This morning, as I was eating breakfast and listening to music, I found myself inexplicably welling up with emotion, to the point of near-tears. Now, I wasn’t listening to the Free Haiti concert or Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day,” (stop judging me!) nothing that tends to elicit a negative emotional response. No, it was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” More specifically when Johnny out-fiddles the devil. Misty-eyed, I said out loud to nobody, “You tell him, Johnny!”
On the day-to-day scale of embarrassing-things-I-do-when-no-one-is-around, this was a relatively mild occurrence. But it’s been happening a lot lately. I cried when Glee’s “Jump” came on my iPhone. Twice. If you’re unfamiliar with this aural masterpiece, I should mention that a third of the song’s lyrics are “jump, go ahead, jump, might as well jump and why don’t you jump?” I have almost all of Glee’s songs, including your typical tearjerkers like “Lean on me,” “Imagine,” and “Somebody to love,” but none of those do it for me. Nope. I cry over the song that’s used in the show to sell mattresses.
Naturally, since I’ve been socialized to assume that I’m not allowed to feel anything unless I’m pregnant or on the rag, my first thought was, “Am I about to get my period?” Which is ridiculous, of course, and reminded me of the prevalence that “hormones” have in dismissing people’s (often women’s) legitimate concerns and behaviors.
As Po Bronson noted in a Newsweek article on adolescence, “Hormone levels don’t correlate with behavior, such as delinquency, or with psychological states, such as boredom.” Or, one could add, sadness.
It’s all too easy to blame hormones when we are embarrassed, feeling dismissed or want an excuse to behave badly, as the woman who assaulted a passenger on an airline and then blamed menopause illustrates. But in the long run, blaming hormones further reinforces the myth that women are controlled by their emotions, making it all the easier for people to dismiss and invalidate our troubles and even our achievements. Like the doctors who misdiagnose heart attacks in women as “anxiety” or how Hillary Clinton was deemed too emotional to be an effective leader because she welled-up during an impassioned speech, a particularly ironic punishment for a candidate who prior to this “crying episode” was seen as too aloof and unfeeling to be president.
“The theory that one’s ovaries trump one’s brain is an update of the Victorian view — briefly considered hopelessly retrograde in the late 20th century — that women were weaker creatures because they were slaves to the sinister workings of their innards, which gave rise to such vague diagnoses as hysteria, neurasthenia and that 19th-century standard, the vapours,” writes Naomi Lakritz, who is fed up with blame game as well.
Blaming perfectly reasonable responses on hormones speaks to the deeply entrenched sexism that many of us are guilty of reinforcing ourselves. The next time you are quick to denounce your girlfriend’s chocolate indulgence or your female boss’s bitchiness or the fact that you cry over Glee songs, take a step back and realize the ridiculousness of pinning an emotional reaction on hormones. It’s a poor excuse to not have to examine their/our lives for legitimate concerns or causes; and frankly an excuse that needs to go the way of the dodo bird and Friendster.