Women! Are Your FEELINGS Hurting Feminism?

According to a Forbes columnist, that glass ceiling would just up and disappear if only women's FEELINGS weren't getting in the way!
Publish date:
June 8, 2012
work, job, feelings, crying at work, internets, ceo of hiddleston pants enterprise

How am I supposed to be productive when I'm FEELING so great about these shoes?

It happens to me all the time at work. I’ll be hunched over my keyboard typing furiously, poised to kick ass and take names. I can smell that promotion on the horizon. Suddenly, almost involuntarily, I’ll tab over to Tumblr. It’s only for a second, I tell myself. Just want to catch up on the news!

But alas! It’s too late! I’ve already spied a GIF of Tom Hiddleston in a tuxedo scratching a bulldog puppy under the chin.

BAM! Feelings. Goodbye promotion, hello steaming pile of liquefied Kate-gush. Must be a day ending in “Y.”

Too bad I’m not a dude, huh? Then all those pesky lady-feelings could be channeled into something more manly and productive, like bicep-flexing and account-landing and Powerpoint-constructing. And I could have finally gotten that raise! Dammit, estrogen.

Well, never fear, everyone. According to a recent Forbes article, if women just make a serious effort to contain their feelings, why, we’ll have that glass ceiling shattered in no time.

I get what the author is saying. I really do. As Captain Conflict-Avoidance, I’ve found myself chickening out of meetings that were vital to my career advancement or not volunteering myself for tough projects that would show off the professional skills I’ve acquired. I’ve actually made a concentrated effort lately to learn how to speak up when it’s necessary and to abandon the pretense of being humble, just as the author suggests.

And I do think that my own gender socialization has certainly been a part of that. When I was a kid, the interactions between my hotheaded father and diplomatic mother served to teach me the value of keeping one’s mouth shut. As a compulsive loudmouth, particularly when I perceive injustice (mostly on my own behalf), this was a hard lesson for me to learn.

But it did stick. Now, I’m far more likely to make a grim turtle-face and not say a word when I work for 14 hours on a Tuesday. Sure, I’ll send a passive-aggressive email or two — “Here I am! Doing work stuff! From my bed at two in the morning!” — but I’m definitely not inclined to bang into my boss’s office with an eye toward the company car or anything.

I can’t help but notice that my baby brother has, by and large, not developed a similar inclination. He’s not cocky, exactly, but he possesses a kind of self-centeredness that allows him to plod through the world in a haze of his own tunnel-vision. If he wants to stay in for 16 hours and write a kickass song on the guitar, he just does it. I may be the more considerate one, but he’s definitely more productive: a quality that I, someone inclined to stay up for 22 straight hours on a socialization-bender rather than ditch out on anyone, really do admire.

So yes. I do think that many up-and-coming professional women, myself included, could take the author's advice to heart. A little assertion can go a long way, particularly in the kind of professional environment where everyone else is far too wrapped up in their own projects to notice your unsung accomplishments.

But shes seems to be working off of a few core tenets that I really can't get behind.

The first, which is more semantics than anything else, is the inclination to jump on a young would-be mentee for using the word “feel” verbs in an email she quotes in her article instead of “think” or “suspect” or a frillion different (manlier?) action verbs. Doucette then uses those lazy semantics to infer a greater symbolism: that women are too busy feeling to take any real action to change their personal career trajectory.

Admittedly, it sounds like this Mystery Emailer could have benefited from an online thesaurus. Using “feel” in place of “think” implies, to me, that you spend the entirety of your workday trying to read your co-workers’ minds with your eyes closed. Not exactly the impression you’d like to give a possible professional reference. But one female employee’s shoddy verbiage shouldn’t be a reason to imply that women are too busy being strangled by their feelings to, oh, I don’t know, earn more than a goddamn 77 cents to every male dollar.

But hey, I’m almost positive that Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the chief sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, was just too occupied with her feelings to properly make sure that the Republican jerkwads in the Senate didn’t totally run the thing into the ground. I’m sure that pregnant women with no maternity leave are just feeling a little too under the weather from caring for a tiny, angry human to go back to work right away. I’m sure that the underrepresented women of color and queer women in the most lucrative industries were feeling too much like the whole thing was a boys’ club stacked against them to advance within their companies.

By implicitly suggesting that feeling takes precedent over doing, the author is not only reinforcing the idea that women are hysterical snot-monsters too busy gabbing about Chris Evans to be given the reins of modern social change. She’s also dismissing feelings (or, as she continues to tooth-grindingly call them, feelings) as imaginary (feminine) concerns keeping you from living up to your blazered potential.

Having feelings should not disqualify you from also having personal and professional dignity. Remember gaslighting? Of course you do. Feelings of fear, of anxiety, of crazines-- they’re not illegitimate just because they may not seem logical to someone else. But they’re often used against women to support an idea that possessing feelings and cognitive ability are mutually exclusive activities.

For many women in the professional sphere, feeling afraid to stand up for oneself is often completely legitimate from a career standpoint. Lots of people who have found themselves in advantageous professional positions seem to forget that there is actually a huge risk involved for some employees in asking for raises or volunteering information in big meetings.

Inherent, institutionalized workplace sexism is not something that’s dispersed with something as simple as sassing the Big Boss during a company-wide presentation. Sure, you might develop a reputation as a loose-cannon young advertising executive who doesn’t play by the rules. Or you might be shouted down or ignored in favor of the prevailing voices already in power.

Statements like “The glass ceiling is still there, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take off our stiletto and shatter the heck out of it. After all – it is just made of glass,” are essentially placing the blame for the entirety of gendered economic inequality on individual women. If only we were gutsier, right? I’m almost positive that the Paycheck Fairness Act would have passed in the Senate if I had personally invited my company’s CEO to be in my network on LinkedIn. Sorry, everybody! I guess I know for next time.

I’m not saying that white, straight, cis-bodied dudes never take risks. I’m sure they do all the time, with that bailout money they love so much. But I am saying that placing the onus on individual women for not taking these risks — some of whom don’t do it because they are genuinely afraid of losing their jobs — is an irresponsible, hyper-individualistic, fallacy-ridden thing to do.

Advising one woman who’s out-performing her position on how to ask her supervisor for more responsibility is one thing. But implying that her personal actions will have an effect on equal pay throughout the country is just sloppy.

“Don’t give anyone else the power that should lie within yourself,” she advises us. I mean, I didn’t. They had it already. They didn’t need me to give it to them. That’s why it’s called the power.

Sigh. But don't worry too much, aspiring lady business-types. I am confident that no matter what Forbes columnists say, you can be emotional krakens wrapped in a blanket made of your own tentacles and the cold-hearted CFO of Ry’leh International. Just make sure you don’t hang any photos of Jon Hamm in your underwater cubicle. Wouldn’t want your feeeeeelings to get in the way of sucking the souls out of underlings.