Dear Blog Readers,
It’s time to talk about labeling people as “crazy” or “irrational” for having emotions again.
What brought this up? A couple of things. First, I was watching one of Anita Sarkeesian’s excellent Tropes vs. Women videos about the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. That got me thinking. Then I read this piece in HuffPo, which retreads some ground I’ve read before, but which sparked my thinking more.
In the video, Sarkeesian shows some narrative clips from games that have the “Ms. Male Character” trope–like Ms. Pacman, women are included in the game but a) have some kind of accessory added to make sure we *know* they’re female (as in, default is a dude, default plus pink bow is a lady) and b) their femininity is their personality–at least, the highly stereotyped performance of femininity is their personality.
One particularly egregious example was a game in which, for once, Princess Peach gets to save Mario and Luigi. She even gets super powers! Except–wait–her “super powers” are actually just consequences of her extreme mood swings. So she can wash away obstacles with tears, cause destruction with her anger, and so on. You could go so far to say that her powers were the powers of PMS* (which, by the way, is a whole other blog post).
The idea was that any real force these female characters had were the result of extreme and irrational emotionality.
Maybe it was seeing the clips, but this really got me thinking about my childhood. I tried so hard to define myself against these characteristics–the shallow, unthinking, unreasonably clingy and extremely temperamental “girly girls” in shows from Pokemon to oh-God-what’s-another-example-just insert-yours-here. I fell in love with tomboy characters because they weren’t like that. They didn’t get all mushy or weepy around boys, they went out and did the things the boys liked to do and beat them at their own games. They didn’t scream and run and tell when things didn’t go their way; they dealt with problems themselves. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant like that.
What I didn’t realize is that it’s a false dichotomy. There were never only two ways to be a girl, “girly” (implying overly emotional which would lead to the designation of “crazy”) and “tomboy” (implying cool and strong). I never had to feel ashamed that in first grade I only wore dresses when in fourth I never willingly put on a skirt. I really didn’t need to try to train myself not to have feelings about boys or about something hurtful someone had said or done. Feelings aren’t weakness; femininity isn’t insanity; holding things in isn’t the answer to all emotional problems.
This struck me like a miniature bomb today. I had no idea about all of this as a kid. Honestly. I was a feminist from out the gate and I still bought into this false dichotomy because I thought those were the options. Or, if we were being generous, there was “pretty, kind, generous, modest, perfect” (the princess model of femininity) versus “real, hopefully-pretty-despite-tomboyishness, sometimes loud or brash, but smart, creative, and again, cool” (the tomboy model again). I knew I wasn’t the first type so I figured I’d better be the second.
This is the stuff that leads to adults calling each other crazy for getting attached to each other, for having expectations about a relationship that don’t align with the other person’s (especially when there’s been no communication, which is often the fault of both sides), for asking for people to do things differently, or even just for bringing up that their feelings are hurt about something even if it’s small. Denial of our own and others’ right to have emotions means that we get really uncomfortable when we or other people demonstrate the emotions that, guess what, it’s pretty hard to get rid of.
I may have mentioned that I have never shouted at a significant other–that I’ve barely ever fought with one. My breakups have all been conducted in soft tones and although sometimes with tears, never with outbursts from either side. I’ve never flown off the handle, screamed accusations, thrown things, anything like that. Is it because I’m a model of restraint? Well, partly I’m not really the throwing type. Mostly, though, no matter how much it hurt, I didn’t want to give the other person fodder to think I was crazy. Maybe I wanted to break down but only let a tear or two escape. Maybe I wanted to slam the door but instead said that I understood. And maybe, in the time before the breakup, I tried to hide the depths of how I felt about this person or that person so as not to “scare them off” and ended up more hurt because the realization that we wanted different things came once I was further down the rabbit hole.
I’m tired of it. I’m tired of apologizing for sometimes getting really frustrated when someone takes the conference room I booked at work (a thing that happened today) or getting really sad because of a passage in a book. It is an amazing fact of human beings, and this human being in particular, that we can keep our lives going while having all different kinds of feelings. A sad afternoon at work doesn’t signify weakness–in fact, maybe I’ll get more done on that afternoon than on one in which I feel super energized and joyful (and distractable). The way I feel is not always going to be convenient for other people, but it’s my right to feel the way I feel, and I refuse to be ashamed of it.
Oh, and also? I never need to be told that I’m “being emotional,” thanks. I can figure that out on my own, and I can tell when you’re using that as a way of not engaging with the actual argument I’m making.
*Someday I’ll write about the ridiculous idea that women become uncontrollable monsters once a month, like werewolves in high heels