Am I tough enough?

Eve Hodgson questions the idea of being tough- is it ever a good thing?

Eve Hodgson

pexels: snapwire

I often give people what they want. I don’t really like confrontation, so I rarely pick fights and try to end arguments quickly. I especially don’t like tension, so I make efforts to be conciliatory. I’m a bit overly empathetic, so even when I have a legitimate grievance I forget about it quickly or forgive very readily to avoid invoking guilt or upset.

I am, in short, what I would call a nice person, but what would perhaps less kindly be called a pushover.

Arguing makes me feel uncomfortably aggressive and pushy and I try to avoid it, even when I should maybe follow it through, purely because shouting and tension do not agree with me.

Last week I talked about feminism, and how I feel like I don’t do enough. The week before I talked about body image. This week, I’m talking effectively about confidence, I suppose, and I think they all tie together.

Each gender is socialised into different behaviours to one end or another. Men are socialised, to everybody’s detriment, to not talk about emotions, that dominance is central to their identity as a man, and that femininity is to be avoided at all costs. Women are socialised to shrink ourselves. Taught that space is not for us.

It’s quite difficult to be tough when you feel embarrassed expressing your opinion. Having an opinion. Putting your foot down.

This causes me and people like me, who find being firm really awkward and difficult, to be put in quite a few really awkward and difficult situations. When people catcall me, I don’t say anything back. There are loads of great suggestions – barking like a dog, swearing at them, just screaming back – but I don’t do any of them because I don’t want to look weird. Not very feminist of me.

I cry a lot as well. I think it’s a bit inevitable in this place. I’ve talked about my own mental health in my previous column, but I’d like to discuss the concept of toughness – or rather, a lack of it – here.

Crying doesn’t make you weak. I always thought it did, given the way people reacted when I did cry. In fairness, I cried nearly constantly until I was about thirteen. I’d cry at a stiff breeze. People got fed up, understandably. Then I decided I wasn’t going to cry anymore. I wasn’t going to have emotions anymore. Emotions were weak.

That was a really embarrassing period, because once I got going on sixth form I realised I had loads of emotions, and some of them were wonderful, and none of them were weak. If I couldn’t let myself cry, I couldn’t really let myself get squealingly, thrillingly excited about things either. And crying in itself isn’t bad.

I cry all the time now. I think it’s great. A really good way of letting go. Tears are meant to be very good for your skin. All-round winner.

But crying itself is seen as weak. Women – the ones allowed to be vulnerable and emotional – cry on average 5.3 times a month, whereas men only cry 1.3 times a month. Men are also much more likely to become dependent on alcohol and drugs than women, and to go missing or sleep rough.

Yet four in five suicides are committed by men. It’s the biggest killer of men under 35. This high rate of suicide indicates a lack of willingness to seek help, and I think it’s in large part a result of expectations on men to be stoic, rational, and strong – in short, to be tough.

When I was in sixth form, one of my male friends killed himself, and it was one of the hardest things to handle. It also changed my mind about choices like suicide. Evidently I wished it hadn’t happened. But it was not a marker of weakness or selfishness. He thought, in that moment, that it would make things better. That it was the best choice for him.

There is nothing weak about taking care of yourself. There is nothing weak about failing to do so.

I know I feel utterly pathetic when I can’t get out of bed, and my pillow is all damp from my own tears on my wet little red face. Especially when I’m basically upset about nothing.

‘Pull yourself together’ can be useful advice, but only to quite a small extent. I can be hysterical, but sometimes what genuinely worries me isn’t something I can solve by toughening up.

I know I’m probably just reinforcing the image of the snowflake generation, and I’m so sorry about that. But I think it’s bollocks, and it really bothers me. Why should I not be allowed to cry over a boy if I want to? It reflects all sorts of self-esteem issues I have that might be considered to be less frivolous. Why can’t I cry over an essay? Why can’t I cry because somebody spoke to me in a loud voice?


Mountain View

Feminist enough for Feminism?

I can do what I want, frankly. It doesn’t make me weak, doesn’t make me especially tough. Both of them are utterly noxious ideas we should do away with.

Toughness is gendered. Toughness makes life feel unliveable. Toughness helps nobody.

Why on earth should we keep valuing it?