Earth to Society: Women Scientists Exist!!!
Emotions Are Not Overrated
Among the many things that have been used against feminists, showing too much emotion and being “too feminine” are two of the most absurd arguments that go against nature. There is this wrongful idea that displaying emotions is a sign of weakness. As soon as you show a sign of this so called weakness, people will either use it against you or deem you too fragile and not take you seriously. Furthermore, displaying emotions—with emphasis to sadness and vulnerability—is seen as the sole characteristics of women.
I am well aware of feminists who try and keep their emotions held up inside to avoid crying in public. While crying in front of your boss every other day might certainly be a bad idea, ALWAYS holding things in will also lead to some calamitous outcomes.
Our ability to properly handle our emotions plays a significant role in the relationships we build with others. Being social animals, we give high value to what people think of us. So if crying is punishable in the social sphere, we refrain from doing so when we are in public. But studies show that suppressing emotions could result in the improper functioning of the immune system, increased levels of stress, and depression.
Emotional suppression is especially evident in people who have demanding professions like medical doctors and pilots. If doctors cried every time they saw a terminally ill patient, they could hardly do their jobs. But those “work habits” eventually transcend into the personal realm and the people who show stone-cold faces at work start acting similarly at home.
When we desegregate social expectations about expressing emotions by gender, we see that boys are taught at a young age to “stop crying like a little girl” as if it was a gender-specific way to have tears rolling down your cheeks. Although in different ways, this affects both girls and boys. Boys are conditioned into thinking that crying is unacceptable for them. As a result, they have emotions bottled up and look for other ways to relieve themselves, which often ends in a disaster. Grown men who were socially punished into suppressing their emotions turn to alcohol and drugs to blow off steam. They find it difficult to form solid relationships where they are emotionally available and, in less than rare cases, become violent.
That is not all society’s punishment system does. It carves the idea that crying is normal for women, both in the heads of boys and girls, hence boys are less likely to be sympathetic about a girl crying (even if they are the cause of the crying). Girls, on the other hand, believe they have one of two options: cry and conform to the role bestowed upon them, or rebel and seize to show any sort of emotion. The latter might be considered the modern way of the “burn the bra” strategy used in the first wave of feminism. But its illusion of being an effective strategy has adverse effects on the women who utilize it.
By now, you should realize I am not advocating for an open call to cry every day. But suppressing emotions is not always the answer. We need to be okay with crying, being happy, being angry…they are all part of the natural process of this thing we call being alive. They are also what separate us from machines. Our feelings and our emotions make life on earth enjoyable and exciting, something we should not be wasting.
In one of my favorite books, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells a story of a woman who was a partner at a prestigious law firm. The woman was faced with a situation that no parent should face: her baby daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy. Naturally, this mother could not help but frequently cry in her office; her display of emotion at the workplace was not taken negatively. In fact, a lot of her colleagues comforted her and she was given more flexible hours. Sheryl reflects that not all workplaces will be as generous, but she believes we are getting somewhere. We need to develop our Emotional Intelligence and our ability to manage—not suppress—our emotions.
I am a big cry baby, and I am not ashamed of it. I cry when I see sad movies, read sad books, or just meet a person with a sad story, not to mention the completely out-of-the-blue, hysterical crying episodes I get when I am on my period. But I also laugh…show a big smile and grin when I am happy. I display my emotions in accordance to the situation. Of course, there were times when I went to the bathroom to avoid crying/laughing in front of my teacher. But the key points are that (one) I find the time and place to release my emotion, and (two) I do not do it to avoid being seen as weak; I do it because it would have been inappropriate to display the specific emotion in that context.
I think it is high time we stop punishing people—women and men—for displaying emotions. We are restricting them from experiencing life at its finest. We are also restricting ourselves from enjoying our encounters. Let’s laugh. Let’s cry. Let’s feel.
Written by: Hellina Hailu