In my recent posts about the role of feelings and emotions in gender relationships, I raised the questions, What do women mean when they say men are out of touch with their feelings? What do men mean when they say women are too emotional?
In the last post, “Falling Through: One Man’s Fear of Feeling,” author and poet Rick Belden shared a powerful poem about emotions. He wrote “fear is much too mild a word for what I feel when I get close to my grief, sadness, and pain. A far more accurate word would be terror. The source of this terror is not a mystery. I clearly remember the words I heard countless times as a child: Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” For Rick, “Any open expression of grief, sadness, and pain was a potential threat to my very existence, and over time I learned to hold those feelings tight, deep inside myself, to survive.” This reinforces Episcopal priest Matthew Fox’s observation that men are rarely rewarded, and often mocked, for openly expressing their deepest feelings of joy, sensitivity, and pain.
My question, “What do men mean when they say women are too emotional?” elicited the observation from katsoutar that between men and women, “the term ‘emotional’ seems most used to describe weepy, passive emotion, i.e. women cry too much, men, not enough.” In response, Amy Campion shared the research finding that, “women’s tears contain a chemical substance that though undetectable consciously, has the power to reduce a man’s testosterone when inhaled.” Lorrie Beauchamp added that this dampening effect reduces men’s sexual attraction and increases their empathic response. As she said, “a true-to-stereotype male would not want his testosterone messed with in this way, which might explain why men get annoyed by tears, and why tears become part of manipulative behavior in children and women.”
Biology, culture, and individual personalities feed into this dynamic. Both genders inherit physical traits that predispose them to predictable responses to certain situations and emotions, and some cultures and institutions reinforce these to stereotypical extremes. Many individuals take advantage of this for self-serving reasons, thus exacerbating the gender gap. We all know of children and women who manipulate men with tears. And we know of men who manipulate women with silence or subtle threats of violence.
We can see how in the early stages of our species’ development the survival of small, isolated groups was best served by empathic females and stoic males. Both had everything to lose if women were emotionally unavailable to their vulnerable children and men were too emotional to protect their tribes from marauding saber-toothed tigers. But history has consistently proven these abilities to be present in both genders. There have always been gentle men who feel deeply and cry without shame, brave women who let nothing compromise their goals to protect their loved ones and fight for what is right.
Both genders can bring more consciousness and balance to their work and relationships. Unfortunately, the least aware are most resistant to change. Worse, too often they are in positions of power. Our hope lies in the commitment of a majority who can overcome our lethargy and become the change we want to see. Spirit Warriors of both genders abound in today’s world, and it’s never been easier or more necessary to enlist their help in bringing us to greater psychological awareness. For anyone who wants to understand their feelings, I highly recommend The Language of Emotions, by Karla McLaren.
You can find my latest book, Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World, at this Amazon location or at Larson Publications.com.