When is a moody bitch not a moody bitch? When she decides she doesn’t want to be.
I was at home enjoying a snow day when I saw folks on the Today Show talking about a new self-improvement/pop-psychology book. The interview annoyed me so much that I yelled at my TV. Then someone shared this CNN article with me, and I yelled at the internet.
The book in question is titled Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making You Crazy, and it’s written by a psychiatrist who has apparently never ever been held back in any way by being labeled irrational, moody, or hormonal. She doesn’t think mood swings are a problem at all and that women need to embrace them instead of fighting them:
“Women have this idea that we are supposed to not be moody and we’re supposed to tamp down that moodiness,” said Julie Holland, author of “Moody Bitches” and a psychiatrist who has practiced in New York for 20 years.
“It’s like a problem to be fixed and really, I think it’s our greatest asset. It’s certainly our greatest psychological asset.”
“I hate to see us medicating away our sensitivity and emotionality for the comfort of other people in the workplace. I think it’s a big mistake.”
Sure, it’s nice to say we shouldn’t have to suppress emotions because of someone else’s discomfort at work. But it’s not realistic. Until we can get everyone into training seminars about how women are equals and totally competent even if they cry or snap at someone once in a while, we have to try to keep our emotions level. To do otherwise is to risk being labeled and pushed aside. You’re expected to leave your personal life and issues at home – and this goes for the men too – and focus on work. Being emotional at work is a liability, not an asset. Nobody is going to promote you if you’re sobbing at your desk all the time.
It’s not that women “have this idea that we are supposed to not be moody.” It’s an idea that prevails in almost every workplace. There’s a very sticky stereotype that women are irrational and emotional and aren’t as good as men under pressure. That we’re hysterical and that we can’t be trusted to make assessments and decisions without letting our girly soft feelings drip all over everything.
Men aren’t immune from criticism about “emotionality,” of course. But it’s not quite the same – at least men are given more freedom to be certain kinds of emotional. They’re not supposed to cry, because that makes them wimps, but they can be pushy or aggressive or confrontational and nobody is going to dismiss them as “moody.” It seems like women are screwed no matter what kind of emotions we show. When we get mad or assertive, it’s because we’re on the rag, and if we show enthusiasm and joy, it’s because we’re flighty and stupid.
“After all, our empathetic nature helps us understand nonverbal babies — and not-always-the-most-communicative husbands and partners”
This is the sort of thinking that keeps women out of science and math and engineering. Out of higher management positions. Keeps them from making the same salaries as their male colleagues in neighboring cubicles. Enough people see women as “moody bitches” already. It’s no surprise that women who want to advance their careers and have the respect of their coworkers feel the need to rein in their emotions as much as possible.
I know that this empower-your-true-self, don’t-let-the-bastards-change-you stuff sells books. LOTS of books. And gets you on TV. I can see how it can get women fist-pumping and saying “yeah, I’m going to be me and if they don’t like it they can go to hell!” But the reality is that we women have to be a different “me” in different contexts, or risk consequences.
The author suggests that too many women are on antidepressants (1 in 4 women vs 1 in 7 men) and many of them don’t need to be. They’re getting depressed looking at Facebook and comparing themselves to others and deciding they must not be happy enough, so they go to their doctors and get medications to help. Let’s ignore for a moment how dismissive the article is about women’s real and serious mental health concerns and focus on that medication for a minute. Why blame the patients? Shouldn’t the doctors be able to differentiate between “real” depression and a Facebook funk, and keep the prescriptions for those who actually need them? And since many women who don’t necessarily fit the clinical labels of depression/anxiety/etc nonetheless feel they need help in controlling their emotional outbursts, shouldn’t there be better access (and insurance coverage) to therapy, anger-management classes, and the like? If you’re going to decide that medications aren’t the answer, you need to find something that is the answer. And “let it all out, you warrior princess of a woman” isn’t going to cut it.
I would love a world where I can be a moody bitch when and where I please and nobody will think any less of me for it. But we’re not there yet. I’m glad to know women who embrace the “fuck it” attitude and let their bitch flags fly, but it’s just not possible – not yet – for all of us to follow their lead. So many of us risk careers and relationships if we stop suppressing our natural mood swings. We just don’t live in a world where we’re allowed to feel freely, and I think that it would be much more helpful for us to be discussing ways we can get there rather than reading self-help books that tell us to pretend we already are.