‘She’s overreacting’: Why men find it so hard to trust women

Natalie Reilly – March 23, 2015

Last week, writer Damon Young made the type of admission on Huffington Post so outrageously candid, it’s normally only found on anonymous threads. Young admitted – without reservation – that men do not trust women at all. He wasn’t speaking about fidelity or flat-out lying but something a little less tangible — our feelings. Young, who used his own marriage as a prime example, copped to a three-step process of denial.

Step 1: What’s wrong?

Step 2: She’s overreacting.

Step 3:“Ok. I hear what you’re saying, and I’ll help. But whatever you’re upset about probably really isn’t that serious.”

Most of us are familiar with that old-fashioned term, “gaslighting“, where an abuser, (statistically, but not exclusively male) chips away at his victim’s reality by continually countering or questioning her feelings, perceptions and concerns. But here was Young, confessing that he unintentionally gaslights his wife — a brave step of self-awareness. Young writes that he came to this conclusion after a discussion with his wife about recent, high profile cases of alleged sexual abuse, such as the report of campus rape in Rolling Stone magazine and Bill Cosby. It was Jay Leno who said, of the accusations facing the disgraced comedian, “I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women.”

Earlier this month, at Daily Life’s All About Women event, Rosie Batty echoed this sentiment during her talk on family violence.

“Our organisations who … should be responding with the best interests of our victims in mind … disappoint and let us down because, you see, strangely, a woman can’t be believed.”

Are you sensing a theme? Think for a moment about women who have babies. How many of them have suffered physical and mental trauma because their serious, (at times even life-threatening) pain has not been taken seriously? Speaking of reproductive organs, who among us has not had their frustration dismissed with a “must be that time of the month” put-down? Meanwhile, expert research has been undertaken to prove that man-flu is real, y’all.

What about in workplaces, like, you know, certain hospitals, where, a woman is encouraged to “give in” to sexual harassment. After all, who can really measure the emotional injury of a co-worker if she happens to be female? As Rosie Batty remarked at the same event, unless they see the bruises, it can be hard to convince law enforcement officials that a woman is being abused.

But we’re witnessing is not simply gaslighting within abusive relationships, but rather a communal gaslighting of women in society. You don’t have to have completed a Masters of Feminisms to know that in institutions both large and small, public and private, women may voice concern, distress, hurt and even anger, but it is overwhelmingly a man, (whether a police officer, or a magistrate, or a manager, or a CEO, or a minister, or a priest, or a politician) who gets to decide whether or not the woman’s feelings count.

It was that crazy old coot, Henry Havelock Ellis, a respected leader of 19th century sexuality studies, who opined that women, just like children and people of colour, were more reactive, nervous, violent and emotional than your average lovely white man. The idea is as old as Hippocrates. See, if we’re already bubbling over with uncontrollable emotions, we not only can but probably should be ignored!

Well. Hang on a sec. You know that dichotomy of feelings versus reason? Yeah, it’s utterly false. A rational person need only glance at that pantheon of patriarchy, Big Business, to realise that every decision made therein is actually emotional.

And yet. We have a well-documented history of men, (particularly white men), who have projected a type of wild, almost animalistic emotionalism onto their female counterparts as well as men and women of colour, while they continue to sublimate any “negative” feelings within themselves. Which sucks for everyone.

Look, I hate to say “because sexism and racism” but I’m afraid I just did. Research demonstrates that while women and men feel equal amounts of shame or sadness about a negative life event, men are much more likely to say they felt content or even serene as they watched the proverbial hit the fan.

“What’s that? Oh just a bit of shell shock my dear. I’m perfectly fine! Now, where’s that Scotch?”

See, it’s women who get their knickers in a knot; who are “crazy”, who lose their credibility when they cry, or rage or lust. Certainly, men lose credibility too, if they dare cry in some moronic circles, but there’s a fundamental difference here.

If men don’t like a woman expressing herself they don’t have to take it seriously.

But if a man expresses rage, or powerlessness or lust or jealousy, women don’t have the luxury of dismissing those emotions. This is because, statistically, women don’t act out of their feelings in the same way. We do not rape, beat, violently intimidate or murder at the same rate men do. So you see, we must take a man’s emotions seriously whether we believe them or not. Because the consequences of a man’s emotions are far more dangerous – and terrifying– for us. Forgive me if I sound a little hysterical when I say: our lives depend on it.

 

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