Personal is Political: Crying While Arguing

Last night at our panel, Roxie bravely talked about a moment when she got into a big argument with her uncle about whether a woman had the capacity to be president. He was arguing that women were too emotional. She was arguing, of course, that emotion could be a fundamental tool in leadership positions. In the midst of this whole thing, of course, Roxie felt like she was going to burst into tears (she held it in until later).
Her brave admission reminded me of my own struggle within intellectual arguments, especially in my early 20s at Barnard and Columbia Colleges, to manage my own emotions. I remember one class, in particular, in which a classmate and I got into a fiery argument about the politics of language, ebonics, poverty, and education. I teared up in spite of myself and felt frustrated for the rest of the day that I’d let my emotions show.
Today I have more empathy for that 19-year-old version of me. I think that emotions, as Roxie argued, are a critical part of how I process the world, understand ideas and issues, and formulate my own arguments. In this still male-dominated realm of intellectual debate (just look at the op-ed pages of any major newspaper), the standard is still clear: emotions, and most certainly crying, don’t have a place.
But the older I get, the more comfortable I am in my own skin and with my own ideas, the more I think that’s a bullshit sexist paradigm. Of course it’s important to be self-aware and manage one’s emotions during an argument, but I think pretending as if the issue you’re arguing about has no personal significance or emotional resonance is actually a disempowering and, of course, inauthentic place to come from. My power these days comes from combining both intellectual rigor with emotional authenticity.

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  • Jackson

    “Last night at our panel, Roxie bravely talked about a moment when she got into a big argument with her uncle about whether a woman had the capacity to be president. He was arguing that women were too emotional. She was arguing, of course, that emotion could be a fundamental tool in leadership positions. In the midst of this whole thing, of course… Read More, Roxie felt like she was going to burst into tears (she held it in until later).”
    I don’t know what’s funnier…the idea that a president is a sea mark of rationality or whether or not emotion could be a fundamental tool in leadership positions.
    if we lived in a monarchy I might be able to buy the idea that the king was an individual who favored reason over emotion and reaction as the kingdom is his property and he would most likely act in a manner to protect his property and further his prosperity. but a president is the executive officer of a democracy. in order to gain the position and maintain it through another term, he has to be the embodiment of a fickle and reactionary mob. as mobs aren’t known for thinking objectively, be they tea parties, lynch mobs, g20 protests, obama rallies, etc., I would hardly expect the result of the mob’s popularity contest to be someone who acts in a manner Roxie’s uncle feels he acts.
    “In this still male-dominated realm of intellectual debate (just look at the op-ed pages of any major newspaper), the standard is still clear: emotions, and most certainly crying, don’t have a place.”
    if anyone thinks op-ed pages in newspapers are a prime example of the exercise of objective thinking then I don’t know what to say.
    anyhow…
    being able to separate our emotions from our reason is what makes us different from every other animal we’ve come across. it’s the essence of our humanity. saying that emotion is a valid tool for leadership (or any position that could possibly yield something productive) is a serious step backwards. things such as fear, anger, sadness, envy, envy, envy, or bitterness should not be the basis of decisions. it’s our ability to determine causal links and organize our priorities above such pettiness that has delivered us from caves where we jumped at our own shadows to where we are today (though the majority of people are still reactionary troglodytes)
    it is refreshing to see this admission, though. emotive arguments are always a mixed blessing. an individual who bases his decisions and beliefs upon logic will have absolutely no problem making the other person look like an idiot (and possibly cry) just by using the socratic method. but an individual utilizing reason will never get through to a person who builds their opinions upon their feelings. the basis of an emotive argument is a force that is insurmountable. there’s no point in discussing things with people such as that (other than amusement) as you might as well try reasoning with a spoiled child who has made up its mind it wants a pony.

  • zes

    I read that women’s tears have more cortisol (stress hormone) in them that men’s. So that’s why we cry more than men and why crying can feel so cathartic.
    It is simply dumping excess stress. Like sweating, but for stress instead of heat. It shouldn’t be regarded as having any shame to it unless you do it at a time or in a manner that causes a physical or social problem. Anyway it’s much healthier than bottling it up until you lash out by taking drugs or getting in fights.

  • zes

    “I love X so I am going to be nice to her to make her like me.”
    “I like chocolate so I am going to eat a chocolate bar.”
    “I get a weird feeling from that guy in this deserted street so I’m going to step into that pub while he passes.”
    Logical acts can be based on an emotional premise.

  • zes

    “I may be having an argument with someone who claims to have no emotional attachment to our subject matter. Why should I have to met them on their terms and pretend that I too have no emotional attachment to the subject matter?”
    On the contrary, use it! A good response is, let’s say you’re arguing about tidiness, “Well if your view on whether you pick up your socks or not matters very little to you, but my desire for you to pick up your socks matters massively to me and affects my mood and the way I treat you, and me being in a good mood affects your life, LOGICALLY you must pick up the socks. Even if you think my sock obsession is totally stupid and irrational, you have effectively acknowledged the FACTS are these:
    1. I have an obsession with a sock-free floor. It exists.
    2. My feelings have the power to affect your life negatively or positively.
    3. The combined sum of “us”, which is a unit of which you are voluntarily part (by virtue of you not having moved out rather than have the sock debate) cares more about the socks NOT being there than about whether you get to not pick them up.
    4. The effort you have to expend in picking them up is small and the benefit you derive from my good mood is large.
    5. As you claim you have no emotional investment here and are guided only by facts like the above, clearly you are not going to feel hen-pecked because you did a logical act in picking up the socks, nor let your pride get in the way of the logical choice.
    The purely utilitarian outcome, the greatest happiness for the greatest number for the lowest effort, requires that you pick up the socks. If you refuse to pick up the socks you are either putting your pride before what is practical, or making an erroneous reward/effort evaluation, both of which are illogical.”
    Logic means you deal with the situation you have not the one you wish you had, and that means factoring in others’ emotions whether or not you have any yourself.

  • thecynicalromantic

    Which carries with it the false assumption that emotions do not factually exist.
    Which, as anyone who has emotions and admits it to themselves knows, is total and complete bullshit.
    Pretending that one’s emotions don’t influence one’s decisions is not only not a strength, it is a very distinct weakness–by not admitting one has emotions, one therefore renders oneself incapable of examining them. Evangelically “logical” people are often the most impossible people to get to change their minds with a presentation of facts, because while admittedly emotional people will realize that their emotions are emotions and facts are facts, unadmittedly emotional people will think their emotions are facts and the facts are more facts, or, if they don’t mesh with their emotions, that those facts are merely *other* people’s emotions. (Hence the ubiquitous habit of some men saying they’re bringing in an “objective” viewpoint when insisting that something you just said happened to you couldn’t POSSIBLY have actually happened to you.)
    I mean… what decisions do you actually have to make in life where your emotions are not to be considered? Even when we make decisions that we don’t like making, isn’t it usually under the assumption that it WILL make us happier LATER? How do we measure what “benefits us” if it’s not, at least, what we believe will make us happier? Why the hell have feminism at all, if it’s not “logical” to advocate for equal rights on the basis that having unequal ones makes us miserable?

  • Sleepy

    Clarification:
    If I had to base a decision about who’s better on ONLY that evidence (the story about crying), I would say that Bush 1 was a much better president than Bush 2.

  • thecynicalromantic

    Oh, nobody’s saying newspaper op-eds are a prime example of objective thinking, just that they’re a prime example of people CLAIMING they’re thinking objectively because that’s what they figure will lend weight to their purely emotionally-fueled ranting.

  • Gopher

    Ex. off of your post….doesnt Glenn Beck cry alot on his show? If he were a woman, I can guess what they’d say about him!

  • Sleepy

    This is awesome! :o)
    LOL LOL LOL!

  • bntk

    Then said person questions the value of your time if your willing to come up with that argument to try to convince him instead off picking up or ignoring the sock.
    Maybe the person also derives some pleasure at seeing their partner infuriated and eggs them on to see what happens. :D

  • Jackson

    “On the contrary, use it! A good response is, let’s say you’re arguing about tidiness, “Well if your view on whether you pick up your socks or not matters very little to you, but my desire for you to pick up your socks matters massively to me and affects my mood and the way I treat you, and me being in a good mood affects your life, LOGICALLY you must pick up the socks. Even if you think my sock obsession is totally stupid and irrational, you have effectively acknowledged the FACTS are these:
    1. I have an obsession with a sock-free floor. It exists.
    2. My feelings have the power to affect your life negatively or positively.
    3. The combined sum of “us”, which is a unit of which you are voluntarily part (by virtue of you not having moved out rather than have the sock debate) cares more about the socks NOT being there than about whether you get to not pick them up.
    4. The effort you have to expend in picking them up is small and the benefit you derive from my good mood is large.
    5. As you claim you have no emotional investment here and are guided only by facts like the above, clearly you are not going to feel hen-pecked because you did a logical act in picking up the socks, nor let your pride get in the way of the logical choice.
    The purely utilitarian outcome, the greatest happiness for the greatest number for the lowest effort, requires that you pick up the socks. If you refuse to pick up the socks you are either putting your pride before what is practical, or making an erroneous reward/effort evaluation, both of which are illogical.”
    Logic means you deal with the situation you have not the one you wish you had, and that means factoring in others’ emotions whether or not you have any yourself.”
    you do realize that LOGICALLY you just justified anything.
    let’s take female circumcision, for instance.
    //A good response is, let’s say you’re arguing about female circumcision, “Well if your view on female circumcision matters very little to you, but my desire for you to be circumcised matters massively to me and affects my mood and the way I treat you, and me being in a good mood affects your life, LOGICALLY you must be circumcised. Even if you think female circumcision is totally stupid and irrational, you have effectively acknowledged the FACTS are these:
    1. I have an obsession with circumcised vaginas. It exists.
    2. My feelings have the power to affect your life negatively or positively.
    3. The combined sum of “us”, which is a unit of which you are voluntarily part (by virtue of you not leaving Africa rather than being circumcised) cares more about the vagina NOT being uncircumcised than about whether you get to not be circumcised.
    4. The effort you have to expend in being circumcised is small and the benefit you derive from my good mood is large.
    5. As you claim you have no emotional investment here and are guided only by facts like the above, clearly you are not going to feel hen-pecked because you did a logical act in being circumcised, nor let your pride get in the way of the logical choice.
    The purely utilitarian outcome, the greatest happiness for the greatest number for the lowest effort, requires that you be circumcised. If you refuse to be circumcised you are either putting your pride before what is practical, or making an erroneous reward/effort evaluation, both of which are illogical.”//
    utilitarianism is an utter failure. I do not think most people wholly appreciate the system they are so quick to invoke. if one were to truly buy into utilitarianism and one were able to accurately measure the emotional gains or losses that result because of certain actions, then what would a utilitarian say to a situation where a rapist gained more joy than a victim gained in sorrow? well, according to their morally repulsive beliefs, then the action would be justifiable. what is even more disgusting is that under a utilitarian system such a comparison would even be made. the response to this is generally ‘oh that would never happen’ but the fact is we have no way of gauging emotional gains and loses. as such, all utilitarian statements are baseless. I’m always surprised at feminists who take such a shining to utilitarianism because they think they can take and take and take from such a system but are so blind to implications of such a philosophy. this is, of course, an extreme example, but extreme examples are often warranted for individuals to see such faults.
    and no, utilitarianism is not logic. it is the exact opposite. it does not use an a priori approach. it pretends that we can measure such emotional gains and loses (sorry, but felicific calculus is a ridiculous idea) – which we can’t. preference utilitarianism (which is what I’m assuming this individual believes in) should be utterly rejected by anyone who respects the rights of not only women but all humans, but it is my experience that people who spout such things usually base their belief in utilitarianism emotionally and do not think such things through objectively.
    on a slightly different subject…
    we are all rational actors, even if our actions are driven by petty emotions like envy or anger. however, when I speak of rationality, I am referring to putting such feelings aside and focusing on causal relationships to ensure actions will truly result in the desired goal…not in a superficial attempt to alleviate a flighty emotion.

  • Dead Cathedral

    In my opinion, decisions should be the result of analysis, of weighing the pros and cons, of evaluating risks and gains, and cutting losses.
    Whenever a conversation or debate gets emotional, it just becomes so much more difficult to communicate effectively.

  • katemoore

    Not everyone has an easy time managing their emotions. Do you know how fucking difficult it is not to cry once you’ve started? Part of my Asperger’s — the most visible part, probably — involves it being really, really difficult to control one’s emotions. When I’m upset, I cry, and many things upset me. I’ve worked on it for over twenty years and I still can’t quite do it. I’m at the point where I can at least do it silently, but one look at me and it’s obvious how much work it’s taking.

  • aletheia_shortwave

    Ok, so, I have no respect for “pure utilitarianism,” and feel no need to defend the pure doctrine. But your ostensible critique of the above poster is totally bogus. It begins on line one:
    “”Well if your view on female circumcision matters very little to you, but my desire for you to be circumcised matters massively to me and affects my mood and the way I treat you, and me being in a good mood affects your life, LOGICALLY you must be circumcised.”
    Everything you just said hinges on the premise that the woman’s view on female circumcision is one of indifference. And we know that is not the case. End of story.

  • kandela

    I had a depressive illness where my emotions would constantly over-rule the reasoned decisions I would make. I’d make a decision to not take a certain course of action because I knew it would upset myself and someone else. Yet, the illness I suffered meant I couldn’t have anything but a short-term emotional release. The intensity of the emotions that drove my decision making would build up and I’d find myself unable to take any other course of action other than the one I’d decided against. The results were exactly as my reasoned brain predicted.
    Many people obsessions have an emotional need for that which they obsess over, it’s what drives their behaviour. For those without illnesses the closest I’d imagine you can come to this is wanting to call a ex-boyfriend/girlfriend whose just broken up with you. Your emotions are telling you that you need to hear their voice, that you can talk to them and change their mind but logically you know that the results would be bad.
    A certain amount of emotional detachment is necessary to be able to make an appropriate decision. Strong emotions have an ability to swamp the importance of other factors in your decision making process.
    That’s not to say that emotion has no place. Passion is a strong motivator. My point is that the decision you make still needs to be the right one after the emotional high of the instant has faded.

  • kandela

    This is actually one of the key themes of the original Star Trek series. The conflict between Spock’s logic and Kirk’s emotional drive is explored over and over again. In the fight scene in ‘The Cage’ for instance they are given the choice between fighting to the death or both being killed. Spock decided the only logical decision was to fight but Kirk rejected the choice – an emotional decision to be sure, but one that embodies a higher morality.
    The quandries in Star Trek weren’t always resolved in favour of emotion though. Often a situation was encontered where the crew’s emotions were manipulated and it was only through holding on to the knowledge that it was a manipulation by Spock (or sometimes Kirk) were they able to find their way out of their quandry.
    The message the writers were trying to send was that cold logic isn’t always sufficient for a good decision, but neither was pure emotion. Instead the two needed to be used in symbiosis; you need logic to understand where your emotions are coming from, but you need emotion to give you the courage of your convictions.

  • Honeybee

    Nobody said emotions don`t influence decisions or that emotions shouldn`t influence decisions. But they are mutually exclusive with logic. NOthing will convince me otherwise.
    Perhaps my position comes from my field of computers. Computers execute logic. Literally that`s all they do is evaluate ANDs, ORs, IFs, etc. It`s all logic based purely on facts with no emotion. That`s what a computer does.
    Is a computer better then a human? Only in certain things. But overall not. Regardless these are all just facts, not attacks on anyone nor suggestions that anyone change anything.

  • Honeybee

    This is a great post and I completely agree.
    Another paralell is the whole `the ends justify the means` idea. If you could kill 1000 people in order to save 1 million, would you? Most would not, but logically speaking it may actually be the best decision even if our emotions tell us otherwise. I mean overall less people are dying this way, yet who wants to be the one to kill those people?

  • aussie

    semantics!

  • jlw

    I’m really confused on what your point actually is. When you say mutually exclusive, that means that one cannot ever be logical while also being emotional, or that one cannot be emotional if they are being logical. That is what it means to be mutually exclusive. One thing precludes the others’ existence. Your example of computers that only use logic and no emotion does not prove or even suggest that these two things are mutually exclusive. I’m thinking that maybe instead of mutually exclusive you meant to just say they are two different things? And that perhaps they could both exist simultaneously and both affect the same thought process? And that sometimes this might be a good thing? Because I think that’s the point that the others are trying to get at.

  • shsally

    I actually used the word “claims” to make a point you make in your comment; I don’t know for sure that they don’t have an emotional attachment to an argument. Characterizing it as a “claim” does not mean that I don’t take their word for it.
    You asked “What about crying makes it real?”
    I was responding to that when I said that it’s not “crying” that makes something authentic. It’s the acknowledgment that there are emotions in play as well.
    You are arguing that acknowledging emotions while making a rational argument weakens one’s position, because one’s opponent can exploit those emotions.
    I am arguing that acknowledging emotions while making a rational argument does not *prevent* someone from being able to make a rational argument and it may in fact help expose a weakness in my opponents argument.
    For example, if I am arguing with someone about shield laws in rape cases (that prevent a woman’s past sexual history from coming into play) and my opponent is opposed to them, I might get very upset. When I realize that I am very upset, I might end up explaining to him that the reason this is very upsetting to me is there is a long history of women’s previous sexual history being used to discredit them, even when it has no relation to the case. My opponent may not have been aware of these facts (that’s what I mean by a blind spot). I think becoming emotional during a debate often indicates that I am discussing something from a completely different perspective than someone else and sometimes that means that I have more information.
    Could I realize I have more information without becoming emotional? Yes. Does it help me to realize that I need to ask that question when I *do* become emotional? Yes. And it also doesn’t detract from my ability to make a rational argument.

  • shsally

    I would “like” this about a billion times if I could.

  • jellyleelips

    I believe both, but the first is not as simple as that rationality and objectivity were DEVISED to keep women out, but that men created it for themselves in a way that did not apply to women. So, if you wanted, you could read my argument as accusing male thinkers of purposefully keeping women out. However, at the time, women weren’t really considered “thinkers” the way they are now, so I doubt they were actively devising to keep out women.

  • kandela

    “I can’t have a rational discussion about your rational arguments because you’re crying” is a logical fallacy in itself.
    Except you’ve assumed that the person making that statement feels that way because they think you are incapable of being logical while you are crying. They might also make that statement because they feel your emotional state negatively affects their abiltiy to argue rationally. Certainly many people steer clear of arguments they feel are correct because they don’t want to ‘upset’ somebody else.

  • mamram

    I get that you are trying to reduce the logic over emotion argument to absurdity, but you seem to be completely misunderstanding the argument itself.
    I haven’t seen anybody here claim that emotional concerns should be excluded from all decision making. There is a big difference, as somebody upthread pointed out, between making a logical decision while considering emotional repercussions and making an emotional decision. If I am being sexually harassed by my coworker and choose to smash the windows of his car, that might be an emotional decision. If instead I think to myself, “Allowing this person to continue to harass me will be detrimental to my emotional well-being. I would like to maintain my emotional well-being; therefore, I will report him to human resources,” that is a perfectly rational decision, based on a consideration of the emotional ramifications of my actions, and I don’t think anybody is objecting to that kind of reasoning.

  • ArtOfMe

    Women can certainly present their arguments in a nonemotional manner, and men with an emotional one. But I think this piece points out how emotion can be a valid part of argument. Emotion doesn’t rule out rationality. I don’t believe it is wrong to partially base decisions on emotions. People have feelings and it is unrealistic to expect us to not have them and never have them influence our decisions or arguments. A balance between emotion and logic is probably the best.

  • tomorrowshorizon

    Because yelling is a vocal choice – you must intentionally act in order to speak, and the volume of that speech is entirely under your control. If you wish to stop yelling, all you have to do is stop speaking.
    Crying is, at least sometimes, not a choice. I have been in at least two circumstances where it was inappropriate to cry, and I very very much wanted not to cry – but I did, because I couldn’t help it. Crying is a physiological response that at least sometimes cannot be controlled. I think it’s more comparable to urination than yelling, in this sense – in most cases, you can hold it in until you get to a place where it’s appropriate to do it, but sometimes you just literally can’t help it.
    Also, crying doesn’t usually cause people to think you’re about to hurt them – violent displays of anger do. I think we can clearly delineate between crying (which does not physically harm anyone else) and acting on anger in ways that does physically harm someone or cause them to fear that you will physically attack them.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Obviously, the guy who cried will be ridiculed.
    Because it’s manly to punch somebody in the face – but it’s womanly and/or gay to cry.
    That’s a lesson every American male learns by the time they’re old enough to go to first grade (that’s certainly when I learned it – and the absolute last time I ever cried in public).

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Please explain.
    There are lots of logical, dispassionate and non emotional reasons to be opposed to rape and to want strong laws against rape. It isn’t just an emotional thing.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    There are plenty of logical reasons to call for the firing of a sexual harasser – the fact that sexual harassment reduces the productivity of female employees and make it harder to recruit and retain female talent being just two good examples.
    There are logical reasons to be against rape too – because humans have an inalienable right to bodily integrity and to refuse sexual contact with people they don’t want to have sex with.
    Emotionalism is not a sound basis for policy decisions.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    So, crying makes you a good president, but it’s bad for a president to make a logical decision about war and peace, without a grandiose public display of emotion?
    That makes absolutely no sense at all!
    I’d prefer a president who could be cool, calm and rational when deciding to put young men and women in uniform in harms way to one who’s up in the Situation Room crying and carrying on like a 5 year old!

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Boys learn at a very early age that crying is a sign of weakness/effeminacy/homosexuality – and crying will get you punished (and maybe even beaten up) – so we learn early on to suppress the tears no matter what.
    It’s OK to get angry, and even violent, but tears are forbidden for males, under any circumstances.
    And that training is powerful – I didn’t even cry when I broke my leg! Nor did I cry when I found out my father had died.
    Girls, on the other hand, learn at a very early age that tears are perfectly acceptable and will get them sympathy. In fact, for girls and women, tears are socially acceptable but open displays of anger are absolutely not acceptable.
    So, contrary to what some posters have said here, tears are not “involuntary” – just a conditioned response to a lifetime of gender training.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    “Both men and women sometimes feel like crying, both men and women sometimes feel like yelling and throwing things.”
    Correct – but men learned early in life that we are not ever allowed to cry, but we are allowed to yell and throw stuff, while women learned early in life that they are allowed to cry but they are not allowed to yell or throw stuff.
    In other words, it’s social conditioning at work.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    You have a very contemptuous view of democracy and of your fellow Americans. I find that disturbing.
    I happen to believe in what you call “mob rule” and I believe that the best way to run a society is for the so called “mob” to have as much input as possible in how society is run.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    On the contrary, logic would dictate that the person who gets upset about socks being on the floor pick up the socks – because it just isn’t that important to the person who doesn’t care if their socks are on the floor.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    THIS

  • Jackson

    I’m sure you hold such beliefs.
    as for me…I do not think that 50.1% of the population should be able to dictate the lives of the other 49.9%.
    e.g. banning gay marriage due to a popularity contest.

  • Jackson

    “Everything you just said hinges on the premise that the woman’s view on female circumcision is one of indifference. And we know that is not the case. End of story.”
    just like the socks.
    how are we, using any utilitarian system, supposed to measure another individual’s indifference?

  • kandela

    Indeed it has been said that a role of government is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.