Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Alternative Living…Without The Naked: Drama Isn’t All That Girly

According to a bevy of my menfriends, girls are to drama as God was to Adam: we create it, we see it as a bane to perfection, but we also enjoy it when it self-propagates. And as much as the idea of dramatic girls creates a gender stereotype, for a long time, I was inclined to agree. Having attended a girls’ school for most of my life, lived with girls, and understood them as my primary source of emotional connection, I have also realized that the more girls are in my life, the higher the level of tension and emotion.

I have tried to avoid drama at Stanford and have done so quite successfully. Over the course of my post-adolescent years, I gained a fairly strong control of my emotions: I can refrain from getting emotionally antagonized, and I can be detached if I need to be. In the process of doing so, I have also become much less passionate–what I still see as a necessary trade-off. Passion, after all, is important, but Brontë-esque fits of angst are hardly states of emotion I aspire to.

The divide between expressiveness and stolidity is one that I conceptualizedand still do, to some extent–as a gendered difference, where women are more complex and emotional than men are. On a theoretical level, I knew that men could be as emotional and complex, and likewise, that uncommunicative women do exist. In practice, however, it remained difficult for me to resist stereotyping, classifying, and falling victim to gender norms. This tendency has led me, in my constant escape of complications and their ensuing emotions, to view male spaces as a kind of calming refuge, where there is a certain mindless ease that I can enjoy.

I have found male spaces in spontaneous ways. By this, I mean that I have barged into rooms, invaded spaces, and sat on floors, quite unperturbed by the looks of shock on the owners’ faces. In most occasions, I have either studied with them in silence, daydreamed about nothing, or snoozed over the chirpy tones of their Pokemon videogames. Inhabiting a space devoid of overt problems relaxes me like nothing else. In one of my newly-discovered rooms, I have even gained the status of the room’s “fat cat,” because all I do is sip their beer, slump around, and take long naps.

Last week, however, I had an unfortunate crisis of unexpected proportions. Perhaps it was part of the process simply adjusting back to campus life, or perhaps it was trying to confront the fact that my undergraduate career was about to come to an end. Whatever it was, one of my friends came to visit me, yelling, “Tohhhhh!” only to discover me hiding under my blanket, freaking out and being paralyzed by my own freaking out.

In the minutes that ensued, our conversation amounted to me apologizing profusely for my emotional state. I was extremely adamant that I never freaked out, that I was usually a strong, stoic and a calm buffoon, and that little troubled meI had learned not to care. As I emitted low, monsterly sounds of woe, my dear friend sat by me and patted my hand, finally saying, “You’re not freaking out. You’re just upset.”

The use of the word “just” surprised me. To “just” be upset meant to only be upset, to merely be upset. There was, with the use of “just,” a connotation of normalcy: my flagrant and unwanted display of emotion was not anything to be ashamed of.

Perhaps, to some of you, it seems strange I would associate displays of upset emotion with weakness. I emphasize constantly the dangers of inhibition, and I appreciate honest presentation of self whenever I get to know people. It gets even more confusing considering how I find nothing wrong with displays of emotion in general. I enjoy displaying affection toward my friends, and it is extremely evident when I am happy. Baked goods fill the house, I become annoyingly talkative, and I dish out hugs like Mother Theresa does love.

But I never wanted to be associated with the complex emotional state of being at once troubled, disappointed and angry, a state summarized almost euphemistically as dramatic. To some extent, the yearning to be stoic influenced the general way I presented myself. I was careful not to be a girly girl, the image so prone to hysteria over a smudged lipstick or chipped nail. I also became a little rougher around the edges, and stopped caring too much about small things.

This entire incident, however, provoked much re-evaluation on my part, where my behavior and assumptions no longer seemed right. Gendering states of being, words and emotions, for example, felt too narrow-minded. Just like how I don’t think men should be wild sex fiends and girls timid prudes, I don’t think men should be confined to states of emotional frigidity and women to hysteria.

As important was my re-evaluation of distress, and the fact that it was okay to be distressed. I should not have been avoiding “drama” wholesale, if drama meant being upset or anxious. What I should have avoided was being upset or anxious about petty things. If I’m stood up once by a friend, that is not reason to flip out on them, cry, or throw myself into a pit of fiery torment. If I’m stood up ten times by a friend in a span of four weeks, perhaps that is a reason to get upset, but only to the extent that my distress creates a practical reassessment of the issue itself – the nature of the friendship, or the priorities in my life.

So the next time you feel weepy or sad or plain pissed off, escapism may not be the answer. You are not being weak or silly. The question to ask is, rather, why you are upset, and if the reason is bigger than a chipped nail, perhaps you have a right to it.

Want to cry into a shoulder? Sing hysterical praises? Both can be directed to samtoh@stanford.edu .

  • fabianna

    It is so refreshing to read such a well-written exploration of humanism in the Daily. I, too, spent many years honing my skills as an expert escapist, until I realized I had focused more on the girl I didn’t want to be rather than the girl I wanted to be- a misguided and pointless undertaking. To enjoy displaying affection and to be easily moved by kindness and warmth is a beautiful thing, I assure you. We are simply empathetic humans, except maybe more amplified. Surround yourself with people who will validate your character. Love those who look upon it not with pity, but with appreciation and fondness.

    Uh…sorry for sounding like a Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul excerpt.

    SamToh- next time you’re in 206 and the boys are busy with each other, we should totally get to socializing. Yes?

  • Umm

    OMG. An article in the Daily that explores gender that is well written, honest, and doesn’t involve man bashing. Its a miracle.

  • Steven Crane

    Great article. I think growth in realms of emotional understanding and emotion regulation is one of the primary life-skills we can take from the ups and downs of Stanford life. I’m happy to hear this experience has broadened your understanding of emotions and their appropriateness and usefulness.