Monday, May 19, 2008

When to Sympathize with Women

Gentle Readers,

I find it about time to talk about something pressing, irksome, and absurd.
I find it time to talk about when to sympathize with women.
"What's that?" you say. "Shouldn't I sympathize with a woman if she's pretty, or crying, or a diamond in the rough?"


Let me illustrate my thoughts on the fallacy of emotion. Recently I attended a large conference at which there were many protesters. When the protesters' cause was voted down, they stood in protest, bawling. Middle of the road voters were rather upset by this. I think even those who voted it down were shaken. "Uh-oh - we made them cry." Let me just state this from the beginning: tears do not an argument make. You can be upset as much as you want: that doesn't make an emotion legitimate.

For instance, if you cried when Heath Ledger overdosed, that's probably not a legitimate emotion. If you cried when viewing a Rothko painting because of its profound revelation, that's probably not a legitimate emotion either. A large block of yellow paint shouldn't move you that deeply, in my opinion. Now, if Heath Ledger was your son, that's okay. If the world was bombed and you thought all art was destroyed and then you found a Rothko amidst the rubble, you're allowed to weep.

But I find it ASTONISHING that so few people - often men - know when to sympathize with a woman. Because sometimes, sympathizing with a woman is the most foolish thing to do.

If you sympathize with a crying woman over, say, your wife, you're not sympathizing correctly.
If you sympathize with a pretty woman who weaves a tale of woe, but no other women like her, be on your guard.
If you sympathize with a woman who's just had it so hard and really does have good values even though she's rough around the edges and hey just because she cheated on the bloke before you doesn't mean she'd ever do that with you so give her a second chance STOP RIGHT THERE.

How to spot a woman who's not faking:

She won't have crises all the time. She may have them sometimes, or for a season, frequently. But if she's melting down every time she doesn't get her way, or every time another pretty woman comes into the room, or every time you're unsure of the relationship, watch out.

She calls on others beside you when there are crises. You won't be her savior, you'll be one of a number of people in support of her, and some of those people will be women. Beware the woman who makes you feel that you're the only one who can help.

She'll have blunt, honest friends that she sometimes has conflicts with. Any woman who surrounds herself with toenail-painting, sympathetic, nodding "yes women" who never actually tell her that the dress is not flattering should probably be avoided.

She'll confront you occasionally about your values, character, or flaws. Not this: "you never spend enough time with me", or this, "you're perfect," but this, "hey, I've really been thinking this over, and you say you value this, but then you act that way..."

She won't encourage you to do the wrong thing, even when it's to help her out. She won't put you in that position.

Now, I say these things because I grow tired of general opinion, institutional trends, and legislative decisions that deny women's responsibility. I am nothing if not a feminist by certain standards: I think businesses should make it easier for women to work from home when they have small children; I think that women in academia should gain tenure even if they're part time due to motherhood; I believe that women are competent to be pastors, lawyers, politicians, doctors, surgeons, bakers, or makeup salespeople. It bothers me when writers use "mankind" instead of "humankind" or "man" instead of "people." I have little patience for those who can't see that my ovaries are not a liability. And I am all for full punishment of rapists, sex traffickers, and the like, preferably by means of a cleaver and a chopping block.

So it's not that I myself don't sympathize with women, our concerns, our dangers, our difficulties and challenges. But because I believe that women are able to do so much, I also believe that we are responsible for our stupidity, lack of wisdom, and occasional mistakes, and even, yes, our own character flaws.

A perfect example of this tension exists in sexual harrassment policies and laws. These exist after decades of women who put up with sexism, or worse, in the workplace. But look at how much power that gives a woman now: if you get a needy woman rejected by a boss, or an emotionally broken woman who misinterprets something she hears, or if you get a simply vindictive woman who goes for the throat, you can have good men's names muddied before the ink on the lawsuit has dried. Why? "There's no smoke without fire," "we can't afford a lawsuit," and so on.

How many women, I wonder, have actually turned to a man and told him that he's making her uncomfortable? Or to stop? Or to say "that's inappropriate." Either at the time, or later on in private. Many women either shy from confrontation, or read into every little signal. Nothing's really changed from high school. It's the pleaser who won't say something in her defense, or the flirt, or the girl who thinks everyone is flirting with her.

My mom told me early on of the time a guy felt her up in the hallway at school. She didn't go to the school board. She punched him. You can argue for either, but hearing that anecdote instilled in me early on a certain confidence.

Ladies, act with integrity: if something a man says, or does, bothers you, tell him first before you go crying to someone else. Actually, that's a pretty good rule of thumb for if a woman says or does something that bothers you, too. But particularly with men, you need to be a good steward of the protection that society offers you. Be responsible with men. The suffragettes didn't work hard to get you a vote just so you can squander it in stupidity.


Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to comment on some of your entries because a blog allows really only a one sided conversation. Some of these "issues" you discuss really need to have a face to face discussion. Unless of course I agreed with every point made and then I could just say "hear, hear" and be done ;-). to solve this quandry? Maybe a visit is due? This time one with less stress...the last two have been a bit much, you think? ;-)

Becca Clark said...

Overall, I agree with your post, and I think it's important to be able to spot a person using their emotions (form women it is often crying, but not always; likewise for men it is often anger, but not always) to try to sway an argument, and in so spotting that manipulation, not be swayed by it. What I would disagree with is that we can classify emotions as legitimate or not.

Some people are criers. I'm one of them. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I did cry when Heath Ledger OD'ed, and I of course didn't know him. But he was a young man my age with a little girl and a wonderful actor and human being, and I was sad he was gone. I have wept over a beautiful painting, or more frequently a piece of music. I also cried buckets when my church voted to further fragment the body of Christ by exclusing glbtq persons and, although it didn't make as big a media splash, by all but eliminating a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body. As my husband knows, I don't hope to win an argument by crying, but that's the emotion I feel, and if you've upset me, you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences, one of which might be that I'm sad. Or angry. Or, quite often, both. As my husband also knows, calling those emotions illegitimate is about as unhelpful as you can get, and only serves to make me more angry or sad. Or both.

I guess all I'm saying is that your point is well taken, and emotions should not be used to manipulate others, but that doesn't make them illegitimate.

Thanks for posting on such an interesting topic!

Becca Clark said...

er, *excluding.* oops.

Unknown said...

Hear hear

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

Don't get me wrong, I cry at music, art, films, sometimes when I knock over my coffee, and frequently for no reason at all. I'm comfortable with the amount I cry and I don't apologize for it. I guess when I discuss "legitimate" emotion I refer to ordered loves. What we think, believe and feel should be aligned Christocentrically, so that our human experiences reflect divine nature and love.
The question is, can you ever love the wrong thing? The answer, of course, is yes. And if you love the wrong thing, then your emotions towards that end are skewed. An extreme example is loving the Third Reich, and being devastated therefore when it fell. A nearer example might be loving the KKK, and feeling pride in it. That might also seem extreme. But what of self-love, that puts down others, or demands one's own way? And then it comes home.

headscratching said...

how can what we feel be aligned Christocentrically or any other way? isn't what we feel what we feel?

and i think scripture is full of examples of people doing the wrong thing and perhaps even loving the wrong thing, but feeling the wrong thing? isn't it dangerous to teach children (as i was taught) that certain emotions (usually negative ones) are sinful or wrong? don't emotions just happen, regardless of whether we tell them to turn left or turn right?

and i do want to apologize if this is offensive coming from a man, but aren't these larger 'people' issues, rather than women's issues? by singling out the offenders from a particular gender, is this part of the inequity you are attempting to quell?

sorry to be such a wet blanket. i really enjoy your writing style and i like a number of your other blog posts. i REALLY like the "she'll confront you..." paragraph--that one hit me right between the eyes.


headscratching said...

i just re-read my comment and i cringed. my tone was all wrong and i'm sure i sounded like an inflexible boor. i'm really sorry for my defensive tone. will you forgive me?