I can be problematic.
These words aren’t easy to get out. They’re a string of words I have to drag out slowly past my teeth, but it’s true: I can be problematic.
I often excuse my emotions with the misogynistic idea that my emotions are just a result of that time of the month during which I’m shark bait.
I’m talking about during my period, if that wasn’t clear.
Ever since I was young, I’ve been a fairly emotional being, and it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m sensitive to people’s tone of voice and the way they phrase their words. While it’s something I understand about myself, it’s not something I ever like people to witness.
I prefer, like any mature adult, to cry in the shower.
It’s inevitable, though, that sometimes the waterworks come at inconvenient and public moments, and this is when my problematic behavior arises.
The first time I can recall it happening was in seventh grade. I was at a leadership seminar for middle school students working on a group project when one student and I got into a heated argument and exchanged not-so-kind words. Me, with my sensitive nature, immediately began to feel tears forming. I tried to contain them, but the girl next to me noticed how tense I was and asked the fatal question: “Are you okay?”
The dams opened wide, and I sat against the wall and cried. People tried to ask me what exactly made me cry, but I didn’t want to tell them. I was ashamed of myself and my reaction. I thought that I should’ve been more reasonable and that I was just overreacting. Embarrassed, I didn’t want to have to explain myself, so I dug through my mind for an excuse and grasped at the first one I found: my period.
Not a single person questioned me. They simply let me be, which was exactly what I wanted. And so, it became a habit. When my eighth-grade math teacher reprimanded me in class for talking to a friend about a question, I was on my period. When my mother yelled at me for not answering my phone, I was on my period. When I got back less-than-ideal test grades in pre-calculus, I was on my period.
I perpetuated the stereotype that women are emotional and irrational, especially when they’re shark bait.
Granted if we were actually shark bait and were constantly threatened with being devoured, perhaps it would be understandable if we were a bit irrational.
But we’re not. We’re just on our menstrual cycles.
The problem with blaming women’s emotions on periods is that it is a harmful generalization that’s used as a way to deem women irrational and unfit for certain professions. It’s used as a way for people to dismiss the thoughts and actions of women they disagree with, and it’s used as a way to invalidate what a woman is feeling as a real emotion, no matter what time of the month it is.
Hillary Clinton had to face this in her campaign, and I’m ashamed to say it’s a generalization I’ve taken advantage of, especially as someone who identifies as a feminist.
All of this shame over a stereotype I took advantage of made me wonder where the shame that lead to me perpetuating this stereotype came from.
The answer I arrived at, surprisingly, was misogyny.
As a child, I can remember numerous occasions where adults told me to stop crying, to stop trying to attract attention, to stop freaking out over nothing.
There was this expectation, even when I was young, to always be happy. To be flexible and let problems roll off my back. To not be hysterical, because that’s what unintelligent girls are, and I was to be intelligent and reasonable, happy and accommodating.
These are the words society want and expect us, as women, to be. These are the traits of the ideal woman of today: she is always smiling, never lets gender inequality make her angry or upset, and goes with the flow because she is reasonable and charming.
I was taught to smile because it is only with a smile people will truly hear me out. I was taught to keep my voice level and be prepared to concede because it is the only way to even partially get what I want. I was taught how to be a woman in a world where men can yell and react viscerally without being labeled as delusional. I was told how to be a woman in a world where men can be firm and commended for standing for what they believe in, but a woman is just being stubborn when she does the same. I was taught how to be a woman in the context of patriarchal gender roles.
For too long I’ve followed these rules, buying into the myth that my period made me weaker due to the emotions that came with it, believing I needed to behave in a certain way to make up for it, and using this myth as an excuse for myself when I failed to live up to the pleasant standard of behavior expected of me as a woman.
Well, no more.
My feelings and reactions, whether they happen when I am on my period or not, are valid. I’m not being over sensitive; I am just reacting like any other human does, like the men in our society are allowed to do to a certain extent. I am not crazy, and my voice does count, even when it’s heard through tears.
I am a woman, and when I cry it’s not just because of my period. I’m attuned to the way people speak and phrase their words, leading me to sometimes see meanings the speaker may or may not intend to convey. But that’s okay because I’m no longer shark bait whenever my tears fall. Instead I’m a girl who does not fear expressing her emotions.