This essay is in response to feedback I received on my last blog post (the post can be found here). It was an essay on my experience of finding it difficult to speak up (an experience I generalized as being shared by most women) and on my persistent fear that what I have to say isn’t valid.
A male friend shared that, while he appreciated and got behind most of the post, one paragraph in particular offended him. Here it is in full:
“Meanwhile, men will just say anything, whatever comes to them, and expect to be heard. No matter how relevant or insightful their thoughts are—or how dumb and uninformed—no matter if their opinion is not backed up by anything, or is even proven to be false, men will share that opinion as easy as you please. They know without any doubt that their opinions deserve to be heard.”
After hearing my friend and rereading the paragraph, I understood why he was offended. The paragraph is certainly not emotionally neutral—there is a lot of bitterness simmering beneath those words. Not to mention that it generalizes the experience of all men.
I thought about adding an asterisk to the end of the paragraph, with a note following the essay that explained that I didn’t really think all men felt that way, that of course not all men find it easy to speak, just as not all women find it difficult. After some consideration, however, I chose to let the paragraph—and the essay—stand as is.
The reason: I have a lifelong habit of softening my opinions, of not sharing controversial viewpoints, and of adding disclaimer after apologetic disclaimer to my thoughts, all in the hope of presenting an argument that no one could possibly disagree with. To a chronic people-pleaser, disagreement feels threatening. So I decided, for once, to challenge this habit and let my bitter, generalizing thoughts stand.
He and I have continued talking about this paragraph, however, because it gets at the power of language. When considering the paragraph I chose to keep, there are two chief values to keep in mind:
On the one hand, there’s being reasonable, being accurate about objective reality. In this case, that not all men feel the same way or have the same experiences regarding their voice and their ability to speak up. Reason argues that it’s simply not accurate to make such sweeping generalizations. Moreover, it’s not fair, and can cause offense to men whose experiences do not match the broad rule I set for them.
On the other hand, there’s being true to emotions, and to the emotional resonance that certain facts have for us. In this case, that I feel a genuine bitterness toward my difficulty in speaking up and toward my experience that men do not seem to struggle with this nearly as much as women do.
Are facts superior to emotions?
Emotions determine our reality as much as facts do. We don’t have access to objective reality because we are not objective beings. We can only see things through our particular points-of-view, which are based on our past experiences and the emotions we feel toward them. These emotions heavily shape the realities that we currently experience. In this way, emotions are as real as it gets, because they affect our thoughts and actions in reality. We can’t just ignore emotions for bland, antiseptic facts.
Can someone be wrong for her emotions? No way. Emotions resonate in the body. Emotions give us the feeling of truth in our bodies. Emotions can’t be wrong, because they are our reality. Moreover, emotions must be expressed. They cause all sorts of long-term physical and mental trouble when repressed.
If emotions must be expressed, why not just write them down in a journal? Why should I share them with anyone? Keeping them to myself would save me, probably everyone else, a lot of trouble.
Self-expression is only part of the healing power of emotions. By sharing these posts publicly, I get to interact with readers with whom my words have resonated. I get the feedback that others feel the same way or have had similar experiences. I receive affirmation, validation, and a reminder that I am not alone but am deeply connected with others. Similarly, readers might experience that hope and sense of connection as well.
But the same post that resonated with many women also offended my male friend. He was open enough to share his perspective with me, but I have no idea if I’ve offended others or pushed someone else away because of my words. My intention for that post—my hope—was to be an empowering voice for women. My fear now is that people will read it and come away with anger—either women who are affirmed in their distrust of and distaste for men, or men who are offended by being targeted and stereotyped.
It comes down to this: Facts are important. But so are emotions. How can I reconcile the two?
How can I be a responsible advocate for women’s emotions and women’s truths? How can I acknowledge the power and effect of language while not censoring myself? How can I speak truth to power while not being apologetic for my feelings? How can I spread empowerment, positivity, and progress, versus anger, bitterness, and hatred?
How I can create space for women’s fullest self-expressions—in all their darkness and light—while being accurate and fair to reality?
Here are some of my friend's thoughts (paraphrased):
Articulate your emotions in their fullness. Own them. Claim them. Be specific about them. But this is different from presenting a bitter statement as fact, as I did in my paragraph.
So here I will claim some of my emotions. Not all of them—emotions are always more complex than any one person could ever hope to express fully in an essay. But some of them.
I do feel a lot of anger and bitterness at the treatment of women in this country. I have a hard time understanding the perspectives of people who are against feminism. I will make jokes about how better the world would be if women were running things—but inside I am not joking. I am absolutely biased toward women. Intellectually, I acknowledge that men and women are equal. Emotionally, I feel that women are better. Why? It’s probably because in general I am more comfortable with women. I feel safer with women. I feel like I can be myself more with women.
But this is in general. There are a great many men that I deeply value. I have so much gratitude for the amazing men in my life—family, friends, my boyfriend. I am always learning more about the world, and these men are generous and wise teachers. The world needs men and their voices, just as it needs women and our voices. I hope to help bring about a world in which all people—women and men—feel able to speak their truths and be heard. So I will be true to my emotions and to facts, to be as fair to my reality as I am to others'. I trust that Truth is somewhere out there in the harmony of all voices coming together in one chorus.