Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gender and Emotions

One way in which the patriarchy acts to the detriment of men is by robbing them of the right and the capacity to express their emotions verbally. From early childhood, girls observe their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and their female friends discuss openly and clearly what they feel and why they feel it. This is how we acquire the extremely important skill of verbalizing our emotions. Later on in life, we emulate our mothers' and aunts' example and create our own networks of emotional support. We learn to build a core group of people whom we can always turn to, call on the phone, email, and say, "I'm feeling really sad today, can we talk?"

Boys, on the other hand, are schooled to conceal their emotions as much as possible. "Boys don't cry,"  they are told from an early age. So in order not to jeopardize their gender identity, they learn to repress the emotions they experience. Sadness, grief, depression, loneliness - these emotions often don't get verbalized in many men's lives. They are taught to hold it all in, never show what they really feel because that would be unmanly. Few things are as bad for one's psychological and physical health as this stiff-upper-lipping through negative emotions.

At the same time, women who find it more difficult to verbalize what they feel also find themselves castigated by the patriarchal vision of gender. Women who lack the capacity of being as openly emotional as the patriarchal standard expects every woman to be are branded as unfeminine. 

This gender disparity in how well men and women can express themselves emotionally makes it more difficult for people in heterosexual relationships to get along and understand each other. This, of course, is one of the goals of the patriarchal system which is bent on turning gender relations into a constant war between men and women whom it positions to be so different as to come from different planets. Patriarchal media try to convince us that these differences in the ease with which men and women verbalize their feelings have to do with how differently our brains are "wired." This popular belief has been rejected by actual science more times than one can count. Still, many people choose to uphold it because their only alternative would consist of realizing how much they are being hurt on a daily basis by the patriarchal view of gender. Since that would simultaneously imply a rejection of the advantages that the patriarchy offers to both men and women who comply with its basic norms, many people are not prepared to do so and prefer to soothe themselves with platitudes about different "wiring" of their brains according to their gender.

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