The Fem Spot

The crying cat’s out of the bag

Posted in Feminist Theory, Politics, queer theory by femspotter on June 26, 2008

June 26, 2008

Now that Hillary Clinton has “suspended her campaign,” it’s safe for the media to release some of the feminist discourse that may have been held back. It’s safe because Clinton can’t use anybody’s words against them, and even if she tried, nobody would listen because the issue of her candidacy is moot.

I have a big mouth so I’m happy to do the job.

Gloria Steinem contributed an opinion piece to The New York Times: “Women Are Never Front-Runners.” She asks, “Why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” She answers, “(B)ecause sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was.”

This means that the qualities of gender – masculine and feminine – are identified as the nature of the corresponding sex. Therefore, women are feminine by their very nature and are expected to be sensitive, gentle criers. And because tears are anticipated, a woman becomes a cliché if/when she does cry. (“Is it that time of the month?” men ask.)

Most people would prefer that their leaders don’t cry. This preference has given birth to a “no-tears rule” according to Steinem who commends Clinton’s “courage to break” said rule. Some reacted with sympathy when Clinton choked up in a January question and answer session: the poor woman is overtired and needs to thaw. Others said that she’s a phony.

There’s a biological reason for tears and it has nothing to do with sex and gender. Strong emotion of any kind – from sadness to happiness and back – can cause humans to weep. The protein-based hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and leucine enkephalin build up causing psychic tears to well, and receptors in our tear glands read intense emotions and force these tears to flow. (How’s that for unisex science?)

The fear that Clinton’s crying when talking to a small group of women indicates that she will cry when talking to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance, is irrational, but it exists nonetheless. It’s the giving in to intense emotions that bothers some people; they see it as a sign of weakness.

There is no evidence that can resolutely prove that women cry more than men do. Even people who criticize Clinton and her soppy display probably cry themselves, but they do so behind closed doors.

I like Steinem’s theory because it agrees with mine: we are confused about the difference between sex and gender. Not all females are feminine and not all males are masculine. The problem with the assumptions about sex is that they are often false, and only sometimes true. Clinton cried when a freelance photographer asked her a sympathetic question: “How do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?” But just because she’s a woman who once happened to be somewhat overwhelmed by personal assurance, does not mean that she’ll have the same reaction to Raul Castro in the flesh. (I would cry at the sight of Castro, but I highly doubt that she would.)

People who believe that once a crier always a crier, in the case of women, are probably the same people who suspect and worry that Barack Obama is a Muslim. And if he’s a Muslim, then he must be a terrorist, right?

I’m surprised the press let this next one slip by and can only conclude that they ignored this comment because they have been walking on eggshells around the race topic. Michelle Obama had the following to say in a 60 Minutes interview with regard to her husband’s safety during the campaign: “I don’t lose sleep over it because the realities are that, you know, as a black man, you know. Barack can get shot going to the gas station, you know. So, you know, you can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen. We just weren’t raised that way.”

The statement begs the question: who does she think is going to shoot him? And she’d have to answer carefully because each potential answer has a built in crapshoot. If she were to say “a white person,” she’d be guilty of her own form of racism, perpetuating a stereotype that racist whites want to kill blacks. If she were to say “a black person,” that’s almost worse. She’d be perpetuating a stereotype that blacks are out there with guns shooting each other.

Michelle’s statement is problematic for Steinem’s theory because it still ascribes a nature to each race. In order for the two ideas to agree, Michelle’s answer would have to be either “a woman” or “a man will shoot my husband.” But somehow, I doubt that’s what she had in mind.

And she can’t simply respond “some crazy person.” Because that lunatic has a sex and a race, both of which are visible in her mind’s eye.

Finally, I’d like to turn to a June 6 commentary by Rebecca Walker, as posted on CNN.com. “It is time to turn the page on myopic gender-based Feminism and concede that while patriarchy is real, so is female greed, dishonesty and corruptibility,” she wrote. I wonder where she got the idea that humans generally uphold the notion that women are morally superior to men by their nature.

If we can’t say unequivocally that women cry more than men, then we can’t say that they are uniformly more sensitive, caring or generous. And we can’t take that another step and say that they deserved the right to vote in 1920 because they were angels and not citizens, or that Edith Wharton deserved a Pulitzer Prize in 1921 because she was a saint and not a talented writer, or that Hillary Clinton deserved the right to be president because she is a holy vessel and not a qualified leader. I can’t recall any legitimate argument for emancipation that was based on a sex moral foundation. It would lose all of its steam the minute an Erzebet Bathory draws blood or a Martha Stewart obstructs justice, etc.

The argument that Walker is disputing, however, is the same one Steinem has observed: people still think that effeminacy is the nature of all women. Effeminacy is the nature of some women…but there are others with a tougher stance. For us to evolve past the point of marginalizing men and women based on masculine and feminine expectations, we will have to do away with such terminology and the idea of gender entirely.

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