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I just can't agree with you, lady, but I don't know why
April 18, 2009 9:47 PM   Subscribe

"Women are different than men. In a relationship, a man needs to be the one who takes care of a woman when she's angry, who tells her to calm down. A man needs to be more understanding than a woman, and a woman needs to be allowed to have her moods." Really? I'd like to call bullshit, but I don't quite know how. (Long explanation inside)

This notion is fundamentally offensive to me because it seems to absolve one half of a relationship of their responsibility to control their temper. It isn't "fair".

Help me construct a rhetorically and logically sound feminist refutation of this statement that assumes the following two premises:
1) "Fairness" is a secondary value in a relationship.
2) Men and women are, indeed, different, and exceptional rules apply to both sexes.

I'm coming out of China, and two of the most common, fundamental assumptions about relationships are precisely what I've listed above. Fairness is not assumed to be an important value in a relationship, and women and men are both assumed to be given special leeway in certain aspects of relationships (ex.: women are allowed & expected to earn substantially less, men are expected/sometimes allowed to seek extramarital partners). I've never, not once, been able to argue around these two notions. Gender exceptionalism and comfort over fairness seem to be two of the most basic assumptions about relationships in this country, and attempts to refute them are turned down as "Western thinking".

I can accept these two premises as a foundation for a successful relationship on the following premise: both partners are extremely considerate of the other's feelings. I understand that relationships aren't always "fair". Sometimes people have a bad day and need a hug, sometimes people have a disease and require sacrifice. And I fully accept that men and women, while equal, are in some ways different, often for reasons that seem mysterious to me. Why in god's name do you buy so many clothes? Well, you do, and it's valid, k? Looking good is important to you, I accept that. Broadly speaking, there are differences, and they're part of what make humanity beautiful. I don't understand the primarily male pastimes of coin collecting or cigar smoking either, but hey, it variety is the spice of life, yeah?

But the above statement, that men are, blanket, required to be more considerate than women, seems to me a recipe for chaos and bitterness. But this is often refuted (again, this is almost universal, in media and in personal conversation) with the claim that asking for fairness is a kind of unworkable imposition. They have a few terms that they usually respond with: 疼爱,溺爱=painful love, smothering love. This seems to be the cultural ideal, and I find it hard to accept that love must be inherently painful for the man.

So my question, essentially, is, allowing for the notions that comfort and consideration take preference over fairness, and that the genders are different, how can I argue that harmful tempers and harsh words are conducive to a relationship filled with bitterness, rather than loving care? And I'd like to couch this in feminist terms, so that I myself don't go the way of taking a position that denies women equal rights or consideration. The last thing I want to do is say something like, "Well, if you think that, then you better not take a job or leave the house without my permission. You better stay home and cook my laundry."
posted by saysthis to Human Relations (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The easiest way to sidestep the whole question is to point out that you're in a relationship with one other person, not a representative of an abstract category. Sure, you might each have some characteristics that line up with what we think is average or normal for a class of people (we're talking about gender, but we could just as well be talking about class or race or nationality or whatever), but the real goal if you care about the relationship is to care about the other person on their own terms. That more men than women might be into stamp collecting or [fill in your own examples here] means much, much less than understanding why your partner is into whatever s/he spends time doing. Likewise for how you interact with each other.

That said, it sounds like your question is coming out of talking to a specific person. If that person is your partner, and you think it's not fair that she's [from the post title] asking you to be more calm and understanding when she's in a bad mood, even if she's couching it as a gender issue, you're probably not helping things by jumping on the abstract gender bit and turning it into a philosophical discussion about fairness. Instead, the right thing to do is probably to ignore the big society-questions for a bit and shift the conversation into something where you're figuring out how the two of you can get along better. You're avoiding the real issue if you're just talking about gender and fairness in the abstract. Fairness is whatever the two of you can agree is fair. (Ignore this paragraph if you're just arguing with a co-worker, I guess).
posted by nobody at 10:35 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I suppose you could simply argue there really is no place for moral relativism, and that All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood, as per the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

I think dignity is a key word here. If you find there is a specific issue that bothers you, you could argue that it is undignified for a woman to tolerate extramarital affairs.

However, speaking as someone who also has a long, deep and intimate relationship with another fundamentally male chauvinist culture (in my case, Japan) at the end of the day, all politics are personal; isn't finding a partner who shares your values fundamentally more productive than arguing with boors, philanderers and others with painfully low social intelligence?

The culture won't change much, but the culture of a marriage or a family is much more easy to influence. For example, in Japan it's pretty common (and pretty harmless) for men to all go out together once in a while to a hostess bar. I was often invited, and sometimes went (for the sake of male bonding). But I always told my wife, and I never got involved with any of the monkey business of my male comrades. I'm sure the hostesses found me to be pretty boring, but, then again, they know there is at least one man who doesn't act like a pig, and my wife knows she is married to a man she can trust (in a country where it's common for men to have secret extramarital relations or not-so-secret mistresses).

I didn't focus on anyone's opinion except my wife's.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 PM on April 18, 2009


First off, a disclaimer -- I'm gay, and haven't had to deal with the "female" in relationships much beyond whether Martha Stewart had good tips on her show this week or not. HOWEVER...

I don't know much about China, but one of the few stereotypes that has been fed to me is that of the demanding, loudmouthed, abusive Asian wife with a meek and submissive husband. As a western male, I've always found this to be a comic device, and perhaps as it has been presented to me it has been used at such. But what you write speaks of a deeper truth buried in the laughter.

I'm not certain there is a feminist or non- way to approach this. Either you are coming at the relationship as disparate equals, or you are not. And as equals, you each have to put your cards on the table, discuss the situation at hand, and find a solution which works for both parties. (Note: solutions are not always equitable, but they should always been agreed upon.)

Without understanding the full cultural implications of saying this, my gut instinct in any relationship is, if you aren't both feeling happy about knowing each other most of the time, there's something wrong in the relationship. So, I guess, my impulse is to respond to the idea of "painful, smothering love" as something which is best left to movies and poetry but which ultimately leads to the death of something -- either one partner's will, or the relationship.

The Catch-22 of the "feminist" angle is, if you start to make demands about wanting to have your voice heard in the relationship, you end up being the bad, strong, domineering male who wants to subjugate the female. I suppose you could try turning that on its head somehow, and try to express what is happening to you as the exact opposite, but how to do that with finesse and humor to draw her to your point of view, I have NO idea.

Still, the whole "women get to have their tempers" argument sounds dangerously close to the "we can't have a female president because she goes crazy three days a month" canard.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think you can really "refute" assumptions like that on logical grounds. The alternative you're presenting--that women and men both need to control their tempers--is itself an assumption. These are opinions, not facts. Logic can't help you.

However, there's always the possiblity that the people telling you this do not really believe wholeheartedly in these assumptions; they just can't imagine any other scenario. Some of them might truly prefer the situation you describe even if they were well aware of all the different models for relationships around the world; some of them might prefer your more equal alternative, if they could be conviced that it was workable in practice. So I think your best bet is to provide real-life successful examples of your style--maybe not popular books/movies, since those could be assumed to be fake, but perhaps stuff like sociological studies, documentaries, etc.
posted by equalpants at 10:47 PM on April 18, 2009


It took me a few re-readings to put this all together, let me know if I'm correct: she is saying that when the pair of you shout and speak sharply at each other, you as the man should calm the situation down. And in response you want to formulate an argument that neither of you should let yourselves shout and speak sharply in the first place?

If the above paraphrasing is correct, I think that all I can do is relate to you a similar situation that I was in. I dated a woman who displayed many behaviors which were senselessly hurtful towards me, which I couldn't make sense of, and would often shout at me or openly say derogatory things about me when we were both in the presence of her friends or family - right in front of me. These behaviors were the primary reason that I ended the relationship.

In retrospect, thinking about her and other details of the way she would act and how she would respond to my attempts to be considerate or egalitarian in the relationship, I have concluded that she did not want a relationship where we were equal. She wanted a man who would be dominant and restrain her and act in a proprietary manner, so that she would be free to act wildly and I would be the one to put my foot down and keep her from going too far.

I think that this was a Freudian thing too; her father had been absent during most of her childhood and she wanted a man who would act like a father towards her: to treat her in the dominating manner described above, to provide safety as an authority figure so that she wasn't just relying on herself, and to provide other kinds of safety that a father would have provided (like, grr, lots of money.)

I don't know if this matches your situation, saysthis, but be aware: she may not want an equal and balanced relationship at all. In which case your arguments concerning how to behave to achieve a more equal and balanced relationship (by being more restrained when you're fighting) will be of no avail. It might be that she wants you to lay down the law like a father figure and treat her somewhat like a child; it actually appears to me that the quoted statement above might literally be read as requesting this. (I couldn't say whether or not giving her what she wants in that case would actually improve things for the relationship.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:50 PM on April 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm having trouble understanding exactly where/what the question is.

But I'll start with this: whose notion is this? Do you find that women expect this behavior of you and you don't want to provide it? Nothing is required in a relationship except by the other person. Woman A requires certain behavior of you (calming her down). You can either do it, if you want to be with her, or not do it, and not be with her. The behavior is required if you want that kind of relationship with that person. Are you asking Mefi to help you argue your way out of behaving this way in a certain relationship? That won't really work. Her life/circumstances/genetics have created her the way she is; this is what she needs in a relationship. You can't argue that away.

It sounds, from a few readings of your post, like you're one of these bitter men who feel like women have it easy and men have to do all the hard work in relationships, which isn't "fair." But you don't want to sound like a bitter man, so you want someone else to provide you with a different set of arguments that are more palatable to PC/feminist ears.

Whether gender differences are nature or nurture is irrelevant: we've got them. Most men behave a certain way and need certain things from relationships, and ditto for most women. If you want a certain kind of relationship, if you want certain things from your partner, you need to behave a certain way. If you're not willing to behave that way, then you won't get that kind of relationship. I want a man to feel protective of me and want to take care of me. That means I have to show him that I trust in his ability to do so. It might not be "fair" that I don't get input when he's figuring out directions in the car, but that's a compromise I'm willing to make for the kind of relationship I want. I'm happy to let him figure it out, because it will make him happy to figure it out.

Your "statement" doesn't mean that a man is required to be more considerate in a relationship or that a relationship should be painful. Being comforting when a woman is upset is something that you should want to do if you love her. When anyone is upset, the other person usually is the comforter, the more considerate one at that time. That doesn't mean that in other situations, she wouldn't be the more considerate one; for example, if you want to go on and on talking about work and she pretends to care, or if she doesn't really feel 100% like having sex but revs herself into the mood. It seems like you're taking this one aspect of male-female relations and turning it into a blanket "Why do mean [read: I] always have to be the one doing more? Why are relationships so painful for men [read: me]?"

Now, if you're in a relationship with a taker, who is always having crazy mood swings and is over-emotional and always needs you to pick up her pieces, and this is how she and/or your social circle is justifying it, and you want to know whether that's reasonable, then that's the question that you should have asked here.
posted by thebazilist at 10:55 PM on April 18, 2009


I think you're going to have trouble refuting this with premise #2 hanging around. While men and women are different, there's usually a whiff of (supposedly) biologically based sexism around the idea that women are uncontrollable hormonal monsters, or any less wacky iteration of that. I'm a fairly radical feminist, and while I'll acknowledge that there are likely some biological differences between men and women (see: the recent crying during sex thread), it's so highly impossible to determine which of these differences are biologically based from those that are societally based, and the repercussions for people who don't fit into prescribed gender roles if we are to assume that certain differences are biological are so potentially great, that I see it as being safer to assume that differences are societal.

What this means, in respect to the kind of debate that you're talking about above, is acknowledging the possible societal role in proscribed relationship behavior. This gives agency to the individuals in the situation to choose their own behavior, and whether it will fit in with expected roles.

I once took a psychology class on the psychology of women, where we examined several studies about PMS--including one where both men and women tracked their moods over time. It was found that men who participated had just as many fluctuations in mood over the course of a month as women. That severe PMS is treated with SSRIs also suggests that what we consider PMS might not be so much hormonally as chemically linked. I'm not sure that I agree with these findings completely--and I think that any treatment that makes people feel better when experiencing horrible emotional turmoil should be celebrated--but just learning about them felt incredibly liberating for me. I'm not so quick to label my emotions as hormonally induced, which helps me to look for external factors that could be influencing my feelings. This, in turn, helps me to be an agent of change in my own life. And I feel more in control of my emotions--they're not these weird moon-induced phases that I have no influence over. Which is great!

And that, I think, is the strongest argument against modeling that kind of gendered behavior on an individual level for your (I assume?) SO. Being in control of your emotions is a good thing and leads to a life that's much more peaceful and restive. When I realized that I had control, I also realized that my life didn't have to be filled with crazy tumult and strife. Sure, a relationship like the one you described above sounds miserable for men, it's no better, healthier, or fair for women.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:26 PM on April 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Being in control of your emotions is a good thing and leads to a life that's much more peaceful and restive. When I realized that I had control, I also realized that my life didn't have to be filled with crazy tumult and strife. Sure, a relationship like the one you described above sounds miserable for men, it's no better, healthier, or fair for women.

Amen, and Amen. I call this "stepping out of the drama," amongst other things.

Just because you're swimming in your emotional soup doesn't mean you have to be controlled by its tides. As a thinking creature, one of your privileges is that you can step above your lizard brain and make decisions which rule against your emotional impulses. It's not always easy to determine where our impulses are coming from (hence the science of Freud and Jung). Once you have a tool which allows you to move outside and make decisions based on observation rather than feelings, you begin to move forward rather than being buffeted by unexpected winds.

(I'd dispute that "hormonally" and "chemically" linked emotions are different -- hormones ARE chemicals.)
posted by hippybear at 11:42 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


(I'd dispute that "hormonally" and "chemically" linked emotions are different -- hormones ARE chemicals.)

Of course! I knew I would stumble over that trying to write about it at 2 a.m. Mostly, I meant that it suggests that what many people call PMS could be general "bad brain chemicals" in the universal, Vonnegut sense of the phrase rather than due entirely to unique hormonal fluctuations that are only present in women. Like I said, I don't necessarily completely agree with this, and it's been years since I even looked at the studies, but it's an interesting thought.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:56 PM on April 18, 2009


The key is to finding someone you're compatible with. Including religious, political and sociological beliefs. If one set of values is offensive to you, that's a hard boundary that you should use to test against.

Many people on both sides of this think 180 degrees from what you do and that it's not more right or wrong for them, just different. Incompatibly different, but merely different none the less. So here's the hard and fast rule you can use anytime and everywhere:

1) Find someone who wants what you have to offer, and who offers what you want.
2) Give it to each other freely.

All gender politics and other stuff is completely irrelevant.
posted by Ookseer at 2:08 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


A problem, I think, is that people establish patterns of behaviors very early in life, either by being told directly which of the things they (as small children) do are okay, or by watching what older people do. For any given person, the societal rationalizations and explanations for why certain patterns of behavior are acceptable, and others are not, come into play much later. It's not 'we think this so we act this way'; rather, it's 'we use this idea to explain our habits.'

Big, philosophical arguments might be useful in critiquing a society, but they aren't much good when applied to a particular person because, in the context of one person's life and habits, you're coming at it back-asswards. All you end up conveying is that you don't accept the rationalizations they use to explain behaviors which are so deeply ingrained that they are thought of as fundamental to their identity; it's very difficult to separate disapproval of such habits from disapproval of the whole person. In a relationship, this is a hard row to hoe.

If you are dealing with a single person (or, I guess, a recurring pattern you've encountered in relationships), you might have to simply own up to the fact that this particular cultural norm doesn't work for you, and negotiate from there.
posted by jon1270 at 3:09 AM on April 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Human relationships are remarkably resilient and can flower under a really crazy range of circumstances. My guess is that a lot of arranged marriages are probably 'better' (stronger, more peaceful) than relationships where both started all fired up about each other and found the relationship kind of empty when that faded.

I don't think you can refute the particular design because it doesn't really suck. It has a clear set of expectations for both parties, and relationships work best when both people are operating in the same value system.

This wouldn't work for me and Mr. Llama, but our values are shared, clear, and agreed-upon and do include the western notions you mentioned-- but it's the agreement and expectations that makes it work, not the values in particular.

You could make the argument that relationships are ultimately more satisfying when they include the egalitarian values you describe, because both people are more free to fully be themselves, but then you get into a whole question about what 'satisfied' means, and it doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:31 AM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not all people are representative of their gender. Men and women are different insofar that everyone is different from each other.
posted by divabat at 3:48 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why do you care? You're in a foreign country, trying the natives that they're doing it wrong. Whatever man, it works for them, quit trying to fix them. Realize it's not the type of relationship you want and seek something different.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:02 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


You wanted a feminist argument. Feminist believe that a woman should be allowed to define herself, and judged on her own, self-chosen merits. So, a feminist would say that any life choice about relationships would be her own.

So, I guess a feminist argument would be that these women are not choosing their relationship boundaries for themselves, but instead are forced to accept societal mores.

Note, I don't think that argument is workable too much, because the opposing view is "No I'm not." If all societal cues were removed, would these women still choose this line of thinking? That's pretty hard to prove.

A flaw in your argument that I would like to see someone address is that this is "a recipe for chaos and bitterness". If the vast majority of a society agree to certain mores, and it is seen as beneficial to the society by all groups, then how does it lead to chaos and bitterness? Although I've only been in China for a few weeks, I did not detect underlying and massive chaos. What I did notice right away was a dedication to something bigger than the Self -- happiness for the group (family, community, etc.) valued more than happiness for the Self. I think that plays a part in what you are noticing now.

So, which statement do you think is most true?

A. Feminism means men and women are equal, and so must always act equal.

B. Feminism means women have the equal right to decide for themselves how they want to shape their lives, including the right to decide that they would like to be treated differently than their male counterparts, if both parties agree to do this.
posted by Houstonian at 4:14 AM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's fine if people often play by different rules so long as those rules are agreed upon. I clean the bathroom while you clean the kitchen, etc. But any person who regularly uses other people for their own internal emotional regulation is fundamentally damaged goods. Sane stable people exist among both genders. DTMFA

p.s. Only children have far more social & emotional difficulties during life, for various reasons. I've been told China's one child policy creates such problems. So you might look for ways to accommodate these specific issues when dealing with future partners.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:04 AM on April 19, 2009


Yeah, I don't think this is going to work. It's almost impossible to overturn deeply-rooted assumptions like these with rational arguments. Trying to do so in a foreign country, especially for a Westerner in Asia, is almost always a waste of time, even counterproductive. People do not, as a rule, respond well to outsiders judging their culture negatively. You are questioning fundamental assumptions that govern male-female relationships in China. Your way of thinking will be dismissed as irrelevant and ignorant coming as it does from an outsider because you are an outsider. You reject these norms in China just as most Chinese reject yours.

KokuRyu is right, I think, which I say speaking from my own experience in Korea. Be the change you wish to see in the world. It works better than arguing about it. You'll be happier for it, too, by attracting people who accept your values.
posted by smorange at 6:05 AM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This rule allows the man in the relationship to stop taking the woman's emotions seriously. He is given license to view her emotions as "just part of being a woman, nothing to worry about", and he is tasked with removing himself from the situation emotionally so he can "be the bigger person" and diffuse tension. And it creates a power structure in which the woman is not expected to notice or care about the man's emotions.

This is, as you identify, absolutely anti-feminist. Discussing the details brings us in to territory where it's easier to come up with snappy reasons for sexism and discrimination, and harder to come up with well-spoken arguments for equality, but this is because equality requires deep consideration and it's hard to find the words. I'm gonna take the plunge anyway. BOTH men and women have (slight) biological tendencies towards certain behaviors. I won't go in to it here because it's a pretty big subject, but for example, it's been shown that the amount of testosterone a man has is highly correlated with his display of aggressive/dominant behavior. WHATEVER. Slight biological tendencies based on constantly-fluctuating levels of hormones and as-yet-undiscovered neurological (and the few that have been discovered are not well understood) differences THAT CHANGE FROM PERSON TO PERSON are not how we should set our expectations for human interaction. Even if some day we can definitively say: "on average, women are like this and men are like that", or even, "this particular woman has these tendencies and this particular man has those tendencies", it will not be time to start treating people as if they are going to act forever in one proscribed way. That's just not right - you allow people, by not limiting your expectations, to experience the full range of human emotions, no matter who they are. Ok? Ok.

So. A man does not give a woman a valuable gift when he begins to view her emotions as "just a woman's moods". And a man does not benefit from the bitterness of never being allowed to express his emotions to his partner. The combination of these two factors - one partner speaking out but not heard, and one partner not even "allowed" to speak - is a recipe for unhappiness.

All this said, I think it's possible to tweak this paragraph a little bit...
"People are different from each other. Sometimes, one person will need to be more understanding than the other, and help both people to calm down. Sometimes, it will be the other way 'round. People need to be understanding of each other, and let each other have their moods."
posted by Cygnet at 6:26 AM on April 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is an entire world of Chinese feminism. These assumptions (as well as others you make in your post) are being questioned within Chinese culture just as much as they are being questioned within other cultures. It might be better to approach your question from this school, rather than an American feminist school, simply because it will most directly address the specific cultural assumptions you're addressing.

As a side note, the fact that these assumptions appear to be quite different from the typical American/European assumptions, ought to provide some food for thought for the gender essentialists among us. If gender is so rigid, why are American women expected to intuit everyone else's emotions and adjust their behavior accordingly while in China men are expected to do this? I like Cygnet's tweaking.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:36 AM on April 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've never, not once, been able to argue around these two notions.

These are deeply ingrained ideas that many people simply accept as part of their reality. You're never going to be able to argue around that, nor is it often socially appropriate to try.
posted by hermitosis at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2009


PhoBWanKenobi: I think I was disputing the chemicals / hormones thing because the assumption that women have moods affected by fluctuations in their body chemistry while men do not is pretty much false. Men do have a cycle, and it may not have the same obvious up and down, but it can be tracked and will show mood swings just like the menstrual cycle.

Wasn't really disagreeing with your point; I think we are on the same page with this.
posted by hippybear at 8:36 AM on April 19, 2009


In an environment that restricts females, allowing women their 'moods' is an act of kindness, as just like elaborate care taking rituals to emphasize a woman's delicacy and need for protection is a defense in the exploitive relationship that's reality when all men are considered inherently superior. Which is the crux of the problem, being the stoical one is one-upping the other person by taking the parenting role. The message behind accepting a woman's moods is like a child screaming, they're impotent to do anything to deal with the source of their frustration. It's certainly not unique to China, so this isn't a case of cultural live-and-let-live, it's an idea that pops up where ever the gender dynamics are stacked in men's favour. The ancient Greeks did this. The Victorians did this. Even westerners do this, if you read advice from pickup gurus, and we use words like 'shrill' and 'hysterical', to imply an out of control emotional person.

For some reason the meme of women being emotional and men being logical seems to infect human behaviour, which is absolute dosh, not because women are logical but because it labels emotional behaviour in men as rational. I've always found one of the best examples of this is a friend who rages because other people are Wrong. When people are not logical or display a lack of knowledge or end arguments with 'agree to disagree' instead of practicing deductive logic until his conclusion is mutually accepted, it makes him furious.

I'm guessing that when the deck is stacked against women, female typical emotional behaviours are considered wild and uncivilized, because it's a place where the sexes display a deviance from each other. Crying easily hit me around puberty, and while it didn't disconnect my rational functions, it means if I get pissed off, I look like I'm more out of control than a man, because we associate crying with ineffectual and helpless. And yet, when you actually sit down and study say, behavior as affected by sex hormones, testosterone doesn’t come off any better than progesterone or estrogen. For example testosterone induced aggression and risk taking are both rooted in the irrational, but characterized as assertive and creative, never mind the fact that it seems to encourage men to use suicide methods that give them a high success rate than women, or damage their bodies and kill other people (usually men) over stupid things. Telling men they’re emotionless doesn’t seem to be doing them any favours, anymore than telling women they are emotional helps them. Indeed it seems to be fundamentally illogical, if health and maximized survival are your end goals.
posted by Phalene at 8:58 AM on April 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Well, I personally would be offended if my boyfriend felt he needed to cut me more slack because I couldn't control my temper or other emotions. Yes, I'm more emotional than him. Yes, I cry more often and get stressed more easily. I can be allowed to have my moods but they don't need to affect him at all.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:15 AM on April 19, 2009


As others have pointed out, you're not arguing here about the way women and men 'are'. You're arguing about gender norms -- norms that are specific to this culture. (Or at least I assume they are. I'm taking your post as truth for the purpose of this exercise; I don't know much at all about China, myself.) They make no sense to you because you subscribe to a different set of gender norms. (Yours may seem "fairer," but that doesn't mean they're not socially constructed norms. Even your idea of fairness, premised as it is on the notion of equality between the sexes, is itself a cultural construct.)

In short, you ain't gonna win this argument because neither position is "correct", per se.

In other news, this is why feminism is considered a political movement rather than a scientific discovery of the way things should be, even by those ardent feminists like myself who think you're bigoted or uneducated if you don't subscribe to some form of it. ;)
posted by artemisia at 4:22 PM on April 19, 2009


nobody - it sounds like your question is coming out of talking to a specific person.
No, this is from exposure to a lot of media, conversations with a lot of different people, and frustrating debates in my Chinese blog. I'm 99% sure that what I'm encountering is a fairly universal expectation of how a relationship should be.

I have a stable partner and we don't really have these problems, but we seem to be an exceptional example among foreign, Chinese, and mixed couples that we know. We have our disputes, but they really don't seem to happen along the traditional culture/gender lines.

hippybear - the whole "women get to have their tempers" argument sounds dangerously close to the "we can't have a female president because she goes crazy three days a month" canard.
A-friggin'-men. Aside from the fairness angle, that's another reason it bothers me so much.

equalpants - So I think your best bet is to provide real-life successful examples of your style--maybe not popular books/movies, since those could be assumed to be fake, but perhaps stuff like sociological studies, documentaries, etc.
Yes! Share 'em if you got 'em.

Houstonian - What I did notice right away was a dedication to something bigger than the Self -- happiness for the group (family, community, etc.) valued more than happiness for the Self. I think that plays a part in what you are noticing now.
Agreed. And I don't think that devotion is a bad thing. It's a perfectly viable way to have a society. Unquestioned, though, it does lead to unintended consequences, one of which can be, and seems more likely than not, to me, to be disregard for female emotions and a shunting of male emotions. If we can find a collectivist model for living that includes safeguards of individuals' emotional health, I would have no problem with it.

Cygnet - Thank you. That's just about what I was trying to put into words but couldn't.

hydropsyche - hell yes! I can't believe I never thought to look that up. Thank you. I'm going to be investigating that for awhile.

Thanks all. This is definitely one of the more fruitful askme's I've posted, and there are some fantastic answers in here.

The simple reason I posted this is that like the 5000 years of history and the sneaky money-grubbing ways of Southern Chinese, this is just one of those conversation topics that it's helpful to have a stock response on that won't offend locals, but also allows your own viewpoints some breathing room. Chinese people tend to have a lot of questions for Westerners, and they tend to be the same, and you do end up having a lot of conversations over and over and over. This is in the same vein as where do you come from, do you like Chinese food/women/traditions/language, is Chinese difficult...there are some STRONG preconceived notions, and people want to know if you agree. Usually, the only way to get around those notions if you're not in complete agreement with them is to package an approach to the question they've never considered in a punchy canned answer.

Example 1: "America is so beautiful...I've seen many movies, and hope one day I can live in a big house in the suburbs and drive a Cadillac."
"Well, you know, there's a reason they're movies...they're a representation of the lives we wish we could live. My family has some very big houses, and the roofs leak, the furnaces break, and the Cadillac is rusty and 25 years old. And the neighbors owe huge mortgages and work two jobs. That's considered normal where I come from. If you're okay with that, then yeah, it can be incredibly rewarding, but..."
That's led to some interesting discussions.

Example 2: "Why do Westerners always use Tibet to bully us Chinese?"
"Well, you see all those posts on the internet from the 愤青/fenqing/"angry youth" contingent, right? The Carrefourre boycott? The anti-Japanese riots in 2006? Same idiots, different country. And then the media on both sides pick it up and amplify it, Edison Chen-style. Your idiots reporting about our idiots, while our idiots report about your idiots. You probably don't think French people should die, and I don't think Tibet isn't a part of China after 60 years of unified government. Now, the way Tibet is run right now, I think could use some work..."

You get the idea. You need conciliatory answers that can change the frame of the debate to one where you have some common ground if you're not going to come off as a pigheaded foreigner. Do Americans live in big houses? Yeah, and the McMansion lifestyle is appealing for some, but you never see people mowing the lawn or paying the mortgage in movies. You don't see it in China either, which is why it amazes so many people. It's just impossible for the average apartment dweller here to fathom that much housework, or that there's no property management company to take care of things when they break. Does China do horrible things in Tibet? Sure, but that's plain old corrupt government, and nobody here OR abroad appreciates corrupt government. We all agree that something should be done about that.

I posed this question because I have a hard time formulating a response to the original proposition that cuts to the common ground we have. I got some fantastic answers, and I think I'll be able to use them.

Right now my ideal canned answer is looking something like this: "Sure, any considerate partner will understand and comfort you when you're angry. But it makes it nearly impossible to separate a 'bad mood' from something serious, probably for both partners. If the reaction is the same whether I spill soda on the couch or stay out for 6 days without answering the phone, how is a man supposed to know when a woman is really, truly hurt?"

I think that should start a few good discussions. :) Thanks!
posted by saysthis at 1:58 PM on April 22, 2009


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