Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Delegitimization of Female Emotion: a Response

As usual, Facebook has the peculiar effect on my life of enabling deep and profound discourse with other people. I just read a note written by a close friend of mine, and was so struck by how well it expresses thoughts I share and feel important that with her permission I am sharing if here. I hope it makes you think, and if you are interested you can go to her blog, From The Papers of One Still Living

I have been seeing this picture floating around facebook in various forms recently. I've seen it at least three times in the past two months. I've seen a man my age post it, an older man with a handful of sons post it, and even a woman in her twenties post it. All told, it's quite widespread, and many people find the picture and its caption funny. Truth be told, however, I very much dislike this image.

Let me explain why. I have to do a lot of explaining for quite an interesting reason, in fact. Let's put my textual analysis training to the test. I'll analyze the picture in three steps---mostly because I like numbering things.

This first observation is the most obvious one: the message of this picture is offensive to women. According to this picture, women are emotional, histrionic morons who are just as reactive with all the matter in the universe as the element Flourine (F). Flourine has seven electrons, but it really wants eight---something to do with completing the electron shell or some chemistry-babble like that. Basically, if you've got some pure Flourine gas floating around, something is likely to combust. Watch this video if you want to know a bit about the element or just see some cool experiments: ( http://youtu.be/vtWp45Eewtw ). Just for fun, whenever either of the lovable chemists (they really are quite lovable---if you have a YouTube account, you should subscribe) says the word "Flourine," replace it with the word "woman" or "women." I did it when I watched the video for a second time, and it was quite amusing. In any case, yes, the image is accusing women of being emotional, histrionic morons. I'll argue that this accusation is preposterous.
Why is this accusation preposterous you ask? First, women are not universally histrionic. Some women are in fact histrionic, but so are some men. Being emotional and histrionic is certainly not gender-specific. Second, from experience, I know that men are just as "emotional" as women are. About 60-70% of my friends are male, so I feel I can say this and have sufficient evidence. Third, I know from my own life that such stereotypes break down. Ask any of my friends or family members---I don't even understand feelings let alone have an exaggerated amount/experience of them. Culture may tell us that women are more emotional, and people may reinforce and immitate those stereotypes just because of their ubiquity, but by no means can someone claim that it is, one, universally true, or two, hardwired into being male or female.
This point here is the zinger---the reason I hate this image most. The caption itself makes it almost impossible for any woman to object to it. Whenever a woman does object to it, like I'm doing here, the people who post or agree with this picture can cite the caption, telling the woman she is overreacting. "Oh, she doesn't like it? That just proves us right! What an emotional little b!7#% getting offended at a harmless, funny-and-true picture!" The picture itself deligitimizes and denigrates women's opinions, no matter how logical, insightful, or true. This picture illustrates a way people constantly write off women's thoughts and feelings, accusing women of an inherent irrationality and lack of personal control. This practice of devaluing another person's thoughts and actions by accusing them of less-than-sanity is called, in some psychological circles, gaslighting. There is a wonderful article on gaslighting and feminism by Yashar Ali. You should read it here:
(http://thecurrentconscience.com/blog/2011/09/12/a-message-to-women-from-a-man-you-are-not-%E2%80%9Ccrazy%E2%80%9D/ ). In this article he defines gaslighting as as a term "to describe manipulative behavior to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy." In my opinion, this is exactly what this picture both does and encourages people to do should any woman object to it.
So, that's that. That's why I dislike this picture. I'll leave you with a quote from the article I referenced: "As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways." If this post struck you at all, I encourage you to speak up against things like this that appear in your Facebook feed. More importantly, I encourage you to listen to others rather than dismiss them, whether male or female. Admittedly, this is something I struggle with, so it's been healthy for me to write this, I think. If you agree or disagree with anything I've said above, feel free to discuss in the comments, as discussing things with friends is almost always fun! I just pray that no one will accuse me of "overreacting," because that would probably make me so angry that I would overreact! (badum-tss) Have a good evening, everybody!

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