In my last post, I discussed the connection between being emotionally authentic and the emotions cycle.
I also mentioned the concept of “display rules” (cultural/work) which impact which emotions are “appropriate” for women or men to express in a given situation.
In this post, I am digging a bit deeper into this topic albeit from a slightly different perspective— predjudice.
To be prejudiced is to pre-judge a person or situation based on a bias, world view, or preconceived set of assumptions which act as filters through which you view, judge, draw conclusions about, and modify your actions regarding the person or situation you are facing.
While you might not be, and probably are not, aware of your prejudices or may not view what you do as based on a prejudice, these beliefs still powerfully impact how you interact with others.
In a recent episode of “911”, a female firefighter valiantly saves a young victim who was underwater from a traffic accident. The female firefighter puts herself at risk, stays totally focused, does what she was trained to do and administers CPR. The “emotions” she expresses while doing her job involve focus, concern, courage and commitment. It is a highly stressful situation in which the survival of the victim is very uncertain.
Once the victim begins to breathe and is out of danger, the firefighter expresses her relief by crying. She is happy, relieved and decompressing.
While the tears are obvious, the EMT is always in control of herself, is situationally appropriate and it is clear that the tears are an emotional tension release.
Her male partner responds to her by saying ” Is this going to be a regular thing?”
She responds, “Probably”.
From an Emotions as Tools and emotional prejudice perspective, let’s dive a little deeper into this (fictional) exchange,
I thought the writers hit the nail on the head and very dramatically illustrated several cultural biases against emotional displays.
The male’s comments, while not necessarily demeaning, are clearly derogatory and judgmental and imply that his colleague’s actions might not be “appropriate”. It is clear that he respects his colleague and knows that she did an exceptional job saving the victim. But, he is saying that it isn’t professional (or perhaps too feminine or “like a woman”) to express this emotion on the job as a first responder.
Interestingly, he responds to the release of tension by also tearing up and says, “Now, you got me doing it. Please don’t tell the guys.”
Or, to put it another way, he did not want to be labelled as weak, overly emotional, unmanly, or out of control by his male peers.
The male labelled his female partner’s emotional display (tears) as “inappropriate”.
Or, to put it another way, women should not cry on the job.
He failed to see that her tears were in the service of relieving tension. They were not an emotional display of, for example, sadness or frustration which, one could argue, might, or might not be “appropriate”. He only saw a woman crying and made a snap judgement.
He also, by implication, labelled his own emotional display as “inappropriate”. In his mind, men should not cry.
Again, he failed to see that his tears were both a response to the reduction in stress and an empathic connection with his partner.
Males emotionally judging of females and males emotionally judging themselves or feeling judged by other males are examples of emotional prejudices and can be problematic.
The clear implication in the “scene” was that the male firefighter was reacting to both the ending of a tense situation and to his female colleague’s tears with his own tears. This was both a release and an expression of empathy.
And, yet, because of his own prejudices, he chose to invalidate his emotions.
Was his emotional display valid? Yes.
Was it appropriate?
Well, the situation was over and the tension had passed. Both he and his female co-worker were recovering from the emergency. So, psychologically, yes, it was appropriate. And, maybe even according to work display rules (outside of the public’s view), the display may very we’ll have been appropriate.
From the perspective of cultural display rules, however, … no it wasn’t (according to his prejudices) appropriate.
There is a bit of a disconnect here in that typical cultural display rules deem it okay for woman to express tearful emotions as long as the display doesn’t get extreme. Sadness and emotional release are considered a feminine characteristics.
But, he questioned her actions in a professional context which is interesting because it was after the incident, in the firehouse, and did not interfere with anything.
She validated her own emotions when she noted that in the future, under similar circumstances, she would respond in a similar manner.
What are your emotional prejudices”?
- How do you view female emotions?
- Can a woman be sad, anxious, hurt, or vulnerable? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
- Can a women be angry? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
- Can a man be sad, anxious, hurt, or vulnerable? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
- Can a man be angry? When and under what circumstances (home, work)?
- Do you have an emotional double standard in which the display rules for men are different from those that apply to men?
Society does seem to have an emotional double standard.
The best way to determine if you have emotional prejudices is to examine your own thoughts/actions when you implicitly or explicitly judge or criticize the emotional actions of yourself or another person.
If you seem to be judging another person based on an emotion, take a breath, take a step back from the situation, and attempt to make an objective assessment of the situation before you choose an adaptive response to that situation.
If you are a follower of this blog, you will immediately recognize that the recommendations to take a deep breath and a step back and then objectively assess the situation before you decide on a response are the steps involved in mastering emotions as strategic tools.