According to my mum, I’m a spitfire.
She didn’t use that exact word – being a native Mandarin speaker – but I remember, somewhere in my tween years, being referred to as fiery. Spicy, maybe.
Why? I spoke my mind and voiced my anger — if not frequently, then more often than similarly-aged girls in China would have. Growing up, the freedoms offered to me by New Zealand were vast.
But even so, I’ve been in positions where I probably should have spoken up, but didn’t. Behind my silence was a fear of being labelled ‘hysterical’, ‘hormonal’, ‘paranoid’, and ‘dramatic.’ (More recently, ‘triggered’ and ‘snowflake’ have joined the ranks.)
Because, of course, women voicing opinions = EMOTIONAL.
Except, of course, that’s not true. In terms of psychology, women get angry or upset the same way everyone else does: when our expectations are not met, when we are threatened, or when we carry around resentment.
And it’s no surprise that we’re angry. Not only are we faced with more dangers and injustices than our male counterparts (which quite rightly fill us to the brim with righteous fury), but our anger is often dismissed as emotional and irrational, which (spoiler alert) tends to make us even angrier.
Lost in the conjecture is that idea that men and women feel the same emotions at the same depth, but the latter might be more inclined to actually express them. Given that men have been allowed the emotional ranges of teaspoons for the last millennia or so, you could argue that they may also be less likely to express them.
It helps no one to gender emotions.
We may not think anything of how we bite our tongues, hide our tears or mentally tell ourselves to “toughen up.” But in New Zealand especially, Land of the Humble, the stigma around being emotional has devastating consequences.
New Zealand men are more at risk of suicide than women. “For every woman that dies by suicide, three men do,” the New Zealand Herald reported. It’s just not common for men to have a good ol’ cry or scream because doing so would make them a ‘pussy’ — in order words, showing emotion is weak because it’s seen to be feminine. This makes it less likely that men will express their pain or reach out for support when they are struggling.
The ‘hysterical female’ trope also harms women. Many women report severe symptoms to their doctors and have their medical conditions diagnosed as psychological instead of physical. Pain during sex? Have a glass of wine and relax. Recurring migraine? Take a panadol. Excruciating periods? It’s just part of being a woman. Bloated and painful abdomen? Go on a diet.
This ‘healthcare gaslighting’ has led to some women having to check themselves into hospitals to do the jobs of the disbelieving doctors that dismissed their worries as emotionally-charge and unfounded.
We allow women the realm of psychological pain, and men the physical. But when a woman swears she has endometriosis or a man reports having panic attacks, society pushes them firmly back into their boxes.
We need to stop gendering emotions like anger, sadness and insecurity.
They’re just emotions, felt by humans, who all deserve to be listened to.Support Villainesse