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C76978465 Introduction Men are bold and assertive and women are quiet and submissive. Let’s just assume for a minute that this is true. What would this mean to a young woman? What might these assumptions do to her self esteem? Imagine a woman who is young and attractive. She is living up to the expectations of her gender by avoiding conflict and using silent protest. Maybe she is a mother or a wife, and she defines herself as such because she is so good at these jobs. She never complains or frowns. She is perfect in the eyes of her husband, her acquaintances, and her culture. So then why is she unhappy? The underlying assumption of all culturally prescribed female roles is an expectation of silence. Within relationships, women become the gatekeepers of their own self-expression and withhold their authentic selves in an effort satisfy, maintain, and please others (Jack, 1991). They are not living their lives but instead viewing them as they expect others would view them. Thoughts, emotions, and voice are repressed so thoroughly that they are not even recognizable (Jordan et al., 1991). The inevitable result is a feeling of dissociation between who the woman believes herself to be and who she presents herself to be. In this paper I intend to address these issues from the perspective that self-silencing is damaging to self-esteem, and in order for women to feel whole, they must express themselves through available avenues. Cultural Implications In general, our society teaches women to please. By not voicing their complaints, women inadvertently please those who have hurt them and thus a society that oppresses them. Internalizing these stereotypes has been shown to have detrimental effect on a women’s self esteem, and it has been found to be a predictor of poor adjustment (Sorell,


C76978465 10/18/2006). According to Sorell, “Femininity is an adaptation to powerlessness”. Women must adapt to the society in which they live in order to survive. Often adaptation means silencing one’s objections. The socialization of women has encouraged their silence and continues to do so. There are many stories of women staying quiet about sexual harassment to keep their jobs. There are women who stay silent about being sexually unsatisfied to keep their men. There are girls who do not speak in class because no one will pay serious attention to them or will ridicule them (Lips, 1991). In many instances women choose not to say anything, but even when they are permitted to speak, some theorists have argued that women filter their thoughts. These theorists believe that women’s expression is shaped by “male-female power relationships” (Lips, 1991, p.33). For example, women are socialized to know when it is appropriate to speak, what they are allowed to say, and to whom they are allowed to say it. Day to day experience molds them, and teaches them what is acceptable. Silencing in Relationships Husbands, or fathers, traditionally lead the household. The wife, or mother, and children are then ultimately dependant on the father for leadership, direction, and acceptance. Though the mother does indeed have some authority over her children, she no longer has authority over herself. There is an unspoken understanding that because she is being taken care of, she must selflessly and happily serve her provider. Though service may include doing the actual tasks of maintaining the household, another unspoken service is expected: complacent silence. As in any service oriented job, the customer is always right. He must be appeased in order to keep the peace and


C76978465 ultimately allow the server financial security. As for the checkout girl at the grocery store, she holds her tongue in order to keep her job and bring home a paycheck. The wife holds her tongue to stay in her home and keep a man who brings home a paycheck. Her fear keeps her silent though she might say that her love for her husband keeps her quiet. Our culture views women as innately selfless and believes women’s muted thoughts are a necessity in order for women to be submissive to men, but every woman knows that her voice can only get her in trouble. Her husband allows her access to a life she could never access on her own but her willingness to sacrifice her voice seems a little too automatic. Why is it that so many women’s voices are lost long before they enter a relationship? Our culture does and amazingly efficient job at re-enforcing the status quo. By the time a young girl enters adolescence, she is already being ignored in the classroom at school, she is being put behind her brothers in the home, and being shown that her mother, of whom she identifies with, is second in command behind her father (Orenstein, 1994). The media, of course, influences her in ways she can not even begin to comprehend, and all the while she is practicing. She knows that one day she will marry and she knows that successful marriages are void of conflict. What she doesn’t know is that in order to live this life, she will have to give herself up. When she finally lets go of what little of herself she has, she may at first feel peaceful. She is a woman after all, and she wasn’t feeling particularly valued to begin with. And then she becomes nothing. She feels hollow and absorbs reflections of what she should be. She is like a sponge, absorbing all she can from her culture in hopes that her acceptance in society will make her happy, but it doesn’t (Jack, 1991). Once she


C76978465 discovers this, it is too late. She has been won. She can not remember who she was or who she wanted to be. Repression of Emotion Because women have lost their voices, they have also lost the ability to voice feelings, emotions, beliefs, and concerns. The truth is they never really had this ability. No avenue has been made available for females to express themselves. Though there are culturally dictated expressions of femaleness, none of these accurately represent her experience. She expresses her creativity through artful makuping, through matching colors and fabrics in her daily ensembles. She exhibits her body and shows herself off by showcasing her husband’s career or her son’s success in sports. She expresses emotion in an allotted period prior to menstruation, and exhibits anger only in response to assault on others and not on herself. The woman does all this believing that she is expressing herself as she wishes, when in reality she is becoming what culture expects her to become. These are not expressions of her true self, they are mechanisms of social control dictating when she is and isn’t allowed to be herself, dictating what she is allowed to do, or feel, or be. Just as any other human being, she experiences emotions in reaction to events. The restriction of her emotions to a particular topic or time frame denies her true freedom of expression. Because she can not express her pain when it is present, because she can not hurl her anger at the person responsible, she holds it in, but it doesn’t disappear (Jordan et al., 1991). The built up emotions and lists of words not spoken then fill up the hollowness she once felt. When she was a girl, she was full of hopes and dreams. Then she shed her


C76978465 skin to become plastic and she felt hollow. Now she has filled herself up with anger and hate with no acceptable outlet for release. Her negative emotions are inside her permanently, now eating away at her from the inside. Because the emotion is inside of her, it is her that is to blame, and it is her that is to suffer. She believes there is something wrong with her. She looks at herself in a negative light and has poor self-esteem. She dislikes herself because she no longer is herself and she believes everyone else dislikes her too. Through the Eye’s of the Other After deflating and denying her true self for so long, she is unable to look at herself in a positive light. She so devalues herself that she only sees others opinions of her (Jack, 1991). When others laugh, she can feel confident. When other yell, she will feel unworthy. When others cry, she will feel as though she made them cry. She sees herself in their eyes and alters her behavior based on their demeanor. Her self-silencing has gone full circle. She may choose to say nothing to avoid from saying something that will make her feel less about herself. She has learned by viewing herself through others eyes that the less she says, the less conflict will ensue (Jack 1991). In all social situations there is a component of evaluation, and her self image is not strong enough to allow for a poor evaluation so she chooses to stand aside and let men and other strong persons take control of her conversations, ideas, and opinions. When she does speak, she is careful not to offend. In fact, she has learned the art of speaking for the listener and telling people what they want to hear. This is what gives her confidence. This is what gives her happiness. She feels her heart jump when people accept her and in turn feels it drop when they do not. Her happiness is entirely dependant


C76978465 on others approval, but we can not blame her. Remember she does not remember herself. She has lost her true self; she has denied it. Dissociation: The Formation of two Selves When a woman outwardly presents herself one way and inwardly feels another way, she creates a dualism or dissociation between her selves. Whether or not she is aware of her former self or the existence of a performance self, she will feel a separation or falseness. As you can imagine, these undercurrents do not encourage positive feelings. Her true self is trapped and her false self is fake, and she feels this in her everyday interactions. Each time she smiles when she is feeling sad, she widens the gap between her selves. In every conversation where she is interrupted and gives up her voice she sinks further into herself. In some situations the false self serves her more than in other situations. Social interactions lend themselves to falsity and men experience a sense of falseness too, especially when around new people. The dissociation that I am suggesting is a result of a culture that does not allow women a voice. Everyone will experience a feeling of being muted sometime in their life, but for women, a constant and omnipresent silencing mechanism is at work in both the culture and in themselves. The dissociation that forms from living a life of silence and being a person who is rejecting the self in order to be silent is unique to females. Making Voices Heard Though ideally, a cultural shift would allow women to speak their minds and express their pain for all that has been done to them, to do so in our current circumstance would cause more pain than good for the individuals who break the mold. Especially for


C76978465 women who have thoroughly adopted the expectations of silence, an expression using their voices may be difficult. Their diminished self-esteem and tendency to see themselves through others eyes would likely dissuade them from taking the types of risks needed to change the patriarchy. Artistic Expression Because it is unacceptable for women to express their emotions verbally, it is important for them to find other ways of expressing themselves. They must do the search for themselves in an environment that will be accepting of their discoveries. In our culture, an open expression of dominance or anger will be reacted to negatively and this may be too much to bear for women who already have such low self esteem. Art and writing allow women to express aspects of themselves that have long been forgotten. Through writing, a woman can explore her thoughts and emotions. She can express what she is afraid to express in her interactions. In this way, she is allowed a voice. From this practice, she may be able to learn how to use her voice with others in a way that will not threaten her relationships. Artistic expression is of utmost importance to those who have not yet even discovered the words that have been buried. Women who have lost their true selves by living as their performance selves may not even know why they are depressed and have low self-esteem. The search begins when their creativity shows them what has been hidden and lost. Paintings and collages can give women a visual representation of themselves and their creativity will allow them to reconnect with what has been lost. Analyzing the artwork and finding its roots may help women to begin forming the words that are necessary in having a voice.


C76978465 Conclusion Silence of voice is such a complex issue that is maintained by many social and personal systems. Because it is difficult to change an entire culture, we must do what we can to first teach women that they do have a voice and it can be found and expressed through art and writing. Ideally when women are better able to express themselves, they will be able to impact society in a way that will encourage change and transformation. I think that it is necessary to pursue finding women’s voices through a liberal feminist perspective because it is more realistic. Someone once told me that the best way to get anywhere is by taking baby steps. Developing voices one step at a time may be the only way that women will ever be heard and we have to start somewhere.


Women and Emotional Expression  

A feminist perspective on women and psychology

Women and Emotional Expression  

A feminist perspective on women and psychology