Friday, April 10, 2015

Gender Roles and Mental Health

In order to be analytical, you must put aside emotion. Calculated thinking involves coldness. If you want to be unbiased and make good decisions, you can't let feelings get in the way of fact.

This is how our culture views things. We consider it fact that emotions and analysis are opposites. Sort of like science and religion.

We ignore that emotions themselves are facts that must be dealt with.


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Men are considered better leaders than woman because men are better at putting aside emotions. That, people say, is inborn. Women are more emotional beings. It's an innate difference.

This supposedly makes men lone wolves while women are social. Men don't have time for emotions, and thus no time for the emotions of friendship. They'll have a few close friends--who doesn't? But they don't have time for the vast social webs that women construct.

Seriously? My brain has a section for sex too.
Women, on the other hand, can't help being social. It's how we survived as the weaker sex: collaboration. (That, at least, is true.) Thus we spend every extra second being nice to people, making frivolous conversation, and titillating people's finer emotions. Unlike men, who lock the feelings up.

Do you ever wonder how much of this stuff is actually fixed into our being, and how much is socially constructed? Could it be that the narratives we've heard all our lives telling us men are this way and women that way were proved "true" simply because we followed along?

I read some research articles explaining that men's and women's brain structures are far more similar than different. Women don't have more "emotional brains," nor men more "analytical brains." There are a few differences, of course, like the neural density of the corpus callosum. But those differences are far fewer than the similarities.

It fascinates me to count how many men and women I know break the stereotypes for their gender. Most men and women seem to have small, close-knit friend groups of approximately equal size. Women don't have more friends on average, nor men less. Most men and women seem to experience emotions on an equivalent level. I know as many factual women as I do sensitive men.

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Our current definitions of masculinity and femininity limit us, telling us what to do and be without actually consulting the facts. It's "unmanly" for men to show strong emotion: consequently, they aren't allowed to deal with those strong emotions. And women cannot be considered good leaders without hiding their emotions and acting manly.

What feminism seeks to do is bring equality to the sexes by broadening our definitions of the genders. Unfortunately, pop culture simply took masculine gender norms and applied them to women in order to create equality.

Strong women in literature are typically lone wolf female protagonists. Their friends and allies are men. Powerful women from the corporate and political worlds are also described with words like efficient, forthright, skilled, and other non-emotional terms. In our society, a woman cannot be a strong leader without being like a man.

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Women have learned to suppress our emotions so that we can be seen and chosen as strong leaders. We analyze with the emotionless rationality some of our ancestors so prized.

Because emotions get in the way. Emotions are cumbersome. Emotions obscure the facts, leading us to make wrong decisions. Except when they don't.

Like when the hero makes a rash decision to sacrifice himself and save a few people, even though it means there won't be a hero anymore. That is an act driven by emotional facts, not analytical detachment. But we still consider it to be the right choice.

The event that made the Arrow.
Or when someone saves a loved one, even though the beloved is less of an asset to humanity. Or when we use our valuable time to help out a friend, instead of getting to work solving humanity's wider problems. Most of our lives are not logical. They are based on our values, not the unflinching logic of the good of the species.

We think emotions will slow us down, but it is passion that drives us to pursue our goals in the first place. Love causes us to seek perfection in our work. Anger drives us toward justice. Grief begets internal change.

We cannot get rid of our emotions, but when we hide them, we're simply hiding the mechanisms that make us alive.

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Melissa Ramos says that in consultations with depressed clients, the cause is usually "anger turned inwards. ...It was almost as if somewhere down the line we were told that if we expressed how we felt we’d be thought of as 'weak.'"

She sees this especially in women. More and more articles talk about women suppressing emotions and harvesting mental health problems. (Men also have these mental health issues; it's just not new.)

We suppress our emotions so that we can be analytical. Scientific. Trusted leaders. And we end up depressed, fighting inner demons made up of all the anger and sadness we never dealt with.

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I don't believe repressing emotion makes us better analyzers. You can calmly consider facts in an unbiased fashion and still face how you feel. It's hard, but possible, and far more healthy. For both men and women.

Not that I follow my own advice. I, too, suppress my emotions in pursuit of being a cold scientific human. Whenever I face mental health issues--whether it's a bout of depression or a time where I'm just feeling off--my repressed emotions are its source.

The only way I can change things is to work on being more balanced and doing what I can to rewrite the cultural narrative. Like writing things here on the blog.

It is neither manly, nor powerful, nor feminist, to do life on your own without help. It is not strength to deny when you're feeling weak. Strength is facing what you're feeling. It is both manly and womanly to have close friends who walk beside you.

Friendship and honesty are our greatest strengths.


Word count: 1,016.