Women’s Emotions are “Emotions,” Men’s Emotions are “How People Talk”

A thing from one Jennifer Dziura (who is apparently a life coach, but this is good anyway) a couple of years ago: “When Men Are Too Emotional To Have A Rational Argument”.

She starts with election night 2012. Guys were having meltdowns all over tv. They were very emo.

What I want to talk about is how emotional outbursts typically more associated with men (shouting, expressing anger openly) are given a pass in public discourse in a way that emotional outbursts typically more associated with women (crying, “getting upset”) are stigmatized.

I wish to dispel the notion that women are “more emotional.” I don’t think we are. I think that the emotions women stereotypically express are what men call “emotions,” and the emotions that men typically express are somehow considered by men to be something else.

This is incorrect. Anger? EMOTION. Hate? EMOTION. Resorting to violence? EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. An irrational need to be correct when all the evidence is against you? Pretty sure that’s an emotion. Resorting to shouting really loudly when you don’t like the other person’s point of view? That’s called “being too emotional to engage in a rational discussion.”

Not only do I think men are at least as emotional as women, I think that these stereotypically male emotions are more damaging to rational dialogue than are stereotypically female emotions. A hurt, crying person can still listen, think, and speak. A shouting, angry person? That person is crapping all over meaningful discourse.

She did a radio debate with a guy who got very angry and shouty while she got angry but, with great effort, not shouty – so he called her passive-aggressive, while she thought she was just arguing as one should. She naturally thought he was an asshole but then they went for a beer with the crew and producer and he turned out to be a good guy, it’s just that you have to shout on the radio or you’ll be silenced by shouters.

This was a good guy. The problem wasn’t him, it was that the behavior our society rewards was not, in my opinion, the best this guy had to offer.

That, to me, is the real problem. It’s also why I’ve used the terms “stereotypically male” and “stereotypically female” in this article; I’m sure that some part of our debating styles is due to how much testosterone is floating around our bodies, but some large part of it is learned. If you’re accustomed to arguing on radio programs, you have to shout because otherwise you would not get to speak. If you majored in women’s studies, you’ve probably had it drilled into you that shouting is “denying someone her voice.” On a talk radio show, crying would immediately invalidate your argument. At a feminist conference, shouting would make you the oppressor. I’m suggesting that both crying and shouting are emotional expressions, that some of these emotions are more destructive to debate and dialogue than others, and that we should all recognize our emotions and then channel them into rational discourse. That means dudes, too.

That is exactly right. We need to recognize our emotions and then channel them into rational discourse. All of us. Not some of us pretend we are doing rational discourse free of emotion while others are doing emotion with no rational discourse.


  1. dmcclean says

    And woe be unto the womanbitch who exhibits stereotypically male emotional responses or the manpussy who exhibits stereotypically female emotional responses (or even insufficiently flamboyant/destructive stereotypically male emotional responses…).

  2. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Don’t even need to go to full-on shouting. How about just good old sarcasm? I don’t know if there are any good studies comparing sarcasm use between men and women but anecdotally I have always seen far more usage by the men (I’m as guilty as any) than the women I’ve known. And it is usually laced with venom that shows a pretty obvious emotion at it’s core (fear, hurt, annoyance, anger.) It can cover alot of emotional territory but it’s usually a pretty good indicator that the person using the sarcasm is getting emotional. And it’s pretty common in the male side of the atheisphere. See, for example: every Hitchens video on Youtube. But you are right: our culture sees that as an acceptable emotional response (or denies that it is emotional altogether) because Men Are From Mars etc.

  3. surreptitious46 says

    There is no such thing as a male emotion or a female emotion because they are gender neutral as we all possess
    them. There may however be some that are more common in one gender or another but that is something entirely
    different. It is interesting how boys may be taught not to show any emotion whereas girls may. And so even though
    emotion itself is ubiquitous the way in which it may be regarded in society from a gender perspective is significant
    And is interesting how for men who think that showing emotion is a sign of weakness that displaying anger is seen
    as being entirely acceptable. Yet anger is arguably the weakest emotion of all since it indicates a lack of self control

  4. Silentbob says

    @ 4 SallyStrange

    To be fair, surreptitious46 clearly acknowledged anger was an emotion in this sentence:

    Yet anger is arguably the weakest emotion of all since it indicates a lack of self control

    However, I consider that to be bullshit. Anger no more indicates a lack of self control than any other emotion. Some expressions of anger may indicate a lack of self-control but there is nothing inherently wrong with anger. Often anger is simply the reaction of an individual with a conscience to grave injustice.

  5. says

    Why are we saying emotions are weak? Some people express extremely cogent, rational arguments with lots of emotion. Some people are emotional and not so rational, see Greta’s #mencallmethings posts about the “Amazing” atheists fans. Boy are they emotional! But that is separate to their irrationality, the arguments are irrational or rational and are evaluated on that basis. Not how much emotion is involved.

  6. =8)-DX says

    Interestingly, things like Boys Don’t Cry were some of the influences that lead me to reject the notion that crying as a man was bad.

    Shit, if I’m sad, distraught or just watching a romantic film, I’ll cry. The getting angry thing. Yeah, that takes some getting used to. Both me and my S.O. like to get riled up at things, but it’s always a bit difficult to distinguish what elements of that are coming from a place of gender stereotypes/expression or actual dislike/problems.

    To illustrate the feeling: we’ve both agreed that violence or abusive language are not acceptable: but for some reason I feel it’s bad for me to get angry for different reasons she feels it’s bad for her to get angry.

  7. Pen says

    Nothing is more true than that men often go around being emotional all over the place. They don’t see it because to them ’emotional’ means displaying a weakness and they think they’re displaying strength or something.

    What bothers me about this story is the suggestion that the guy on the radio show was actually faking his emotion to achieve a purpose. In this case, the aim of being heard on radio, almost certainly at the expense of other people (because if there wasn’t competition to be heard, the need wouldn’t arise). That’s bullying, not emotionalism. And I’m honestly not sure how someone who fakes anger to bully others can be a ‘good guy’.

  8. nrdo says

    @ Pen
    I don’t think she’s suggesting that he’s faking the emotion as much as he’s acting on a conditioned response.

  9. says

    This double standard makes me a bit angry myself, and one can be angry and in control. Anger is a tool like any other emotional tool and has it’s place. Claiming that self-control is absent when anger is present should be demonstrable. There are times when I have been angry and not in control and I worked to make amends for it, but that does not talk away from the times when I was angry and used that tool effectively.

    Additionally I’m not really willing to dismiss the idea of using emotion in arguments. It’s possible that the guy on the radio was faking anger, but rather I think it was use of aggression against ideas. I’ve seen enough aggressive attacks on creationist BS to be willing to dismiss the use of it, rather I want to see women get support and experience in learning how to be aggressive when appropriate themselves and to have that aggression treated the same as the aggression of men. Some men go a bit crazy when they face an aggressive woman and that that should be their problem to fix, and their emotional weakness to deal with.

    I see men use emotion all over the place. I see women try to use emotion as well and get treated differently for it. This I think argues for the existence of a great many women that can use emotion more effectively than men because they have to use it more carefully, and a great many men that can’t use emotion well when women are involved. I think that supporting women that want to do the same things as men with respect to emotion will improve the overall level of quality and honesty in our communication environments.

  10. moarscienceplz says

    NPR did a piece about the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. As part of it, they played several phoned-in comments by listeners from that time. Each one, no matter which party they identified with, was calm and full of respect for the rule of law and optimism for the future of the country. No accusations of a witchhunt, no personal attacks. It really was a different world back then.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    I don’t think that I’ve been much able to ‘listen, think, and speak’ when I’m ‘hurt and crying.’ One of the reasons that inflicting pain and stress is a standard bullying technique for quashing debate.

  12. says

    To add a bit more detail, I think one of the important things to do is to make sure that one targets their anger very very carefully, and in specific situations.

    You can be angry at actions, ideas, toxic social structures, things that cause suffering and similar. These are smaller defined parts of persons that we encourage each other to change all the time. The anger should be reserved for when you have good reason to believe that the person you are arguing with is not arguing honestly (so you are focusing on the audience), and/or if you know the part of the person you are focusing your anger on is a thing worthy of anger (like overt racism). If you and others are being wronged you should be able to respond appropriately.

    Being angry at a whole person is a thing that can only be done in situations like where a person displays multiple demonstrated toxic characteristics and at that point you are basically assuming that they will shut down on you and the audience is all you care about. There is a balance between the common emotional effects of anger, and the damage done by what the anger should be focused on. Women that can use anger effectively and ethically should have all the same opportunities as men.

  13. Stacy says

    Even when acknowledged as emotions, men’s emotions are perceived as more valid than women’s. Partly, perhaps because men are supposed to be stoics, so if they get upset they must have a really good reason, whereas everyone knows the little ladies are just all about their emotions.

    Women’s emotions used to be doubly discounted: women’s anger was unseemly, but a crying woman was being manipulative or–gawd help us–“tyrannical.”

    @Shatterface, anger is certainly an emotion. It’s one of the basic emotions.

  14. Shatterface says

    @Shatterface, anger is certainly an emotion. It’s one of the basic emotions.

    I was quoting ‘Rise’ by Public Image Limited.

    They put a hot wire to my head
    ‘Cos of the things I did and said
    And made these feelings go away
    Model citizen in every way

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *