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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  • geordie

    No, I’m pretty sure you’re just making that up.

  • geordie

    more like, 200%!

  • MaggieF

    I’m not so sure about this. I can control whether or not I yell (or stop myself when I realize I’m doing it), but I can’t always control whether I cry.

  • jlw

    No. Logic means that something makes sense on an intellectual basis. The definition does not preclude emotional involvment. Don’t make up definitions of words just so that it fits the point that you would like to believe.
    From the dictionary: “Reasoning or capable of reasoning in a clear and consistent manner.” I don’t see any mention of emotions; it does not imply that emotional is the opposite.

  • Thomas

    I absolutely think that men are as likely to be influenced in their argument by emotion as women, and that this tendency is disguised by sexist rhetoric. If men feel emotional in argument and get loud, impassioned and intransigent they often get called passionate and steadfast — they don’t often get called emotional. But that’s what it is; strong feelings about the substance of what is being discussed, coming out in argument. If women cry, they get called “emotional.”
    If we’re honest, all these things are expressions of emotion, and getting louder or getting intransigent is not innately better than crying. Nor is emotion all bad. Passion is good; I’m passionate about the arguments I make in my work all the time, and I prefer to work with other lawyers who are passionate.
    People are not robots. Few people actually argue about things they care about with detachment, though some fake it well, and I think we should stop pretending that to do so is either normal or optimal.

  • Sleepy

    Weighing in on the whole “emotion v. rationality” debate:
    It really is a false dichotomy. There’s an episode of “Radio Lab” called “Choice”:
    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2008/11/14
    In it, there’s a story about a man who had a brain tumor that resulted in brain damage to the emotional centers of his brain. Problem was, he couldn’t make even the simplest decision about what to eat, or which color pen to use, or anything. His life completely fell apart. Turns out you NEED emotions to make decisions.
    Most times, it’s best to control tears (or yelling, or punching things) if at all possible. But if tears happen, so be it, it’s no big deal.
    And if it’s really important (like someone arguing against your basic rights/equality), then tears are more than justified.
    I remember respecting the first George Bush when I heard that he cried making the decision to enter the first Iraq War. Bush II just seemed completely callous. On that evidence alone, Daddy Bush was by FAR the better president.

  • Lilith Luffles

    Actually logic and emotion are by definition exclusive, thanks to Aristotle. Of course, just because we define logic and emotion as separate from each other doesn’t mean they actually are. Definitions do not change the shape the human psyche.
    I’d like to see actual proof that they two are mutually exclusive.

  • James

    Huh? I don’t see the connection there. There’s a rational argument to be made for anti-rape legislation – based on the notion that a person’s body is his/her own and has the right to choose who to have sex with, and therefore sex without consent is a violation of the right to bodily autonomy. Though it’s an emotional subject, particularly for those who’ve experienced rape, it’s hardly an argument that requires emotion. Reason can get a person to anti-rape legislation just as well as emotion.

  • Terrils

    You’re exactly right. Both genders have emotions – all of them; both genders are encultured to express them – but we’re encultured differently. Men are permitted fewer avenues – physical acting out and anger are darned near the only ones. That doesn’t mean men feel less and it’s as much an insult to men to suggest they do as it is an insult to women to suggest they can’t be rational.

  • Terrils

    Logic and emotion are not the same thing. That doesn’t by any means make them mutually exclusive, which suggests that if one is present, the other cannot be. That they are not mutually exclusive is clearly evident in the fact that every day people make decisions based partly on the facts in evidence and partly on how they feel. Sheesh. That’s how we live – using both logic and emotion in various ratios all day every day.

  • Gular

    If you feel she’s using it as a tool by which she gets control over the argument by using those emotions, no. If you just want to dismiss her because she has emotion and is passionate, yes.
    I think that can only really be determined by patterning. If there’s a patterning of emotional manipulation, then there’s nothing really sexist about feeling she’s using emotion in that manner. Men do this as well, when they get loud/angry in arguments.
    Crying versus getting angry is really more socialization than anything else. Men can get angry because it’s more “okay”; women can cry because it’s more “okay” to do so. If we open up both sides of that gendering, I think we’d find that both are common to both genders.

  • Terrils

    But sometimes the disagreement is about something that is not factual, but is emotional or subjective. You can argue all day about how good Brussels sprouts are for me (assuming they have some nutritive value), but I find them disgusting. I don’t need a factual argument to be “right” in asserting that I’m not going to eat them. (Mind you, I could argue that it’s logical to not eat something that makes me feel like throwing up.) But a position that’s emotionally founded is not innately a less worthy or important position than one that’s factually founded; it depends.

  • bntk

    What makes it inauthentic? Shouldn’t we evaluate the ideas on their own merits and not where they came from.
    Why does crying about something make it real and personable.
    Seems infantile to me.

  • cattrack2

    We talk a lot about ‘anger management’ and ‘anger control’ because its important. We even have classes on the subject.
    I don’t know that crying in professional situations happens nearly as much, so I would hesitate to call it a problem. I know of men who cried after being (justifiably) berated by their bosses. All that happened is that it pumped up the bosses’ egos (“See that, I’m tough!”) while undermining their own careers.
    I’m not suggesting that there’s no room for emotion in a professional setting (in fact in reasonable doses its very effective) only that it be moderated to avoid either extreme.

  • Terrils

    Hm. I don’t exactly disagree … but isn’t there always some emotion – that is, empathy and caring – underlying the concept that person A even gives a sh*t about what happens to person B? That’s how you get, for instance, people who aren’t gay to back legislation that brings gays something closer to having equal rights, or that led white voters to vote against racist legislation. The personal stake is so vague as to be almost meaningless – the motivation is one of caring.

  • Lilith Luffles

    But why does only the victim have bodily autonomy? Why doesn’t the rapist have the autonomy to choose to have sex with whoever they want? If everyone has the right to choose who they have sex with, why is it that only people who rape don’t get that right? Why is it only infringing on rights when a person rapes, not when a person is prevented from raping?
    See what happens when you leave emotions out of the equation? Feel free to keep arguing. I really want to see if it is possible to take emotions completely out of the equation when discussing the morality of rape. I really would love to see somebody unpack my argument to make in invalid logically, because the idea that it is logical makes me sick.

  • Terrils

    Um … that’s not manipulation. If I’m in a good mood and someone else doesn’t want to ruin it, how does that make me manipulative? If a person’s faking a mood, or acting in a certain way with the conscious intent of causing others to do what that person wishes, that is attempted manipulation.

  • voluptuouspanic

    I’m very into the feminist politics of knowledge. The first thing you should read about this topic is definitely Sandra Harding’s Is Science Multicultural? Emily Martin, Donna Haraway, etc.

  • Terrils

    How are tears innately coercive? If a person can’t help crying when upset – if it’s involuntary – it’s like saying a sneeze is coercive.
    Those who manufacture tears when it’s convenient are another group altogether.

  • bntk

    Your “evidence” being a subjective perception of a public officials outer persona is the rationale your using?

  • Terrils

    Have you heard the expression “your right to swing your fist stops at my face”? This is bodily autonomy as a logical precept. Rapist has the right to get all the hard-ons he wants on his body; he doesn’t have the right to inflict them on my body.

  • bntk

    Slippery slope fallacies seem popular today.

  • voluptuouspanic

    I was just thinking about this!
    I’m a crier. I’m also into feminist politics of science/knowledge (Foucauldian knowledge-power, Harding, etc). For me, crying is involuntary. I’ve always cried when upset, mad, etc. Especially when mad. I cry most when really pissed off. I was always made fun of growing up for this. I also was the “difficult woman” in many relationships who cried (which I guess means I’m manipulating my boyfriends, apparently).
    I’m had a long fight both as an activist and as an individual to fight back against the “psycho bitch” archetype of women’s emotions. I have had a long, hard road to learn that my feelings are valid.
    The logic/emotion dichotomy is just one of many, many dichotomies our society clings to that disprivileges women. As a teacher and grad student, I think the classroom should make space for emotion (bell hooks [why am I citing things?]).
    And personally, in relationships and in my career, I’ll be damned if someone wants to discount me for crying. I don’t see it as a bad thing to be upset or pissed off by injustice.
    (Sorry if this post is scattered. I just had a lot of caffeine.)

  • Lilith Luffles

    Obviously emotions and logic are not the same thing. If I implied that in any way I apologize,but I do understand that logic and emotion are not the same. I simply meant that they are constantly present in humans and the presence of one does not mean the absence of the other. We always use both logos and pathos when making decisions throughout the day.

  • Suteishi

    I use to cry all the time when I argued with someone, and every time I’d argue with my mother. At one point she told me I was being manipulative. Except that, I was crying because she was yelling.
    Anyway, I learned to control my tears and heard an interesting theory later on about women and tears. A lot of women cry when they are actually angry or upset because that’s how women are allowed to show emotion. Women aren’t able to scream or get loud or really be angry. I mean, they can be, but then they are a heinous bitch, where a man is just ‘angry’. I don’t think either crying or yelling (‘raising your voice’) are necessarily manipulative depending on the circumstances. If you’re arguing about rape laws, it’s probably not, but if your arguing about where to go for dinner or something, it may be manipulative, especially if its a pattern of behavior. I don’t really like labeling an emotional response coercive or manipulative in all circumstances in an argument, especially if it is about an impassioned subject.
    One thing that does tick me off is this assumption that all arguments have to be formal debate with sources and pure unemotional logic, etc. I mean, most of the time, your going to be talking to someone at work, or on the phone, or eating or at home or something. It’s not like you went and did tons of research before you started talking about it, unless it happens to be something you’re use to arguing about. And then it’s not like your on the same level as the other person, if you have all these facts to back you up and they don’t – and that can be manipulative in its own way.

  • James

    I don’t know that empathy even needs to necessarily enter into it. If one believes, as I and many others do, in the notion of rights as inherent to the person, then respecting another person’s right to bodily autonomy (and putting laws in place that protect everyone’s right to bodily autonomy) is a moral decision, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an emotional or empathetic one. Keep in mind that I’m not arguing that emotion shouldn’t come into play in this situation – just that it isn’t necessary, and that the lack of it doesn’t lead (as the above commenter claims) to opposition to anti-rape legislation. One can be perfectly “rational” – whatever the hell that means – and still strongly support laws respecting every person’s right to bodily autonomy.

  • kissmypineapple

    I don’t believe that’s true. I may feel coerced when someone is yelling at me or stomping, b/c I would fear for my safety. I am not likely to fear for my safety simply because someone cries while we argue.

  • voluptuouspanic

    I was just thinking about this!
    I’m a crier. I’m also into feminist politics of science/knowledge (Foucauldian knowledge-power, Harding, etc). For me, crying is involuntary. I’ve always cried when upset, mad, etc. Especially when mad. I cry most when really pissed off. I was always made fun of growing up for this. I also was the “difficult woman” in many relationships who cried (which I guess means I’m manipulating my boyfriends, apparently).
    I’m had a long fight both as an activist and as an individual to fight back against the “psycho bitch” archetype of women’s emotions. I have had a long, hard road to learn that my feelings are valid.
    The logic/emotion dichotomy is just one of many, many dichotomies our society clings to that disprivileges women. As a teacher and grad student, I think the classroom should make space for emotion (bell hooks [why am I citing things?]).
    And personally, in relationships and in my career, I’ll be damned if someone wants to discount me for crying. I don’t see it as a bad thing to be upset or pissed off by injustice.
    (Sorry if this post is scattered. I just had a lot of caffeine.)

  • Gular

    (to quote Will Farrell)
    I AM IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!!!!!!
    sorry for the derail, but it’s all I could think of.

  • octavia

    I find the implication that one cannot be “logical” or “rational” while arguing a bit bothersome. I took the point of the original post to be that people can be logical while crying. In fact, saying otherwise is really what is illogical. Can a person use emotion (any emotion) to manipulate? Yes. Are purely emotional arguments sometimes wrong based on some rational facts? Of course. But the point is that a person can make a completely “logical” argument based in facts while “tearing up.” Saying “I can’t have a rational discussion about your rational arguments because you’re crying” is a logical fallacy in itself.
    Crying while making a logically valid argument is NOT the same as using an “appeal to emotion” in the argument.

  • UnHingedHips

    You think so?
    Some guy loses it and gets in a fist fight.
    Another guy loses it and bursts into tears in front of his friends.
    Who do you think is doing to be mocked?

  • Lilith Luffles

    The idea that my emotions are less important than the logic behind why I should not be raped is insulting. You can present both logical and emotional reasons for for why rape is wrong. Saying that the victims feelings do not matter unless logic backs them up is insulting and cold, period.

  • UnHingedHips

    Going, not doing.

  • shsally

    It is inauthentic to pretend that something does not have emotional significance to you when it does. Or to pretend that you can truly divorce yourself from that emotional significance.
    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? My emotional attachment to a subject matter does not necessarily make my reasoning less sound. In fact, it may indicate that I have personal experience that the other arguer does not have. My emotions my demonstrate that I am more intimately attached to our subject matter and that the person I am arguing with may have a complete blind-spot.
    Often when I am asked to set aside my emotions in arguments, it is because my partner wants to have a completely “rational” argument about the merits of a law for example, that will not effect him or his close friends directly, but will effect me or my close friends directly. Yes, we can have a rationale argument about the merits of that law, but logic is not actually the only thing that we consider when we are making decisions. It’s weirdly artificial to pretend like it is.

  • UnHingedHips

    Nobody said the victim’s feelings don’t matter. YOU said ” I really want to see if it is possible to take emotions completely out of the equation when discussing the morality of rape. I really would love to see somebody unpack my argument to make in invalid logically, because the idea that it is logical makes me sick.”, and yes, it is entirely possible to make a logical emotion-free argument against rape. Which Terrils did. If I have bodily autonomy and you have bodily autonomy that means our bodies cannot interact without the consent of both of us. That’s the emotion-free logical argument for the immorality of rape.
    That doesn’t mean that emotions have no place in discussions of rape or the impact of rape, or that they are an unimportant, but you asked specifically for a demonstration of how rape could be considered immoral if emotions weren’t involved, and then called someone “cold” (which generally means unemotional) when they didn’t bring emotions into it.

  • UnHingedHips

    Anger is usually directed outward, though. You yell AT someone. You generally don’t cry at someone, you just cry. People cry when they’re alone (probably more often than when they’re around others, actually) and there’s not one there to coerce. People don’t usually yell when they’re by themselves, and if they do they’re usually still yelling at someone else who’s not there.

  • Honeybee

    By most people I know the person who started the fight.
    Maybe by 16 year old boys they might prefer differently. But among adults? No way. The fighting is much worse.

  • Honeybee

    That’s a big slippery slope though. If someone can’t control their crying, how can we then say that someone CAN control their anger? Especially since the premise of this thread seems to be that the 2 are just different ways of expressing the same emotions.

  • Sex Toy James

    I really don’t feel that emotions should be weighed in rational debate. I also don’t think that women have some special claim to emotionally clouded judgment. I’m pretty sure that capital punishment, which by many accounts is a waste of resources and not all that good at deterring crime, is a result of women and their wacky emotional arguments. I’d also argue that discriminatory laws against gay marriage are yet again emotionally inspired laws that don’t have women as their cause. I’m sure that many us/them dichotomies that led to genocide in various parts of our history and conflicts weren’t built on rational arguments.
    If someone, man or woman, happens to cry or get angry at a debate I’m going to note their emotion and respect that they really care about the issue. I will respect them less if I think that it was for show and insincere, but it’s not going to distract me from the rational argument that they made.
    The problem as I see it is that emotional arguments influence people and cloud rational judgment. They allow people to argue for stupid things that don’t make sense in a rational argument. George W. Bush played more on emotions than logic, and look how that played out. Emotional arguments do work, and that can lead to scary consequences.
    I think that we go to far in respecting people’s emotions, and letting them feel that it’s okay for them to act according to emotions over rational thinking. Right now the feelings of some people are costing other people their human rights.

  • delwalk

    I was asking which view you hold as I could not infer it from your response. From what I’ve read arguments for the former leave me unconvinced. Arguments for the latter, however, are quite a bit more persuasive.

  • bntk

    You say “pretend” and “claim not to” have any emotional significance to a subject. Who are you to tell someone how they feel or don’t feel.
    Why does not being emotional “blind” you or being as such allow you to see. Emotion isn’t a prerequisite for a good argument. Emotion however does show where you lie and wearing your heart on your sleeve allows others to be able to manipulate that.
    I’m not saying emotions aren’t pertinent to how we feel about things but they aren’t valuable in backing up an argument cause those emotions are yours alone and not easily transferable to another person so how can that person relate. Emotions allow visceral reactions but you have to back them up with something more concrete and using reason.
    I find in interactions like that where the purpose is to defeat your opponents argument, emotions are exploitable through rhetoric whilst not so much with rational thinking.

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I think the ability to control crying and to control anger are different. Crying is the bodily reaction to an emotional state. Anger is an emotional state. I may not be able to stop myself from crying when I’m frustrated any more than I can stop my face from turning red when I’m angry or my hands from shaking when I’m frightened.
    I can stop myself from yelling or punching the wall or curling up in a ball in the corner when I’m angry, frustrated or sad, respectively.
    In any situation where you experience an emotion, you can control your expression of that emotion to an extent. Certainly you train your hands not to shake when you’re learning to shoot or your nose not to twitch when you’re bluffing in poker. But when we experience strong emotions, our bodies react in a way that can be much more difficult to control.
    The feminist angle on the whole thing is that crying specifically is considered feminine, and is unacceptable in most venues (corporate, academic, legal and often in the media). Men are raised to believe tears show weakness and often have trained their bodies not to tear up to express emotion. Women are held to a different standard, and socially programmed to display different reactions to emotion. So women are more likely to respond to frustration with tears and are then seen as weak or inconsistent.
    A quick temper in a man (yelling, cussing, and slamming fists on tables) is viewed positively. Men exhibiting these behaviors are seen as passionate and strong-willed. If women react with anger in the same way they are seen as unreasonable. Can’t win.
    And that is exactly how it is at my office. My male coworkers cuss and yell and bang fists and are complimented and rewarded. I’ve been told to calm down. When I am upset or disagree with someone, I’ve been told “don’t cry!” although I have never cried at my office. My only option in a debate is to deliver a dispassionate, articulate argument backed by solid evidence.

  • kandela

    Ron where are you?

  • CS

    Don’t suppose that men are so different from women in the emotion department. Both men and women sometimes feel like crying, both men and women sometimes feel like yelling and throwing things. The difference is how people are taught to respond to those impulses. It’s my opinion that both should try to keep emotions out of arguments because it tends to cloud reason.

  • Sex Toy James

    In this case rational thought based on the values of our society in which we respect your rights not to be a victim of physical violence matches up with your feelings about the issue. I think that the decision should be made rationally because we can’t rely on your feelings on the issue to be right. I’m sure that some rapists feel very strongly that they should be able to use women as objects and I’m sure that they’re also quite upset that people don’t respect their feelings. In this case you feel very strongly that shouldn’t be raped, which I agree with, but maybe you might feel very strongly that non-whites shouldn’t have equal rights in the United States. Because so many people can feel so strongly about things that are so wrong, I think that it’s best that we leave feelings out of our legislation, but I think that they rarely are.
    I think that there are differences between emotions and values.

  • kandela

    Not letting your own emotions influence your decision shouldn’t mean failing to consider other people’s emotions, nor should it mean failing to consider the impact of the decision on your emotions.
    I think when people talk about ‘not making an emotional decision’ they mean not letting the emotions you feel in that instant over rule your considered decision. They don’t mean failing to consider the emotional repercussions of a decision.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I see a lot of contradiction in this thread and I for one can’t chime in on whether or not reconciling the heart with the head is a good way to look at things or not.
    But I will say that for me it’s difficult to cry. I usually have to get severely worked up to even manage to tear up and I admit that as a man I feel embarrassed by shedding tears in public. Someone sang an absolutely beautiful vocal ministry at meeting the other week and I teared up, though I could have absolutely bawled if I hadn’t controlled myself.
    Perhaps we do tend to come down more strongly on one side more than another, but being socialized as a man I was told to emphasize my rational side at the expense of my emotional side and as much as I strongly dislike conventional masculinity, I can’t help but be influenced by it. But I’ve made a lot of progress pushing much of it aside.

  • Gretchen

    …Are you me? ;)

  • Sara B

    Not only are thinking and feeling basically the same thing with different names, but there are perceptibly “emotional” and “rational” justifications for virtually any position on any issue known – and all such justifications have at least some characteristics or assumptions from both categories. Just as it’s important to acknowledge personal biases in any argument, it’s also important to acknowledge “emotional” forms of personal investment. That doesn’t mean a particular category of arguments is inherently more persuasive.
    Is it sexist to say that “rational” arguments are better? I would say no, not inherently – not if one has a good reason for making the somewhat arbitrary distinction in the first place. It would be problematic, however, to say that any display of emotion invalidates the rest of the argument.

  • argolis

    I had to run out the door earlier so I wasn’t able to respond to you…
    That kind of emotional and intellectual dishonesty can be ugly and dangerous on its own, but when it senses weakness in another person, it can be downright cruel.
    I can think of a time I was arguing with a friend and he was playing that game. Pretending to be a scholar but just trying to protect his own interests and feelings. So his arguments kept changing, he kept weaseling around. He didn’t care about the truth. And I got progressively more frustrated, more angry, more visibly upset. And the more my voice shook and my face reddened, the stronger he looked. He dismissed me for being “hysterical,” and, almost immediately, he won.
    God, that hurt.
    And you can’t fight it. You can’t fight being called hysterical without proving their point.
    Anger is good and passion has its time and place, but to get ahead, we have to learn how to keep our cool. That’s just how it is.