Sometimes certain themes pop up in my life in various places from different people which force me to pay attention. Lately, the struggle of anxiety and the place to give emotions has been a consistent refrain among many of women I’m closest with. What follows is not a solution to this problem or really even advice. It’s simply just some observations from a interested, caring outsider.
Observation 1: Image Is Everything
Individually and collectively we all carry culture baggage from the choices our ancestors have made over the past few centuries. This luggage is spiking the anxiety in women. Both men and women are treated and have been treated like objects rather than people. Historically, men have been objectified for work in the market place by their bosses, companies and governments, while women have been objectified to fulfill men’s sexual desires. Society values men as tools for what they can do and women for their appearance. If a man dresses poorly, he needs help. If a women is not put together, she’s lazy or worse, ugly. Likewise, at work, when a man fails to do his job, he is seen as a tool that needs sharpening. When he’s not good at something, he needs training. But when a women fails do her job, it reflects on her person, her image. This leads to tremendous amounts of anxiety because in all walks of life women whose image is not perfect are replaced by another, often younger, model.
Observation 2: You are your Emotions
We live in a world that is constantly seeking the one best way to be human. In this pursuit we are being molded to all have similar habits and experiences. As mentioned above, men used to be valued solely for what they could do and women for how they look, but with social media men are increasingly being judged for the image they project (thus the birth of Hipsters with their creative haircuts, beards and hats). Gender roles and gender, itself, are being re-imagined or erased altogether. The ideal human is even keeled, easily adaptable to any change, fun, happy, energetic, uncomplicated etc. For many of the women I know, their biology does not allow them to become this person, which constantly gives them a negative view of themselves. What if the problem isn’t women, but the society that forces them to be different than they are. Our emotions are what make us individuals. We have little control over the homogenization of experience, but how we react to them, how they make us feel, is who we are. You could capture what my wife does in a book, but you could never come close to knowing how she feels except by talking with her or by being privileged to live with her i.e. knowing her. Without the strange cocktail of feelings, my wife wouldn’t be her. If she could drug herself to not feel, we would lose the gift of who she is.
What I wonder is if our emotions are intended to be guides for our reason. We can often make plans that don’t take into consideration our limitations and when we implement them, our emotions erupt as a sign that there’s more to life than reason alone can perceive. Emotions work with our rational ideals so they can enter into the present. This is why emotions are not allowed in the work place – they undermine the strategic plans of the bosses. Understanding our emotions is complicated, but they can be incredibly helpful. Take anger for instance. Am I angry because I need to change or am I angry because something around me needs to change? Knowing the difference is vital.
Observation 3: Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Judging from the women in my life, the only valid emotion is the happiness. If women are irritable, angry, sad, etc. these are the emotions we put up with or demand that they change. Yet, why are any of the smorgasbord of emotions any more valid than any other? There’s so much happening in our lives and each requires a different emotional response. Sometimes I wonder if the large discharge of emotion in women is a result from having to suppress them all the time. When a man is moody, he’s “acting like a chick,” but when a women is moody “she’s a bitch.” That’s insanely wrong. Emotions, to be sure, are exhausting, inefficient, impracticable, but they give light and color to all we do. Perhaps, it’s our expectation of never being inconvenienced by someone else’s emotions that should be reconsidered. It’s wonderful and life giving when the women around me are happy, sweet and upbeat, but who can do that all time? Why should they be expected to?
Observation 4: Doing More Won’t Help
For many women I know finishing their task list is main way of dealing with their anxiety. Yet, never before have women had more control over their lives, accomplished more at all levels society and yet, anxiety is increasing not decreasing. Perhaps, in certain roles, the strategy of finishing everything before you can rest is effective, but in roles where women are working with other people, it can be maddening, because there is always more to do. I’m not suggesting any solutions much less the trite cliche “don’t worry about it so much.” But what I wonder is if this desire to have full control and security over every aspect of their life is sustainable. As mentioned above, the unfair burden placed upon women is crushing, but waiting for a society that’s so inconguent with all things biologically and socially female to help is not the best strategy. The women I know – my wife, my mother, my sister, my friends, my colleagues – are the smartest, most capable, most insightful, most powerful people I know. If a solution is to be found for my daughters, my niece and the next generation of women it will come from within this group not outside.