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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