Letting Judgement Cloud Our Emotions: Thoughts on “Rationality” and Violence Against Women

You need to calm down.
You are just being emotional.
You are letting your feelings get the better of you.
We need to approach this rationally.
Be reasonable.

How many times have we all heard these phrases – and even used them ourselves? We in North America are pretty good at keeping things dispassionate. And when people begin to express themselves using strong emotions, we work to shut those people down. To bring them back to “sanity.” To push them back toward “balance."

This pattern becomes a real problem, however, when it is applied to the issue of violence against women, an area where things are already so terribly, horribly, out of balance. Our fixation on “rational” thought (something that we men often seem to be particularly obsessed with) renders us incapable of fully accepting on an emotional level the magnitude of the horror of violence against women. And because we stop short of truly feeling the enormity of this issue, we fail to develop within ourselves the motivation and the commitment to do what is necessary to end the violence once and for all.

Cold rationality is just that: really, really cold. It allows us to read the statistics about sexual and domestic violence and then move right on to the next set of numbers. To the deficit, perhaps. Or to the stock market. The sports scores. Cold rationality allows us to stay numb, and to barely even register within ourselves the reality that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault. That 1 in 3 married women will experience at least one act of sexual or physical violence in her marriage. That over one-half of all victims of sexual assault are girls who are under the age of 18. That 1 in 3 victims of sexual assault will find herself living with the fear that the man who hurt her might come back to hurt her again.

Pause. Breathe.

Feel anything?

If not, please go back and re-read those numbers. Read them over and over and over. Read them as many times as is necessary for you to begin to feel something. (And if your brain can’t get past asking “Gee, I wonder where those statistics come from?” – they were collated by the wonderful women of FSACC and are available here: http://www.fsacc.ca/content/45357.)

But whatever you do, please do not immediately run and hide behind the screen of over-intellectualization and rationality. Do not let “judgement” cloud your emotions. This material is (and should be) highly emotional. That many of us can read it without any feeling suggests that something is very wrong. And we need to change that. We need to disavow our over-reliance on “reason” and rediscover our hearts. This is especially true for men. Then, when we do start to feel something, we need to use that emotional energy – in combination with the wisdom of our minds – to work to bring an end to violence against women.

And for those people who are already sensitized to the horrors of sexual and domestic violence, please remember that there is no need to stifle your emotions around this issue. When the enforcers of the status quo tell you that you need to be more rational and more reasonable, perhaps it is time to remind them that the sexist society that they are working so hard to defend is itself immersed in a level of sexual brutality that defies both rationality and reason. And tell them that we refuse to mute our emotional reaction to the fact that women are being hurt.

We need to be smart. We need to be effective. But we certainly do not need to calm down.