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Category: blog

Totes emosh – on feminism, Taylor Swift, crying, and caring about stuff

“Emotional detachment from an issue is easy when you’re privileged” – tumblr user helruna

I am a crier. I have always been a crier. Things I have cried about (a condensed list):
– nature documentaries
– charity adverts
– The Lego Movie
– night skies where you can see loads of stars
– Masterchef
– Taylor Swift songs
– seeing Taylor Swift in concert
– being happy
– being tired
– being hungry
– being stressed

As Kristen Bell so succinctly summarises it (while talking about her extreme love for sloths – I feel you girl): “The first thing you should know about me – if I’m not between a three and a seven on the emotional scale, I’m crying“. Crying is my default reaction to emotional stimuli, good or bad. Like many people, if I’m distraught, I’ll be crying. Also, if I’m incandescently happy, I’ll be crying. If I’m mildly annoyed or somebody does something really nice for me, I’ll probably cry. I cry easily and often.

At school, this doesn’t work in your favour. I was lucky enough not to be bullied at school, but I was certainly mocked for being over-sensitive, for crying easily. I’ve cried when teachers have told me off, when I wasn’t made head girl (seriously), when friends have been mean to me, and people took this piss. I developed methods to quickly stop myself crying to save further embarrassment, and learned to hide it. As I’ve aged, my easily-provoked tears have not abated (though I can manage them better now), and in recent years, I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression, so naturally: more tears. (And let me tell you, nothing makes an anxiety disorder worse than a paranoia about being judged for crying in public.) As an adult, I’ve constantly apologised for being teary in PhD supervisions/heated debated in pubs/while watching movies/etc. And, more distressingly, I’ve had my opinions disregarded because my eyes have prickled with tears while I’ve been talking. “Woah, no need to turn on the waterworks! Calm down and lets talk about this rationally. You’re getting too emotional about this.”

I’m sick of this. So I did some research. This blog post explains why
1) I cry because I’m a woman,
2) I DON’T cry JUST because I’m a woman, and
3) I shouldn’t be fucking dismissed because I cry.

I cry because I’m a woman
It’s kind of hard to be a feminist and despise when people excuse shitty behaviours and systems of oppression with “well men and women are just different!!”, yet proceed to write a blog post about how men and women are different. I’m not sure of a way to rectify that hypocrisy. Basically, if you try to tell me that women should always stay at home and raise children because that’s just what women are good for, or that they shouldn’t join the army because they’re not up to it (etc.), then I will kick you in the throat. However, I’ve been reading up on the science of crying, and have found out some Actual Science Facts that contribute to the gendered differences between the way men and women cry[1].

Firstly, there are two types of tears. There are instinct-tears, secreted when you have dry eyes, get something in your eye, chop onions, etc. Then there are emotion-tears, secreted … well, when you’re emotional. These tears have a different cellular makeup.

Women tend to cry more emotion-tears than men. Biologically there are reasons for this. The hormone that is responsible for lactation (prolactin) is found in emotion-tears, a hormone that women have 60% more of coursing through their veins during and beyond puberty. This hormone literally makes crying easier, so the more of it you have, the easier – and more likely it is that – you’ll cry.

ALSO, men literally have bigger tears ducts than women in general, which means that, when tears are formed, it’s easier for them to keep them in. For ladies, with our puny tear holes, the tears spill over far more easily. We literally have a smaller bucket to hold all our cries in.

Biologically, in this way, men and women are different, and there are actual, hormonal reasons why women tend to cry more often irrespective of their own volition. But biology doesn’t work alone! These biological factors reinforce, and are reinforced by, societal structures, in a big symbiotic soup of that is 64 parts lady tears to 17 parts male.

Because women tend to cry more, the act of crying (and being emotional in general) becomes associated with womanhood, and NOT with manhood. Women cry, men don’t. “Man up”, “grow some balls”, etc. This means than, on the fewer occasions that men feel the need to cry, the shame associated with the act means they often repress it, making them better at stopping themselves crying in general – practise makes perfect. Women crying, on the other hand, is tolerated and expected, so the need to shut it down is exercised less frequently, meaning women may often be worse at not crying.

While the excess of prolactin in lady-bodied people can result in the need to cry more frequently (to empty the surplus) it is socially acceptable for a woman to “have a good cry”, seek out emotionally stimulating media in order to provoke one, and even undertake the ritual in groups. Because of the bullshitty, sexist way our society operates, men dealing with their emotions in this way is frowned upon, with disastrous consequences.

Suicide is the highest killer of young males in the UK. Suicide is the option of a person with no more options, who thinks the world is better without them in it. Now, I’m not suggesting that if young males felt more able to talk about things they were struggling with that all suicide would stop instantly, because mental illness is far more complicated than that. But if men didn’t feel pressured into keeping their emotions to themselves, didn’t have emotional reactions dismissed as girly or pathetic, didn’t feel they couldn’t seek help from friends or professionals, then maybe those figures wouldn’t be so heartbreakingly high.

I DON’T cry JUST because I’m a woman
Obviously, the science bit above treats “men” and “women” a) as the only two gender options, and b) as two homogenous groups, which is Not Cool. We’re not slaves to our biology and – to nick a phrase – Not All Women (cry). In fact, it’s perfectly normal for women to not cry easily, or often, or at all, just as it is for men to blub at the slightest provocation. Just like me at one extreme of the spectrum, sobbing about the bit in the first Harry Potter film where Neville gets 10 house points and wins the cup for Gryffindor (gets me EVERY TIME), there will be women chilling out at the other end, unmoved. People process emotion differently, and unfortunately for women, being less emotional carries as much stigma as being super emotional.

Take Amanda Knox. Deliberately NOT passing comment on her debated innocence, I highlight the fact that people assumed her guilt because of her seemingly stoic reaction to some events, her lack of tears and physical signs of emotion. She was deemed an ICE-MAIDEN (yes, really, in all caps), who then turned herself into a “teary-eyed victim” in order to manipulate the jury and public. See that? LITERALLY damned if we do and damned if we don’t. There was an excellent episode of The Good Wife which addressed this issue: a young woman accuses a famous politician of sexual assault, and her lack of visible distress and emotion is seen as a reason to doubt her claims.

Not cool world. I cry because I am very susceptible to emotional stimuli – it’s a fact of my personality just as much as my biology. Female-bodied people with female hormones are biologically and socially more prone to crying, but that’s not to say that all women are (or should) cry with frequency or reckless abandon.

Don’t fucking dismiss me because I cry
Women, their opinions and their achievements have been dismissed for centuries because of their perceived irrationality and extreme emotion. It wasn’t until the early 20th Century that female hysteria stopped being considered an actual medical condition that, previously, women had been committed for.

Even today, being ‘over-emotional’ is enough to discredit women’s opinions on a wide range of topics, from atheism to feminism to pop music. Recently, atheist writer Sam Harris was asked why a lot of prominent atheist scholarship was written and read mostly by men, responding with such astoundingly arrogant sexism it’s almost impressive. The link between women, emotional reaction, hysteria and irrationality has a sister in the link between men, stoicism, rational argumentation and being correct. All too prevalent is the perception that an argument presented in a “rational” manner (usually typified by long words, pseudo-science and a complete lack of emotional response) is by default better than one delivered by anybody who shouts, cries, waves their hands, or emotes in any way. It is basically assumed that anybody who has an emotional reaction to the thing they’re talking about can’t possibly be worth listening to, because the presence of an emotional reaction in the first place nullifies their opinion’s validity. If you can’t be reasonable about it…

Feminism has suffered from this perception for YEARS. When Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse in an attempt to draw attention to women’s Suffrage in 1913, she was dismissed as an idiot. The portrait of the Angry Feminist has plagued the movement from the outside, with emotionally-expressed opinion dismissed as another feminist rant not worth heeding.

That is, until Emma Watson came along. The speech Emma Watson gave at the UN was excellent, and the campaign she is spearheading is excellent. But heralding this speech as “redefining feminism” because of Watson’s measured, eloquent, “classy” delivery is bullshit. Feminists have been saying the same things for years, but have been dismissed for having the audacity to show emotion about it, or deliver their opinions in a way that doesn’t disrupt the status quo. These excellent girls put it succinctly:

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 15.06.59 Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 15.07.28 Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 15.07.41

As they express, feminism shouldn’t have to be enacted in a non-confrontational, man-friendly way in order to be taken seriously, and Emma Watson shouldn’t be the first feminist to be listened to because she’s famous and pretty (though that’s also not a reason to dismiss her). Feminism can and should be heard from the mouths of all women: pretty women, ugly women, women of colour, women with disabilities, poor women, non-straight women, fat women, thin women, trans and non-binary women, ALL WOMEN, regardless of whether it’s delivered at a UN conference, written in all caps online or shouted through a megaphone. Don’t discredit years of people saying the same, logical, progressive things as Emma Watson because people cared enough to be emotional about it.

Emotional detachment from an issue is easy when you’re privileged. As Jess (above) puts it, the reason women get angry/teary when they talk about feminist issues is because they make them angry/upset. If something affects you directly (and this goes for issues of oppression far beyond sexism), you’re likely to be emotional about it. When women go through life being sexually assaulted, ignored, subjugated, earning less, missing out on countless opportunities and even murdered because of their gender, we’re going to be fucking upset about it. The voices which are the most emotional are often the most desperate for change.

So, if I get into a debate with a friend about how frustrating I find it that female pop stars are dismissed for writing emotional songs (yes, of course I managed to talk about Taylor Swift twice in this piece, how could I not?), and how that contributes to the instant dismissal of the feelings and legitimate emotional responses of young females in particular, I might get upset about it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be listened to. Or that I’m not right.

I’m a crier. I cry because I’m a woman, but not just because I’m a woman. And don’t fucking dismiss me because I cry.