[This post is part of a series, inspired by the book Why Men Lie and Women Cry (2003) by Allan & Barbara Pease. Previous entry: Chapter Two]
Apparently there are three known purposes for tears: As an emotional signal, as an eyewash, and as a stress reliever. “Chemical analysis of tears reveals that stress tears, those that roll down the cheek, contain different proteins from those used for eye cleansing. The body appears to use this function to clear stress toxins from the body. This could explain why women say they feel better after ‘a good cry’, even when there appears to be no real reason for crying. Tears also contain endorphins, one of the body’s natural painkillers, which act as a damper to emotional pain.” (p. 77) But, there is sometimes a far more sneaky ulterior motive behind the tears: “There are times when people cry as a direct response from the heart, but many times they cry as a way of manipulating others’ emotions. While men occasionally do this, women are more likely to use tears as a way of emotionally blackmailing others.” (p. 75) Um… ‘kay. Obviously, as a feminist, statements like that tend to set my knee jerking… but looking back over my own personal experience, I can only come up with one example of someone “turning on the waterworks” simply to gain my sympathy and affection… and, yes, that someone was a young woman. I’d feel guiltier about addressing this topic, except that one of my favourite bands of all time, L7, wrote a song about a woman who used tears as her weapon of choice, called “She Has Eyes” (That Were Made for Crying)… and they were pretty hardcore feminists, so there!
But I would hasten to add that men have other ways of manipulating the people around them… their methods just tend to involve insults and intimidation, rather than tears. “Men are far more often the victims of emotional blackmail than the villains. Men prefer to ask directly for what they want. Women, in their evolved role as peacekeeper, tend to shy away from saying exactly what they want. Many women lack the self-esteem to realize that they deserve what they’re asking for… Historically, men were in more powerful positions than women, and could call the shots far more openly. Women were rarely dominant enough to have the upper hand, so for centuries had to rely on their wiles and cunning to get what they wanted.” (p. 83-84) Which reminds me of a similar observation I made about “scheming” royal mistresses, back in the old timey days.
Ultimately, when people are laying a guilt trip on you, you do have the choice to simply shrug it off, or tell them where to shove it, if you want to. It all depends what’s at stake, of course, and what you’re being asked to do. To go back to my own brush with “blackmail”, the scenario was this: I had gone to the house of a classmate of mine (I was 18, and a university student at the time) to hang out with some of his friends. One of the girls he knew, let’s call her “K”, was quite loud and self-consciously “crazy” in a way that was very annoying to me… so when it came time to walk home that night, and I found that we were both heading in the same direction, I made sure to stay several strides ahead of her. Not very mature of me, I know, but I was very introverted (and slightly dickish) in those days. The house was barely two minute’s walk away from our halls of residence, and both were situated on a well-lit main road, which was always lousy with traffic of all kinds… nevertheless, when we were well over halfway home, K started wailing that I was leaving her behind, and that she was scared of being attacked! Obviously I’m sympathetic to a woman’s fear of walking home alone, because it’s totally justifiable… but she was barely more than ten feet behind me the whole way! Naturally, once she started sniffling, and playing on my guilt, I crumbled, and hastily explained how nervous and self-conscious I was around women in general… which wasn’t the main reason for my blanking her, but was probably part of the mix. She accepted my apology, we hugged it out, and then I escorted her back to her door, like a proper gentleman.
If she’d asked me to join a cult, or co-sign a loan for her, I’d probably have been more reticent, but ultimately it was a win-win situation… she got a man to pay her some attention, and I got to hug an attractive woman (and then write about it in my journal)… so, yay! Obviously, that’s a fairly benign (and vaguely flattering) example of emotional blackmail, and one that had a pretty simple solution. When the blackmailer and victim are workmates, family members or close friends, and the stakes are higher, then obviously it becomes far less forgivable. Again, the book recommends “retraining” your blackmailer, by standing your ground, and deferring an agreement until they can discuss the matter in a mature way, without resorting to childish bullying tactics. I’ve ditched several “friends” over the years for trying to intimidate me, or dump passive-aggressive put-downs on me… but I can’t really comment on how proper grown-ups should deal with the kind of high-stake head-trips that are exposed on Judge Judy every day. It’s all very cut-and-dry to her, of course, and she’ll plainly inform a plaintiff that they’re “better off alone” than living with some manipulative bum… she’s probably right, of course, but it can still be a rather bitter pill to swallow.
[Images are of Amy Locane as ‘Allison’ in “Cry-Baby” (1990), in case you were curious]
Next entry: Chapter Four