I teach, therefore I am.
I feel a lot. All the time. I like to think of it as, you know, living. Yet emotions and work are not something which we are very comfortable with and this is a particularly gendered issue.
There are myths which we repeat so much that they become an accepted part of our cultural narrative. Emotions and their relation to gender are a prime example: women are over-emotional (read: irrational, sensitive, weak) and men are lacking in emotion (read: closed, efficient, strong). Both of these stereotypes are reductive and also untrue. In the workplace they also automatically serve as a means to suggesting men will be better at their jobs because they feel less. I challenge both this assumption about gender but also the myth that feeling less is better. All the more so in leadership; if the person leading the charge does so without the fire of passion in their stomach then what hope does one have?
Yet passion and conviction in women are so often misconstrued as irrationality and madness. In an earlier post @zoe wrote about the labels applied to women. Madness is an historic label which still continues to be applied to female leaders, particularly in the media. Activist Caroline Criado Perez (@CCriadoPerez) explores this in her book ‘Do It Like A Woman’ where she interviews successful women who have been labelled as angry or crazy and reflects ‘on how assigning emotion to women is so often used to undermine and trivialise our actions of […] conviction.’ Gary Nunn (@GaryNunn1) has also written in The Guardian about the dismissing of women through this language, such as Boris Johnson’s reference to Harriet Harman as “mad Hattie”.
This labelling and feminisation of emotion results in attempts at silencing women at the top; for madness must be quieted. We wonder why there are so few women in politics, when the leader of our country can get away with telling Angela Eagle to ‘calm down dear’. I have seen many men shout, sulk and strop at work but as soon as a woman does similar the old lines of “calm down” or “don’t get so emotional” are thrown into the mix. Of course the natural reaction to “calm down” is to end up screaming “I AM CALM” and you fall into the rhetorical trap of becoming ‘unreasonable’.
All of this can result in an apologetic and hesitant approach to leadership by women; apologising for our certainty or trying to resolve situations where others express emotion, even if it means undermining ourselves. To combat this, I have started editing my language to remove the unnecessary placations that I preface my thoughts with and also to fight my instinct to soothe and resolve emotions when I know that I am in the right.
It is time for us to embrace our emotion, celebrate our conviction and not allow our fire to be dampened by fear.