You Fight Like a Girl

Fight. My dictionary gives the definition of the noun form as:

a violent confrontation or struggle : we’ll get into a fight and wind up with bloody noses.

  1. a boxing match.
  2. battle or war : the country was not eager for a fight with the U.S.
  3. a vigorous struggle or campaign for or against something : a long fight against cancer.
  4. an argument or quarrel : she had a fight with her husband.
  5. the inclination or ability to fight or struggle : Ginny felt the fight trickle out of her.

This evening I had a fight (sense 4) with a friend. He was being a diva. And I was being a touchy bastard. His divahood totally fanned the flame of my bastardry, and vice versa, and it sucked.

Now here’s the good part, we’re both grown ups. Not only are we both grown ups, but we’re both old enough that we’ve learned a thing or two about good communication and relationship management, and about our own psychologies and how to manage them. So I called him on being a diva and he called me on being a bastard, and we both owned our own feelings, and talked about the problem using “I feel” language and all the other good things you’re supposed to do. We explored what it was that had set each other off, and we worked through it, and it’s all good. He’s still one of my best friends, and I’m still one of his, and we both learned something. Cue the After School Special music and scroll credits, right?

Except here I am sitting with my fur all rubbed the wrong way, agitated, stomach hurting, jaw clenched, eyebrows lowered in a wrinkle-forming scowl, and I still want to punch something (manly) or cry (not manly at all.) That fight hooked into a few deep issues, methinks.

I got in a few fistfights as a kid. I got smacked around at home, too, which set me up to resort to the physical way too easily. Luckily (maybe) for the people around me, I usually turned that physical on inanimate objects or on myself. I’ve outgrown that, too, for the most part. So now I know better than to punch the wall, make a hole in the plaster, and break a knuckle. I just want to. And I really don’t like the feeling. At all.

But boy, what I hate even more is crying. I don’t do that much. Well, no, that’s a lie. I cry easily, with intensely felt emotion, but in very, very brief surges. I love movies and books that make me tear up. I cry in church just about every Sunday. But those are just the sort of knot-under-sternum, eyes-welling-up-and-brimming-over, sniffling-a-few-times sorts of tears. I don’t do the weeping, wailing, sobbing thing much.

I did when my friend Michael died last November. I have for almost every pet of mine that’s died. And every now and again some little thing will catch me unawares, and suddenly tears. Bastard things betraying me like that.

There’s this cliche that crying makes you feel better. Those little tear swells that powerful fiction, music, and spiritual experiences bring me, I’d agree. Those are healing tears. Cathartic tears. I seek them out. But the kind of crying I feel like I’m holding at bay in the wake of this fight is not that kind. It’s the kind that makes you feel worse, because now not only are you angry (or abandoned, or betrayed, or frightened, or whatever it is you were feeling that brought it on),  you are also furious at yourself for being so weak. Your sinuses are clogged, your eyes burn with salt, your stomach is as queasy as free-fall, and nothing is resolved. You haven’t purged the emotion, you’ve just wrapped it up in a steaming, sticky mess like molten paraffin, and made it worse.

And it’s girlish. It’s so girlish it’s cliche. You all know the stereotype of women crying to get their way in an argument. Of men being powerless against this crass manipulation. Is it internalized misogyny that makes me curl my lip in disgust at myself for feeling tears trying to claw their way up the back of my throat during an argument?

I think I read somewhere once that women do tend to cry more easily. Who knows if that’s cultural or physical. We certainly have a strong cultural imperative that “boys don’t cry.” I know that in Japan, male tears are not considered nearly as unmanly as they are in the United States. But guess where I live? Not Japan, that’s for sure. My culture has been telling me since I was old enough to speak that boys don’t cry, men don’t cry, strong people don’t cry, and for God’s sake, don’t cry during an argument.

I’m left wondering: is crying gendered? Do I lose some butch cred if I cry? Are crying jags really cathartic for anyone? Is that a femme/butch thing: crying to relieve stress vs. crying making the stress worse? Is wanting to cry during or after a fight a femme sort of response? Just part of being human?

I’m taking a deep breath. I’m playing cathartic music. I’m writing it all down. And yes, I feel less like I need to break something or howl. I guess this time it will be all right.

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~ by Nezu on 5 February 2010.

4 Responses to “You Fight Like a Girl”

  1. But the kind of crying I feel like I’m holding at bay in the wake of this fight is not that kind. It’s the kind that makes you feel worse, because now not only are you angry (or abandoned, or betrayed, or frightened, or whatever it is you were feeling that brought it on), you are also furious at yourself for being so weak.

    Oh, man, do I ever get this. I don’t cry very often at all — once a year, generally, if that — so tears are generally not a good thing in my book anyway. But these kind of tears — the kind that burn with anger and shame, that knot up your throat and wreck the coherence of any argument you were about to make — these are the worst. And they don’t bring any sort of catharsis with them, unless it’s the realization that things are so bad that you’ve GOT to do something to make it better.

    Going to bed generally helps, for me. Things are always better in the morning. >.>

  2. It’s the kind that makes you feel worse, because now not only are you angry (or abandoned, or betrayed, or frightened, or whatever it is you were feeling that brought it on), you are also furious at yourself for being so weak.

    I do feel better when I cry — even these kinds of tears — but I think the big difference is that I don’t feel ashamed of myself for crying. It is the act of crying, or hating yourself for crying, that makes it worse? On a biological level, endorphins are released when you cry. There’s a chemical change in your brain. If your emotions are still up for whatever reason they might overwhelm those emotions, but that’s where you get the “crying makes you feel better,” statements.

    Now, getting away from science, I don’t think it’s gendered on a biological level. I do think it’s gendered in that we’re told boys and tough people (big girls, for instance…) don’t cry, that it’s bad and weak. I had to come to terms with that, because I cry when I get spitting angry. I hear all the time how horrible it is to cry during a fight, but that’s exactly when I DO cry. So I had to come to terms with it and be all right with it — because no amount of willpower will stop it from happening, and all that did happen was I kept backing away from fights.

    I’m sure there are people who think less of butches and men if they cry, and roll their eyes at weak women who cry. Those people aren’t worth my time. It’s not bad to cry; it’s human. Diminishing someone because of a biological reaction is just as bad as discriminating against a population that happens to have breasts. In fact, in this case it’s exactly the same thing. *wry smile*

    J

  3. Are crying jags really cathartic for anyone? Is that a femme/butch thing: crying to relieve stress vs. crying making the stress worse?

    Heh. If so, you can mark me as a femme. I have found over several years that crying for a few minutes (sobbing, generally not wailing unless things are *really* bad) is a realy pressure valve release when I’m stressed, and that I generally feel better – more calm, more able to deal with the situation – than I was before. I do try to do my crying in private rather than in public, but I’ve accepted it as a part of the way I function.

  4. The big lesbian secret (in butch/fem households) is that that butches DO cry, the fems just know they better keep that little bit of info to themselves. You know a butchy girl is in love, feels loved and safe, when she will cry. I suspect this may be true in straight relationships as well – men do cry, just with their wives, who aren’t allowed to tell….

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