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The Caricature of Feminine Irrationality

By: Sheyenne White

For my project, I wish to challenge the false dichotomy between theory and practice. Given that academic theory is designed to be inaccessible through its abstract, dense, and jargonistic composition, I will mitigate its elitist exclusivity by applying it to the raw authenticity inherent of situated testimonies. For the sake of parsimony,  I have limited my interviews to three heterosexual, cisgender female UC Davis students.

  • Have you ever felt that you have carried the emotional weight during a relationship?

“Women are constantly being seen as fragile but when I don’t show any emotion, I’m seen as emotionless and less of a woman. In all of my romantic relationships, I’m always expected to be the motherfucker’s therapist, mother, maid, and caregiver. Anytime that something happens,  I can expect them to lash out and I have to walk them through their feelings. It’s on me. He wants me to fix it but I can’t always fix it.”

. . .

“Ooo my daddy issues. My dad didn’t go to therapy and he projects his unresolved trauma on my mother, sisters, and I. He has created a toxic cycle of transgenerational trauma. I may not be able to choose my trauma but I can choose how I react and respond to it. I understand this so why can’t he?”

. . .

“Men will very much ghost a girl if she gets too sensitive or attached but they’ll unload their trauma on any girl that they fuck. They’re not our boyfriends but we find ourselves acting like their mother or therapist. I don’t like it. As women, we learn to deal with this shit. We learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.”  

. . .

In her work, Alison Jagger reflects on the socially constructed dichotomy between emotionality and rationality. In her article, Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology, she disparages the Western derogatory attitiude towards emotion, and instead stresses its critical role in the construction of knowledge.
The emotionality of women is both a familiar cultural stereotype and an axiom of Western tradition. The ongoing and persisting subjugation of women can be traced back to the traditional tie between masculinity and reason within philosophy, in which rationality, morality, and emotionality are positioned as gendered pursuits. Masculine bias continues to be a pervasive thread that runs through Western thought and is maintained through hierarchical dualisms: like man-woman, masculinity-femininity, and rationality-emotionality. Such binary oppositions reinforce the gendered division that values the masculine and devalues the feminine. 

Although both men and women are held to norms of appropriate emotional expression, women’s perceived emotionality comes under greater scrutiny relative to their male counterparts. As interviewee one alluded to, women are expected to succumb to emotions and therefore, emotionally inexpressive women are deemed gender-deviant. As if, emotional expressivity alone constitutes womanhood. While the link between emotional expressivity and the lack of women in leadership roles is readily acknowledged, the extent of its overarching influence in banal and trivial encounters cannot be understated. Along these lines, heteropatriarchal accounts of emotion remain problematic insofar as they fail to explain the paradox between their caricatures of irrational, hormonal women and their need for emotional nurturance.

While some degree of codependency in any given relationship is to be expected, women take on the lion’s share of the emotional labor. As funny as it may be to refer to emotional labor as comparable to the work of a therapist, mother or maid, interviewee one’s experiences sheds light on the dangers of women’s warm, maternal, and communal roles within society. Under an androcentric patriarchy, “men’s emotional development is relatively rudimentary,” which in turn, leads to “moral rigidity and insensitivity” (Jagger, 10). It’s important to note that this phenomena is not incidental but a direct byproduct of toxic masculinity. Considering that male emotional expressivity has become a ill-equipped marker of homosexuality, the question arises, is it really homosexuality that is the fear or is it the loss of heteronormative masculinity? The concept of toxic masculinity can be interpreted as an embodiment of Western ideals: violence, aggression, status, and sex. When a society overemphasizes gender, it must grapple with the consequences. Unfortunately, those consequences manifest themselves in the form of destructive and unaccommodating gender stereotypes.

As interviewee two noted, men’s limited emotional development extends beyond the scope of romantic entanglements and seeps into family dynamics. Nothing quite sums up the way women are burdened with the responsibility of emotional labor quite like the notion of  ‘daddy issues.’ Despite its visage of frivolity, the expression is weaponized as a cruel joke against women, designed to humiliate and mock their mistreatment they suffered on behalf of their father. Interestingly, the expression is utilized in the same fashion when women experience the same mistreatment in their romantic relationships. As if, the issue resides within the woman, and not the emotionally stunted men. Thus, the concept behind ‘daddy issues’ is pernicious in its perpetuation of a victim-blaming culture that once again asks women to shoulder the emotional trauma of the men in their life in addition to their own. 

After conducting my interviews, I could not help but recall interviewee three’s sophisticated articulation that women “learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.” When we applaud men for merely unloading their emotional trauma, we encourage their complacency. After all, the emotional labor is not often reciprocated for the woman. The flawed association of masculinity with reason and femininity with feeling, fails to consider the intrinsic and instrumental value of emotion as well as its potential epistemic value. Women’s experience in emotional nurturance allows us to cultivate the adept ability to identify and recognize emotions. Upon examining the social construction of emotions under an androcentric, heteropatriarchal ideology, “all of our human faculties — rationality, morality, and emotionality — reflect an aspect of human knowledge inseparable from the other aspects” (Jagger, 15). Only by reconciling emotionality with our rationality and morality, may we create a nonhierarchical and antifoundationalist mode of knowledge production, that is both sustainable and durable. For now, women must take advantage of their epistemic advantage by working to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Works Cited:

Alison M. Jaggar (1989) Love and knowledge: Emotion in feminist epistemology, Inquiry, 32:2, 151-176