to admit that you are stressed, overworked, or taking on too much—as we try to compete in what is so obviously a man’s world, we strive to be as close to invincible as humanly possible.
Of course, I was fumbling for words and in a state of end-of-the-day delirium. In a subject so tense—and fraught with my own emotional vulnerability—it’s difficult to find the perfect language to eloquently convey something so knit into daily life, much less find the reasons for why things are the way they are. Also, I make much more sense when I write than when I speak—so while our conversation was lovely, I chose to come home, drink cheap wine and listen to Ani Difranco circa the 90’s to start figuring out all of my (super womanly) feelings about this subject.
(Whoever called out that I was listening to “Talk to Me Now” has me completely pegged)
But as women, I feel that we fear that showing that we are emotionally vulnerable could make us seem weak. It makes us seem like our emotions will take over our work, and we wont be able to function while drowning in a sea of our own overanalyzed emotions—whether they are sadness, anger or annoyance. It’s too dangerous to risk it. Even though plenty of men experience depression, alcoholism and other health conditions and diseases that interfere with their work and are deeply rooted in their psyche, this will never be attributed to their gender. We seem slightly upset, and the looming possibility of our period or ever presences of our maternal instincts creates an automatic divide.
After all, there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent literary trope about male psychosis—even though plenty of men display enough characteristics of it that there probably should be. Even if there was equality in literary trope, female characters would probably be taken care of, or lamented for not having care, while male characters would be forced to navigate it alone.
Outside of literature, we have to resist the multiple forces that are trying through whatever means possible to reduce us to sex objects or baby machines. Many times we are taught to care about, and attend to others before attending to ourselves or acknowledging that we need care.
I am sure you have all heard of the constant media message that there is no way any of us can possibly, “have it all.” When I hear this, I find myself becoming defiant and trying as much as humanly possible to constantly prove these messages wrong. But can’t we redefine what it means to “have it all” according to what we actually need and find relevant to our lives?
As a result of being on this constant treadmill of achievement, proving capability if we it becomes too hard to prove equality, we often navigate the world with an aggressive competitiveness. Showing or voicing that we need care—even if it is the platonic loving support of a friend—chips away at our independence. If that friend is a man or a male lover, it can feel like a complete submission to patriarchy.
I write all of this partially in response to the questions he brought up, and partially as a critique of myself—I know that I am one of the independent, workaholic women with a sometimes unflatteringly traditionally masculine handling of my own emotions. I can publicly express that I am pissed off—but sadness, discontent and confusion are emotions that I rarely explore myself, lest they absorb value time in “proving myself to the world.”
I know these qualities are unflattering—or perhaps unproductive and unhealthy are better words, but like many things, there are structural and cultural reasons why I navigate the world this way—and why I am not alone. It’s not to say that I am an emotionless stoic—I simply open up only those I trust, and only ask anything of them in dire instances. In most cases, I open up to women before men, close friends before love interests and even serious relationships.
It’s even a little bit terrifying to blog about it right now. It feels…emotionally vulnerable. Did the patriarchy just win a little bit? (that is a joke)
Or am I taking it down a little bit by admitting this? (that is not a joke)
What does the sanctimonious women’s (gender) studies set of Feministe readers think? Is being emotionally guarded something traditionally masculine in the first place? Is it necessary to use it to patch over our emotional vulnerability to prove just how much we can take on the world by ourselves?
Is it something a little more about culture and a little less about gender? Or is it how our culture navigates what it has created as gender?
*Edited out jokes that might not translate as such, since I don’t wish to offend and chose to ask more questions. Oh, and named that Ani song.