They call me an emotional woman. What do I hear embedded in that label? That I am unstable, overreacting, the problem in the status quo. A lover of emotions in other people, by trade, I often walk this tightrope between appreciating the emotional experiences of others while stifling my own. How strange it is to hold my sisters' feelings as sacred and question my own feelings as weakness.
I just finished a YA book called All the Things We Do in the Dark. It was described as an "emotional thriller" and it blended the horror genre beautifully within a coming-of-age story about a girl who survives sexual assault. It blended well because a girl's coming-of-age tale is often a horror story in itself. In all the book, the phrase that left an imprint deepest in me was in reference to the narrow gap that girls' emotions are supposed to fit in. Yes. If we cry, we are unstable. If we wear assertiveness across our lips, we are bossy. If we seem neutral, we are cold. And don't even talk to me about telling us to smile.
I just spoke with a fantastic friend the other day, a sister who shares my soul. This woman is a warrior princess, and she is the most beautiful illustration of how we can be both. She wears sarcasm as her armor and her heart on her sleeve. She is kind and hilarious and strong. But sarcasm isn't always favored and exposed hearts can be vulnerable. She mentioned to me that she is bitter about a current situation and that she was instructed to let go of that bitterness. A bitter woman in an unfavorable circumstance rocking the boat with her reactions.
Let me tell you about the evolution of bitterness. That contorted face you make when you bite into something bitter, that is basic biology. Our ancestors taught us through our taste buds - the evolution of our reaction to bitter tastes was a survival response. Bitter meant poisonous, and the people who paved the way developed these taste receptors to warn them of toxins in certain plants. Now, we have a clear understanding of what we should and should not eat, of what helps our body and what is an enemy. These people did not have this, and as they were building this understanding that we so conveniently rely on today, they had to protect themselves. Bitterness is about protection.
A bitter woman is a survivor. She has had the unfortunate experience of running into a toxic situation, poisonous circumstances. Rather than eagerly lap up abusive words and unhealthy boundaries, she retracts and recognizes the danger. She protects herself against it. And until she can leave that environment completely and feel assured that her surroundings mean her no harm, she will stay bitter. She will stay safe.
I had a conversation with another close friend recently who spoke about having her stability questioned because she became emotional. Her emotions were questioned because she showed her emotions. How nonsensical, and yet many of us fall into this regularly. When I see emotional women, I see no weakness or character flaw. Women are strong and expressive and built to last. A woman finds resilience in her ability to adapt to changing environments, and that shows through her willingness to release emotions along the way. Here's to the strong women, the bitter women who will not settle for less than they deserve, the emotional women who get things done. If being emotional causes an uncomfortable reaction, we need to ask ourselves why avoiding emotion does not. Be brave in showing your emotions. Be bitter when you need to stay safe. Be strong in knowing that you can be both a warrior and a princess.
As for me, when they call me an emotional woman, I know that I am stabilizing myself in shaky circumstances, that I am responding naturally, and that yes, I am challenging the status quo.
And for a good read on how our perceptions of gender roles and emotional standards impact our newest generations, check out All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell. Help me widen that narrow gap that our emotions are supposed to fit in.