ASK THE EXPERTS
Ask the experts is back! Two weeks ago we heard from Dr. Fred Piercy about the crucial element of a healthy relationship!
Today, we turn to Dr. Scott Johnson to answer the question: why are women more emotional than men?
Before he answers this question, let me first talk him up a bit.
Like Fred, Scott is a big name in the field. How big? Well, Scott is the former president of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. You know -- the whole organization for marriage and family therapists! He went to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University and was accepted at the Peabody Conservatory as a classical guitarist! This guy has done it all!
He has also served as the president of the Virginia Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, written articles in numerous top-tier journals and well read newspapers and magazines such as the Boston Globe and New York Times.
Scott was instrumental in providing support and assistance to the survivors and families after the April 16th massacre at Virginia Tech and has traveled abroad to advance the field of marriage and family therapy, most recently in China. He has also been a consultant on family therapy and mass casualty events to local courts and social service agencies, the U.S. Army after the shootings at Fort Hood, and many other groups in the US and abroad.
I think you will find his answer provocative and enlightening. Here we go...
Women are no more emotional than men. Anyone who has watched male Taliban fighters dance and scream and shoot their Kalashnikovs in the air when they shoot down a U.S. drone, or seen bare chested guys in January with their faces painted green screaming their heads off at a football game knows that idea is ridiculous.
What is more accurate is that women and men often express their emotions differently, and are encouraged to by their societies. A man who cries watching the movie The Notebook is a “sap.” A woman who doesn’t cry watching it is “cold.” These kinds of generalizations are of course not universal, but they have some utility.
It’s also important to remember that what is seen as “emotional” or “unemotional” varies from one society to another and from one era to another. So Achilles weeps copiously for his dead companion Patroclus, and then slaughters Hector, Patroclus’s killer, ties Hector’s body by the ankles to his chariot and drags it around the walls of Troy ten times. Nothing very emotional about that.
Cowboy John Wayne, of course, would never cry, but simply walk out of the saloon, challenge Hector to a quick-draw contest in the street, gun him down, leave his dead body to rot in the dirt, walk back into the saloon and down a shot of whiskey, all without saying more than ten words.
But Wayne’s studied non-emotion is emotional in its own way. It conveys a profound feeling of menace and anger, all the more unnerving because on the surface Wayne’s emotions appear “under control.” But of course they aren’t. You don’t gun somebody down with your “emotions” in check. The act itself is an acting out of one’s emotions.
Similarly, the guy whose girlfriend complains he “never talks” is simply acting out his feelings, typically his discomfort with having feelings at all, as if talking about them would overwhelm him because he doesn’t know what to do with them.
And of course, family annihilators and mass murders are the most emotional of all, simply smothering under the burden of their feelings, so overcome they literally must kill others and often themselves to put an end to them. The husband whose wife is about to leave him who shoots her in the head not uncommonly feels, and sometimes says, “I can’t live without you.” For him, that belief is literal. If she leaves, he will die, so he might as well kill her and himself and get it over with.
Not all male emotion is negative of course, but I emphasize it here to underscore the point that neither men nor women is more emotional than the other. But how a given society or time period expects those emotions to be expressed – that can vary widely.
The point Scott makes here is one to be heard. How we highlight and construct emotion in various societies reflects also how we accept emotion. Perhaps next time you think "s/he is so emotional," you re-read this common myth and consider how you handle or approach emotion. What might be the deeper meaning? We all have emotions. We all experience emotions. Maybe we need to take a step back and experience the emotion with someone before pointing the finger.
Scott, thank you so much for sharing your piece in an intense and emotionally relevant way. I'm glad you chose to write on an important topic, too. It is no surprise that your writing has touched and given voice to many people over the years. Thank you for being emotional with me on numerous occasions :)