This column originally appeared on Palo Alto Patch.
At a recent dinner party, a friend shared his frustration and confusion about a young woman who works for him. He told us, “she’s a hard worker” and “she’s headed for success.” But earlier in the week, as he was giving her constructive feedback about her performance on a project, she suddenly burst into tears. He was totally flummoxed.
“I didn’t know what to do,” my friend complained. As we discussed his options, he finally ended the conversation by saying, “Women are so damn emotional.”
Well friend, yes we are.
As a recent study on the biological differences between men and women in relation to emotions revealed, we don’t necessarily have more emotions, we are just more likely to show them. We show them in the work place, we show them at home, we show them amongst friends, and sometimes even amongst strangers. We women are emotional creatures.
And, it is our emotional natures that just might be the final frontier on the road to equality. When I entered the workforce in the early 1980s, women were told to “hold back,” or “cry in the bathroom,” Doing your best to not cry in the office was the female equivalent of “never let them see you sweat.” We came to understand that besides anger, emotions were not welcome in the workplace.
The trickle of women in the workforce when I entered a quarter of a century ago is now a tsunami. Sure we aren’t yet at the top of the pyramid of most professions (sigh), but we are certainly a large percentage of the rank and file and if trends continue, we will soon be running the show.
Women today account for 57% of college undergraduates, 62% of graduate students, and are the majority of those graduating from medical and law schools. All of this means the emotional landscape of the workplace is destined to change and many are saying, “about damn time.”
Entertainment executive and author of It’s Always Personal, Anne Kramer, wrote in arecent column for the Harvard Business Review, “it should be the goal of any person or organization to allow all emotion at work, in all of its gendered nuances.”
She argues as women continue their invasion of the workplace we will find a greater acceptance of emotions and will come to understand that expressing emotions in the workplace can be a good thing, not something that should penalize a worker.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal concurs. “The unhealthful result of what experts call “emotional suppression” has been shown in studies to cloud thinking, promote job unhappiness and negatively impact work performance.” In short, we’re finally coming to understand holding back your emotions is…repressive.
This lesson is at the core of Eve Ensler’s newest play, I Am An Emotional Creature, currently on stage at the Berkeley Rep. You might remember Eve. She’s the one who made “vagina” part of the vernacular. (Well, unless you are a legislator and live in Michiganwhere that word is still a no-no apparently )
Eve’s 1994 play, The Vagina Monologues, ran off-broadway for five years. Since then it has been translated into 48 languages and has been performed in colleges, high schools, community theatres, and at women’s gatherings in 140 countries.
These days, it is part of a larger movement to fight violence against women and girls called V-Day. Since it’s inception, V-Day has raised over $80 million to support its work. Say what you will about her, but it’s undeniable Eve Ensler knows how to make a movement.
Now she is turning her attention to the emotional power of girls. I saw the play last week and it is both raw and moving. Some of the stories of girls struggling to fit in aren’t necessarily new, but the pain of adolescence certainly resonates. The scenes of how young girls fom different countries and cultures are the most powerful. But the message, that girls need to celebrate and honor their emotions, is at the heart of the play.
My neighbor, Amy Rao, CEO of Integrated Archive Systems and board member of Eve’s non-profit, V-Day, first saw the play in Paris. She’s since seen it “more than a handful of times” and firmly believes you can’t just see it once.
“Each time I see the play, I hear something different,” Amy told me when she encouraged me to see it a second and third time. “The monologues speak to so many aspects of girlhood on our planet. I have no doubt the same ground-swell of support for this effort will be realized just as we saw for The Vagina Monologues. And when we do, our relationship to the importance and power of emotions will change.”
Perhaps it will.
Perhaps one day it won’t just be women and girls claiming their place as emotional creatures, but men too. Perhaps then they won’t be so confounded when one of their employees or colleagues or bosses or spouses or friends or acquaintences or even national leaders lets loose and gives a good cry.
Until then, I can only speak for myself and I am an emotional creature.