Let It Go: Emotional Expressivity and Growing Society’s Empathy

When a female is uncharacteristically upset, angry, or emotional in any way, society is often quick to make several assumptions about her. Many will think, “she’s probably on her period” or “maybe she’s PMS-ing!” But why do we automatically assume that a woman is feeling emotional due to hormones before we stop to question alternative causes for her affective state? Women and girls are often quick to make these same snap judgments about themselves as well. I know would be lying if I said I don’t usually first try to justify feelings of sadness to my menstruation.

The larger issue with emotionality is that it is viewed by society as yet another negative side effect of menstruating. However, Premenstrual Syndrome before menstruation and the menstruation cycle itself are both natural occurrences. And overall, emotional reactions to salient stimuli are inevitable in day-to-day life, regardless of menstruation. Why does society look down upon the expression of emotion when this is the very characteristic that makes us human?

And it doesn’t just go for women; this is often an extremely controversial topic for males as well.  Boys and men are scrutinized for their emotionality, especially expressions of sadness, fear, and depression.  These emotions often lead males to be labelled as weak, or perhaps feminine. This is the issue that the global “Man Up” campaign was created to target.

According to their website, the Man-Up campaign was created as a part of the Clinton Global Initiative started in 2009; it is a campaign aiming to combat violence against women and to advocate for gender equality.  Twenty-four countries have spearheaded this initiative, including the United States, South Africa, and Australia. There are chapters sprouting up all over the world, often directed by youth activists. One of the most recent videos released by the campaign from Australia addresses the stigma surrounding gender roles and crying. It questions why males are not taught to speak up when they are hurting, but rather to hold back their tears when they are feeling down. 

Expressing our feelings can relieve pent-up tension that can sit boiling in our minds. Mental health disorders such as depression can be perpetuated by this behavior if individuals feel they have no one to turn to who will not judge them for being emotional. When people live in fear of exhibiting the natural human tendency of emotional reactance, mental health begins to deteriorate. 

Humans have evolved from primates that lack this ability to possess and convey our feelings and emotions. We should not try to suppress our innate abilities that make us who we are; rather we should embrace our emotions and work to understand them to the best of our ability. Dismissing and rejecting those who are working to accomplish this immense task is not an inclusive or sympathetic reaction.

 

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