Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.
On the night of the election, I was alone in my apartment, refreshing CNN.com. The electoral tally went above 270. I refreshed again! Finally, the headline! I wanted to share with someone, so I went downstairs and told my doorman. I assumed he would be pro-Obama, and I was not wrong. I think I said, “Yay!” And my doorman said, “Yeah, all right!”
Since then, white men all over the television have been LOSING THEIR SHIT. Trump had a public meltdown on Twitter. Limbaugh sounds like he was just dumped by his prom date. (What do I have to do to be good enough for your love?! Tell me! I’ll be anything you want! What about all the good times we had?) This guy is vowing to spit at Democrats and to shout “Obama sucks!” if you try to do something nice for him. Karl Rove got very upset on Fox News. So upset, in fact, that he was not able to think rationally.
This seems like just the right cultural moment for an article I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
Women’s Emotions are “Emotions,” Men’s Emotions are “How People Talk”
A long time ago, in Bullish: What Egg Donation Taught Me About Being a Dude, I quoted Ben Barres, Chair of the Neurobiology department at Stanford, and also a transsexual man:
It is just patently absurd to say women are more emotional than men. Men commit 25 times the murders; it’s shocking what the numbers are. And if anyone ever sees a woman with road rage, they should write it up and send it to a medical journal.
What I want to talk about is how emotional outbursts typically more associated with men (shouting, expressing anger openly) are given a pass in public discourse in a way that emotional outbursts typically more associated with women (crying, “getting upset”) are stigmatized.
I wish to dispel the notion that women are “more emotional.” I don’t think we are. I think that the emotions women stereotypically express are what men call “emotions,” and the emotions that men typically express are somehow considered by men to be something else.
This is incorrect. Anger? EMOTION. Hate? EMOTION. Resorting to violence? EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. An irrational need to be correct when all the evidence is against you? Pretty sure that’s an emotion. Resorting to shouting really loudly when you don’t like the other person’s point of view? That’s called “being too emotional to engage in a rational discussion.”
Not only do I think men are at least as emotional as women, I think that these stereotypically male emotions are more damaging to rational dialogue than are stereotypically female emotions. A hurt, crying person can still listen, think, and speak. A shouting, angry person? That person is crapping all over meaningful discourse.
I love Rachel Maddow. If you’re a ladyblog reader, you’ve probably seen this. But let me bring back this Maddow video from last April, in which Alex Castellanos denies the existence of the pay gap for women:
RACHEL MADDOW: But given that some of us believe that women are getting paid less than men for doing the same work, there is something called the Fair Pay Act. There was a court ruling that said the statute of limitations, if youâ€™re getting paid less than a man, if youâ€™re subject to discrimination, starts before you know that discrimination is happening, effectively cutting off your recourse to the courts. You didnâ€™t know you were being discriminated against. You canâ€™t go. The first law passed by this administration is the Fair Pay Act. To remedy that court ruling. The Mitt Romney campaign put you out as a surrogate to shore up peopleâ€™s feelings about this issue after they could not say whether or not Mitt Romney would have signed that bill. Youâ€™re supposed to make us feel better about it. You voted against the Fair Pay Act. Itâ€™s not aboutâ€“whether or not you have a female surrogate. Itâ€™s about policy and whether or not you want to fix some of the structural discrimination that women really do face that Republicans donâ€™t believe is happening.
ALEX CASTELLANOS: It’s policy. And I love how passionate you are. I wish you are as right about what you’re saying as you are passionate about it. I really do.
RACHEL MADDOW: That’s really condescending.
ALEX CASTELLANOS: For exampleâ€“ no.
RACHEL MADDOW: I mean this is a stylistic issue.
ALEX CASTELLANOS: I’ll tell you whatâ€“
RACHEL MADDOW: My passion on this issueâ€“
ALEX CASTELLANOS: Here’s a factâ€“
RACHEL MADDOW:â€“is actually me making a factual argumentâ€“
“My passion on this issue is actually me making a factual argument.” I could die of joy (yes, that’s an emotion). But despite my deep enjoyment of Rachel Maddow, totally unruffled, calling that guy out for his patronizing bullshit, that video is really hard for me to watch.
I was a high school debate champion. Then co-captain of the team at Dartmouth. I’m no Maddow, but I’m pretty good at holding my own in this kind of situation. And yet, if that were me, deflecting Alex Castellanos’ dismissive mansplaining, I’d need a whole day to recover. How does that kind of discourse help uncover truth?
In a Washington Post article about Ben Barres, the neuroscientist who transitioned from female to male, biologist Peter Lawrence posits “a range of cognitive differences” between men and women. And yet:
But even as he played down the role of sexism, Lawrence said the “rat race” in science is skewed in favor of pushy, aggressive people — most of whom, he said, happen to be men.
“We should try and look for the qualities we actually need,” he said. “I believe if we did, that we would choose more women and more gentle men. It is gentle people of all sorts who are discriminated against in our struggle to survive.”
“The qualities we actually need” rarely include pushing others around, or having a deep, loud voice.