Emotional Health

Do We Really Need to Calm Ourselves Down?

Of course, all this talk of being calm is usually related to anxiety or anger, to being “upset” and “out of control.” There’s a special sexist history of men telling women to calm themselves down. It’s tied to “hysteria,” once considered a psychological disorder originating in the womb and thus unique to women. We haven’t come too far in our understanding and acceptance of anger and upset as a normal human reaction—as common to women as it is to men.

A comparison of the kinds of advice given to the two sexes insidiously reveals that women are encouraged to flee from an uncalm state (anxiety, anger, stress) while men are instructed to draw strength from it. In one example I found, a Men’s Health column suggests that men “get pumped up,” “strike a power pose” (illustrated by a man leaning back in his office chair with his feet up on the desk, like an executive in an old movie), and clench their fists to channel their energy. A companion article in Women’s Health, meanwhile, assumes that women are overwhelmed and suggests that we “take deep breaths,” “welcome any distraction,” and “find a helping hand.” Two of these suggestions basically tell us to seek help outward. It’s as if we are expected to be afraid of our own shadow (Jungian pun intended). Why aren’t we women advised to strike a power pose?

Remember, anger is the first sign of life. Forced out of the soothing, enveloping comfort of the womb, we all screamed like hell. Let’s not forget the jolt into life. Fight the inner and outer voices telling us to calm down—to be quiet and bland. Go back to the original state and let that energy live. Remember our first cry: “I’m alive!”

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  • Walker Thornton December 12, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Love this article. After years of being told to soften, to silence, to be more carefree when being criticized or belittled, I think it’s time we look at all the ways our culture, and the men in it, seek to make us smaller and paler. Thank you Amy!

    • Amy K Hughes December 16, 2016 at 5:47 pm

      Thank you for such a nice comment, Walker Thornton! “Smaller and paler” is a great way to put it. So true.