I feel things strongly. My emotions are intense. I am intense. My heart is full to bursting most of the time and often with a slew of competing-and-equally-strong feelings. I care intensely and immensely about people and issues and issues and people and all things.
We live in a world that tells us emotions are a weakness, that rational thought and logic and reason are the highest human achievements, that caring is somehow less cool than aloof objectivity.
Emotions are gendered feminine by our culture. We talk about women’s intuition. Women are assumed to be empathetic. We believe in motherly instincts. Our culture links women to nature, to animals, to children–to things that operate on gut instinct instead of intellectual arguments.
In 1972, Sherry Ortner did a fantastic job deconstructing some of the reasons for this in “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”–an article which draws on the work of Nancy Chodorow. She shows women are socialized to prioritize relationships and the subjective experience, while men are socialized into the realm of the objective and the abstract. Because our culture ranks the masculine above the feminine, we therefore believe that the objective, abstract, rational, logical, constructed is somehow more important than the subjective, relational, emotional, passionate, natural. That article is almost 50 years old, but I find her arguments still valid.
I’m thankful for a recent post by Captain Awkward which introduced me to Melissa McEwan’s essay “The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck.” (Side note: if you aren’t reading Captain Awkward, what are you doing with your life?? No joke.)
Read this excerpt from McEwan:
There are the occasions that men—intellectual men, clever men, engaged men—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.
There is the perplexity at my fury that my life experience is not considered more relevant than the opinionated pronouncements of men who make a pastime of informal observation, like womanhood is an exotic locale which provides magnificent fodder for the amateur ethnographer. And there is the haughty dismissal of my assertion that being on the outside looking in doesn’t make one more objective; it merely provides a different perspective.
And Captain Awkward’s recap:
I think about this “lady emotions are dumb, man logic is superior!” fallacy all the time…
Feelings are just one kind of information. Experiences are extremely informed sources of information. They are not the only information, but they aren’t not-information, either? They have a part to play.
What if we acted like the the people most affected by something/who have the most at stake/who have the most to lose/who have been the most fucked over by the status quo are the center of where our caring should go and the primary experts on what would fix things, but on like, a national or even global level? And what if caring for them was way more important than our “objective” debates about what they need and deserve?
In the meantime, the idea that “your emotions and your experiences with a thing make you uninformed and unqualified to talk about it, but my emotions (that I have renamed ‘logic’) and my lack of experience with a thing make me more informed and qualified than you” is a brand of bullshit that I will be fighting until my dying day, one really really long blog post at a time.
I’m reminded of my intense reaction to Wonder Woman, which I blogged about at the time. As I said then, “This movie stars a woman who stands for idealism, caring, a belief in love, a belief in the power of beliefs–things which, personally, I have been MOCKED for (and I’m not alone)–and turned those things into a portrait of strength, empowerment, and respect.”
It’s not better to be objective than emotional. It’s not better to be rational and distant than to be passionate and personal.
On 10/23, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted:
“You’re a lot
You have no chill
You’re so extra”
These are all COMPLIMENTS.
Apologize for your passion
on the day after f***in’ NEVER.
I care about “too many” things. I can’t focus my desire for equity and justice on just one issue. I truly believe “there is no hierarchy of oppression” and we must band together to end all oppressions before making any change in this world. I don’t always know how to make change, so I write and I teach and I hope I can make enough small differences in enough people’s lives to matter.
My whole life, my biggest fear has been that I’m “too much.” I fear overwhelming people with my energy, my passion, my intensity, my sincerity, my thoughts, my words, my voice, my caring. I don’t stay in my place. I don’t act like a lady. I don’t stay quiet.
In my 40s now, I’m finally owning it. My husband once said to me, “You’re a lot, but you’re never too much.”
I am a lot. And I will use my “a lot” to change the world in all the ways I know how.