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The Idea of the "Mad Woman" And Its Impact on Society

The Idea of the "Mad Woman" And Its Impact on Society

Whether it be a woman swooning as she faints into the arms of a man or the hysterical screaming of a girl that is either terrified or distraught and showing no signs of doing much else, women are undoubtedly viewed as the more emotional gender. But how much truth is there to this statement?

The media, ever a reflection of society, creates insight on how women are viewed in terms of feelings. A frequent one, the “Screaming Woman” is a trope that has been recycled continuously. A repeated scene in countless movies, it characterizes and generalizes women as less rational, dumb, and slow. The “screaming woman” will wait for someone to shoot the perpetrator or tackle her out from a moving train; or in the case of the 1960 film Psycho, just stand there wasting oxygen as the murderer stabs her.

Another unfair depiction of women, the “Angry Woman” trope, always ends in justified frustration. “Are you on your period?” a character will joke. “Whoo-ee, it’s that time of the month, isn’t it?” they reply when a scowl is shot their way. Can a woman be angry without having a “weak” reason? Must there be some type of rationalization to displaying an emotion other than “frail?”

The crying woman, the hysterical woman, the worried woman. Weak. Weak. Weak. On the other hand, if a woman is painted as stone-faced and stern, she is emotionless, a mental anomaly, an unfit mother. Such is true culturally with characters like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, where the woman, because of her success, does not have the emotional capacity to care for others. It is as if being successful is a trade-off for not having the trademark female stamp of emotion. A woman, it seems, cannot be both feminine and dominant.  

Yes, there is truth in every facet of the argument that women are seen as carrying a disproportionate tolerance of emotions. They are, as a result, criticized for it no matter what. The fact of the matter, though, is that scientifically, there has been no correlation between emotion and gender. According to Lisa Feldman Barrett, a neuroscientist, a study was conducted in which both men and women agreed that females are more emotional at the onset. However, when asked to report their feelings by moment, on average, men and women did not differ on how much emotion they felt. Individuals, rather than gender, were the determinant for emotionality.

Despite these findings, it is still unclear why women are stereotyped in this way. This double standard, ever prevalent, is perhaps subject to women because they are seen to not have control of what they feel and because their bodies are perceived as more unpredictable, their actions are as well. A myth, a trope, a legend, bodies, and gender do not determine one’s capacity for sentiment; rather, it is the individual.

So when faced with the question of why women are more emotional, the answer is simply, “They’re not.”

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