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Crying over spilt dignity

October 29, 2009

I’m a crier. I’m pretty okay with that. I cry when I’m sad, I cry when I’m angry, I cry when I’m embarrassed, and I cry when I’m excited. I cry during movies basically all the time. I cry at weddings. Sometimes I just cry for no reason. It makes me feel better.

So, this post, and the ensuing comment thread (at my posting) hit home pretty hard. From Courtney at Feministing:

I remember one class, in particular, in which a classmate and I got into a fiery argument about the politics of language, ebonics, poverty, and education. I teared up in spite of myself and felt frustrated for the rest of the day that I’d let my emotions show.

Today I have more empathy for that 19-year-old version of me. I think that emotions, as Roxie argued, are a critical part of how I process the world, understand ideas and issues, and formulate my own arguments. In this still male-dominated realm of intellectual debate (just look at the op-ed pages of any major newspaper), the standard is still clear: emotions, and most certainly crying, don’t have a place.

I’m taking a class right now about educational equality (in a variety of forms). This week, we’ve been discussing gender equality in the classroom. This is something I’m pretty passionate about. It’s something I take really seriously. It’s something I take really personally.

A couple of weeks ago when we were talking about race equality, one of my classmates did something I found quite revolutionary, and quite brave: she raised her hand and flat out told us that, being the only person of color in the room during that discussion, she was really uncomfortable.

Even though I was far from the only woman in the classroom this week (most of the students in the class are female), it didn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable. Even though I was far from the only feminist in the classroom, it didn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable. Because here’s what it’s about: when you’re talking about women, you are talking about me. Even if you’re talking about women in high school in “sex-segregated” classrooms, you are talking about me. And when I am talking about women in high school in “sex-segregated” classrooms, I’m talking about me, too.

There were no particularly jarring incidents for me. No one felt compelled to make the argument that maybe women should just suck it up and learn some science. One of my male classmates did pull the ol’ “Well, I’ve seen some numbers, and I’m just not convinced” trick, but I know from his prior contributions to that class that he’s coming at this with the right intentions, and I can deal with that.

There was nothing horrible that went on in this classroom. But there could have been. There has been, for many more of us than just me.

Because when you’re talking about women, you’re talking about me. When it’s Ladies’ Day on the syllabus, and all the men sit back in their chairs and keep their heads down. When I draw attention to a gender problem in a text and become the next contestant on Stump the Feminist! When two lines out of five thousand mention a non-male and no one seems bothered in the least. You’re talking about me.

I’m an intelligent woman, fairly well-versed in a number of subjects. I can argue, I can be aggressive, I can debate. I can take being told that I’m wrong. I cannot take being told that I’m nothing.

When we set up this rational-emotional opposition, we forget that sometimes, the subject is emotion. Sometimes, the argument is “When you did X, it made me feel hurt/silenced/erased/less-than.” There is nothing intrinsically irrational about emotions. Dispassion is not necessarily rational. If I cry (or want to), it isn’t because I’ve shut off the part of my brain that allows me to think reasonably about the issue at hand. It’s because I’m sad, hurt, angry, embarrassed, targeted. It’s because it’s me, and I can’t be indifferent.

Devaluing an emotive response boxes up and ships away the part of me that’s central to a discussion that’s about women, or a discussion that ignores women. That I can’t do.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. cellardoor10 permalink
    October 30, 2009 12:46 AM

    One of the best things we did in New Student Week training was take a training on conflict styles. Now, whether you find these classification things hokey or not, it really spoke to me. The concept was that you have a “core” – a style of conflict that when pushed, will come out – whether it fits the societal norms or not. The variables were Direct vs. Indirect communicators, and Emotionally Expressive vs. Restrained. The American norm in the workplace is Direct and Restrained. I, on the other hand, and Direct and Emotionally Expressive. Now, I rarely cry – you have to really get to me to see crying. But I get ANGRY. I do the enraged ranting thing like nobody’s business.

    Anyway, one of the things we did was divide on each axis and have Indirect people talk about Direct people and vice versa, and Expressive people talk about Restrained people and vice versa. It was pretty eye-opening, and explained a lot about certain relationships I have – why I feel they don’t open up to me enough, etc. In addition, they did a graph of where different ethnicities/geographic areas tended to fall – Northern European = Direct and Restrained, Southern Europeans and African-Americans = Direct and Expressive, Middle Easteners = Indirect and Emotionally Expressive. I don’t remember the rest, and there are obviously lots of exceptions, but it was a really interesting workshop that helped me understand why I fight with certain people, etc.

    So, to get to the point, being emotionally expressive isn’t just a race thing or a gender thing – there are plenty of emotionally expressive people of all types, but white men tend to fall into Direct and Emotionally Restrained, so that has become the classroom and workplace norm. And if you don’t conform to that, you’re a “wimp,” “going behind their back,” or “overly emotional,” etc. Interesting how that works.

    • Jill permalink
      October 30, 2009 8:42 PM

      I’m not really opposed at all to typing (as long as it’s understood that it’s a generalization and not a representation of reality, as you get at perfectly in that last paragraph), and I think just the fact of bringing it to people’s attention that there are many (legitimate) ways of communicating a point, and often we don’t hear each other because we’re not taking the time to listen through those other ears.

  2. cellardoor10 permalink
    October 30, 2009 1:53 AM

    Also, I didn’t get to read the Shakesville post until after I posted that. The Bargain post is excellent. Well-written and completely accurate to my experiences. Everyone should read it. Everyone.

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