Montage of various voices saying “um, ah, hmm,” etc.
[Voices continue under Saleem]
Saleem: What you’re hearing is actual recordings of people trying to measure their feelings for science. It’s not as easy as one would think!
Yasmeen: Interested. Hmm. I mean I’m interested in a lot of things. That’s probably a four. Excited?
Saleem: They're Looking at some words like “excited” or “scared” and trying to pick a number, on a scale of one to five, that captures how intensely they felt each feeling on the list that day.
Jay: Wow! Definitely a five!
Saleem: It’s not quite as easy as you might think. Later on some researchers are going to turn their answers into data, analyze that and try and determine how emotional these folks are. How much their negative and positive feelings go up and down over time.
John Laww: I don't do that, you know, at the end of the day at all, just sit there and really think about how I've been feeling that whole day.
Saleem: Why would any of these participants want to participate? Well, in this particular case, it’s because they’re my friends and colleagues and I kind of made them,
Mailande: One day I waited too long and it was like, you've been locked out of the survey and I was like, oh no!
Saleem: I did it, too, actually.
Saleem: Um, let's see. Proud. I don't think I actually felt proud today?
Saleem: The reason we decided to try this out in the first place was that producer Reva Goldberg was feeling conflicted about a widespread stereotype.
Reva (in studio): I know this stereotype is just total bullshit.
Saleem (in studio): The stereotype is the idea that women are inherently more emotional than men.
Reva (in studio): Obviously it’s harmful and false. And one of the ways it gets used is to dismiss what women have to say, as irrational, or as an overreaction, and to hold them back.
Saleem (in studio): So, you mention a complication…. What is it?
Reva (in studio): It’s Periods.
Saleem (in studio): Huh.
Reva (in studio): When I get my period, I can feel extra sad or irritable… And when that’s happening it’s almost like it’s some kind of biological evidence of this harmful stereotype.
Saleem (in studio): Yep.
Reva (in studio): Maybe the thing that bothers me most about it is that something that I'm expressing could be dismissed at any time because the person who's perceiving my behavior can throw out that card and say, “Oh, she's being emotional. Maybe she's on her period.”
Saleem (in studio): So it’s like there’s this idea that periods are a distinctly emotion-inducing event. Therefore women are more emotional than men.
Reva (in studio): Right.
Reva (in studio): Because this thing happens to you sometimes…you – all the time – are more emotional than someone who doesn't menstruate. But it sounds like science. And that's what makes me want to dig into it. Because I want the science to validate what my gut says, which is that there is not a single grain of truth to this.
Saleem (in studio): Knowing you and how you work a story. I am guessing you have done some intense research into this topic.
Reva (in studio): Well, I did recently come across some information that I found extremely satisfying and that I think is going to change some people's perspectives on all of this. So I was hoping we could do some experimenting with it on the show.
Saleem (in studio): Experimenting is what we do. Let’s go.
[continue theme music]
Saleem: Welcome to More Than A Feeling. I’m your host Saleem Reshamwala. Today, we have a multi-part episode for you that raises a lot of questions. About how we think about gender and emotions. And even what we actually mean when we use the word emotional to describe someone. It includes a pretty infuriating story that helps explain why women are accused of being emotional and how that came to be just accepted. Spoiler alert, it involves a bunch of men with hatchets trying to control a woman’s emotions. And her reaction was epic, y’all. Stick around.
Saleem: Welcome back to More Than A Feeling. I want to kick things off by just acknowledging how much this belief that women are more emotional than men seeps into our lives all the time.
Tom Hanks: Are you crying? Are you CRYING?!?!?!
Real Housewives: You guys are all embarrassing yourselves by being out of control.
Chris Rock: No matter what you do, your woman is mad at you. I’ve never met a happy woman in my life.
Sex and the City: What does he think I’m going to do? Get my period and ruin his empire? Yes!
Saleem: Maybe, subconsciously, something we hear that often can seem like it has some underlying truth. Especially if it sounds like it’s tied to biology or chemistry. But producer Reva Goldberg told me she came across some new research that helped put this into perspective.
I talked to the psychologist and data scientist behind that research. Her name is Adriene Beltz. She’s from the University of Michigan. And Adriene recently put the stereotype that women are more emotional than men to a scientific test. She told me that for a long time, doctors and scientists took it as a given that menstrual hormones made women more variable – emotionally and physiologically. Without really investigating it.
Adriene: We know that hormones influence emotion so that’s out there. But what’s not out there is this kind of assessment of highs and lows, the pattern of ups and downs. This variability.
Saleem: But a lot of researchers were so sure menstruation was this huge disruptor, that for a long time, they left women out of their studies entirely.
Adriene: You know, scientists wanted to look at how the manipulation of one thing had consequences for some sort of outcome. And there was this notion that you'd never be able to really see or understand that thing you manipulated because this menstrual cycle was obviously – is what the thinking was at the time – kind of muddying the psychological waters, so to speak. Um. We didn’t know anything about the psychology or biology of women. And yet women have a psychology and a biology and they were being treated in psychological and medical settings using information that may or may not apply to them. We didn’t know because they weren’t studied.
Saleem: That’s pretty wild. I mean research has all kinds of diversity problems. People of color, people with disabilities, and people of marginalized genders – they’re often poorly represented in research studies. But even knowing that, there's a part of my brain that's still somehow always shocked when I learn a new instance of ways that the people we trust to know how our brains and bodies work have made some kinda unfounded assumption. The Federal Government finally came out in the early 90s and said, “Okay, now you have to include women in clinical trials.” That's the 1990s! Still a lot of lost time to make up in the history of research.
So, for their recent study, Adriene and her colleagues recruited about 140 people, between the ages of 18 and 38. This group included people who indicated that they were male or female. And Adriene told us they were likely all Cisgender. The female participants were further split up by whether they were quote: “naturally cycling” or taking birth control pills. We won’t go into all the details here, but in short, these different groups of people allowed the researchers to see a couple major things: How the emotions of the cycling women compared to the emotions of the men. And how the particular birth control pills the women were on might impact emotions. From there, the researchers measured all these folks’ emotions using a survey with 20 feelings on it. Half positive, half negative.
Adriene: Scientifically we would say they're emotions of different valances. A positive valence or meaning, and a negative valence or meaning.
Saleem: Quick translation: emotions that have a positive valence are the ones that feel pleasant to us like….
Adriene: Interested, excited, strong, enthusiastic, proud…
Saleem: And negative valence – that’s unpleasant things like.
Adriene: Distressed, upset, guilty, scared…
Saleem: So every night, study participants got this survey by email for 75 days. And rated each emotion on a scale of 1 - 5. For how intensely they felt it that day.
Saleem: Apologies if I missed it, is there a name for the list of emotions you used?
Adriene: Yeah, cleverly, it’s the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The PANAS. PANAS for short.
Saleem: [laughs] Very catchy.
Saleem: And the researchers were just so curious what all this was going to tell them.
Adriene: When we set out to do this, we really didn't know what we were going to find. Because nothing like this had been done before. There aren't any intensive longitudinal data from women, using various forms of hormonal contraceptives. And so whatever we found in terms of gender or not, or hormone influences or not, whatever we found was going to be helpful for the inclusion of women. And, and for everyone, honestly, for everyone.
Saleem: Okay, so before we come back to Adriene’s findings…Our team here was very curious about what it would be like to be on the other end of this research. To be a study participant trying to quantify our feelings for science. And honestly I was curious what I might learn about myself if I did it. Like, how emotionally variable am I compared to other people? Do I go up and down more or less than my friends or my coworkers or my sister? Adriene and her team were down to let us find out. So we enlisted ten people to do a seven day version of the study. Now of course, this small group and time period is nothing like the real study.
Adriene: It's like a toy study, to see what it’s like to be in a study…
Saleem: Did you just use the phrase toy study?
Saleem: I love that phrase!
Saleem: But just because it wasn’t entirely scientific, didn’t mean it wouldn’t be interesting.
Saleem: Do you mind if I take this survey right now with you on the phone with me? Is that okay?
Adriene: Oh yeah. Totally.
[music; Saleem’s answers start to flow into one another in a waterfall effect]
Saleem: Okay. Here we go. So one through five on each of these…How did you feel today? So - interested. Today's been a great day for interest. So my interest is a five…Distressed. I’m just going to put moderately…Upset. I don't actually think I've been upset today.
Adriene: Do you want to trade days? Man!!!
Saleem: Strong - uhhh I worked out…Proud…Irritable? I did wake up feeling…Nervous, yeah. Inspired, Jittery, Determined, Attentive. Active. Afraid, I'll say I felt moderately afraid. Oh, that's it. I completed the survey…
Saleem: So the toy study kicks off.
[start new music]
Saleem: Now some friends, family, and colleagues from Ten Percent Happier are trying to track their daily feelings, too.
[voices taking the survey edited in a montage/waterfall effect]
Dan: Ok. Taking the survey, here.
Yasmeen: Taking the survey.
Jay: Here’s Jay, taking the survey.
Dan: On a scale of one to five…
Marissa: One to five…
Yasmeen: One to five…
Justine: One being none or barely any…
Kim: Five being extremely…
Justine: How much did you experience…
Kim: Each emotion…
Dan: In the past…
Kim, Dan, Justine: 24 hours?
Saleem: All of us are out there feeling stuff, trying to reflect on it, putting a number on it.
[montage of voices continue]
Justine: I’m going with a two.
Dan: Put that around, uh, one.
Marissa: Two? I’ll do three…
[voices continue under Saleem then fade out]
Saleem: So while this is all going on, I decide to check-in with a couple friends about what it’s like for them. If you heard last week’s episode, you probably remember my friend John Laww, who I’m always dragging into my projects. He came by my backyard one night to debrief.
John: Hmm. Uh, well. It gives me a chance to kind of reflect about the day, which is really, I find, really cool. I don't do that, you know. At the end of the day I don’t just sit there and really think about how I've been feeling that whole day. So I would, I would actually suggest folks to do this more because, you know, it just gives you time to yourself for at least two minutes of the day, to be like, “Oh, this is kind of what I've been feeling for that day.” So, it was good! It was good to really, you know, just sit down with myself and just reflect on the day. So…
Saleem: I had a similar experience in that I also thought it was — more made me feel more introspective about my day. Like it forces you to review your day. Like maybe I was irritable with the kids or, you know, maybe I was proud of them or, you know?
Saleem: That was cool to hear from Laww. It was only a two minute survey, but it was kinda like suddenly starting a new mindfulness ritual.
[voices taking the survey edited in a montage/waterfall effect]
Kim: I get nervous a lot, but I haven’t been. So, yay. That’s a one.
Kimmie: This one feels like an intrusive thought or something.
Mark: Determined is…(inhales breath)...three. Attentive…
[voices continue under Saleem then fade out]
Saleem: My friend Mailande Moran was maybe slightly more stressed by the project when I met her in the park…
Mailande: One day I waited too long and it was like, you've been locked out of the survey and I was like, “Oh no!” Anyway, let's see. Overall, as an adult, I've been trying to get better at noticing, recognizing, and naming my emotions so that I can figure out where they came from or like deal with them in a healthy way or like just become more aware of how I'm responding to different things. And so it's, it's kind of the opposite being of like, “Hey, here is an idea and a word, did you feel this?” It’s like a different direction of inquiry than I've been practicing. I think like, you know, the experience and this whole conversation, I think just speaks to like how difficult it is to wrap language around feelings sometimes, you know?
Saleem: What Mailande just said…how tricky it can be to try to wrap language around feelings…It’s a great point. Our internal worlds can still feel pretty mysterious, even when we’re using a scientific method to measure them.
Toni: Oof. Ouch. This is painful.
Saleem: Coming up after the break – we look back at a time when the people who considered themselves the biggest experts on our emotions were using some very unscientific methods to do their jobs. And if you’re still thinking that the perception that “women are more emotional than men” sounds like it could be rooted in biology, let’s see how you feel once we add that history piece into the mix. This story is a doozy y'all. Some people might say it's infuriating.
Saleem: Okay so we’ve been talking about how a lot of doctors and scientists have just accepted it as a given…that women’s biology makes them more emotional than men. And that this assumption has a long history. Now we’re going to take a close look at a very revealing moment in that history. So, producer Reva Goldberg is back to help us with that piece.
Saleem (in studio): Hey, Reva.
Reva (in studio): Hello again! So this story comes from an incredibly talented nonfiction author who’s actually a little shy when it comes to talking about herself.
Kate Moore: My name is Kate Moore. I'm the type of person who doesn't really, you know, I say, hi, I'm Kate. Tell me about you…
Reva (in studio): But she’s not shy when it comes to talking about her work.
Kate Moore: I write about inspiring women who embark on incredible fights against injustice and live to tell the tale afterwards.
Reva (in studio): Kate had a really bad cold when we talked. But she was still kind enough to get on a video call from the UK and tell me about her latest book: The Woman They Could Not Silence. In the book, it’s 1860 and a woman named Elizabeth Packard is living with her husband, Theophilus Packard.
Saleem (in studio): That is a fantastic 19th century name.
Reva (in studio): True. And I actually I think I’m going to call him Theo from here because I do not want to give this person any more air time than is absolutely necessary. And you’re gonna see why soon. Anyway, they have 6 children. They live in Manteno, Illinois. And Elizabeth and Theo are apparently just a phenomenally bad match for each other.
Kate Moore: You know, you could not get two more different people, really. You know, there's a fifteen year age gap between them. So really they were from different generations.
Reva (in studio): And age difference is kind of just the least of it. On the one hand, you have Elizabeth. She’s resourceful, charming, talented. She became the principal of a school at like age 19. But then…
Kate Moore: She's given up a first-class teaching career in order to marry Theophilus. And she has been a dedicated housewife and mother for the past 21 years. People describe her irresistible magnetism. She would always find herself at the center of a circle of friends. She would inspire other people. You know, just one of those people to whom, you know, everything she touches turns to gold.
But Theophilus, yeah. I mean I've read his diary and it was a summer of my life that I will never get back. He, himself, says he's dull. He is dull. He's a preacher. But he has no talent for that. He is sort of timid about public speaking.
Saleem (in studio): That is the most brutal diary review. [Reva laughs] I’m never showing anyone my diary. Continue.
Reva (in studio): And not only was Theo dull, he was really bossy.
Kate Moore: And there's a very telling quote that he said to Elizabeth – Sorry, let me just find it – Oh, yeah. – “You have a right to your opinions as long as you think right.” And I think that says it all really.
Reva (in studio): Both of them were deeply religious but they saw God in very different ways, too, and that was maybe the biggest wedge between the two of them.
Kate Moore: God for Elizabeth was love. God was about forgiveness. It was about seeing the best in people. Whereas Theophilus is more about punishment. it’s a very angry God that he worshiped.
Saleem (in studio): This dude does not sound fun.
Reva (in studio): No! He sounds like a miserable person. So after they’ve been together for two decades, this couple is kind of about to implode. And Kate told me that Elizabeth was really inspired by a radical wave of women’s activism that had been spreading across the country for the past decade or so, demanding rights for women. And these ideas reached Elizabeth and she decides she’s going to start doing her own thing.
Kate Moore: She would read and learn and challenge both herself and her husband. For decades beforehand, she had been the quiet obedient wife that he had always wanted. And so Theophilus is completely undermined by her as she starts pushing back. And ultimately she chooses to leave her husband's church. A very public rejection of her husband.
Reva (in studio): And Elizabeth doesn’t know this at the time, but she had also become a problem for her husband in another way. The U.S. is on the brink of a civil war. And even though Theo had been preaching pro-abolition to his congregation, he started to get money from a pro-slavery benefactor who wants him to stop that doing that. Which apparently Theo is fine with, but Elizabeth is not…
Kate Moore: And so his wife then voicing these pro abolition principles was part of the final nail in the coffin, cause he himself was deeply in debt, which his wife didn't know about. So financially he just couldn't afford for that to happen either.
Saleem (in studio): Okay, so lots of drama between these two. Strong sense of foreboding.
Reva (in studio): Yeah, and then things get really scary from here, actually. Because Theo starts to threaten Elizabeth that if she doesn’t fall in line, he's gonna have her committed to the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane.
Saleem (in studio): Which is obviously not what that hospital would be called if it was still open today.
Reva (in studio): Right. Today we would not use the term insane, and it’s going to come up again in this story because it was in use at the time a lot. And you’re also going to hear the word mad, or madness.
Reva (in studio): Okay so getting back to the story. Suddenly one day, Theo’s threat became very real.
Kate Moore: She is dressing for the morning as she sees her husband approaching the house with four men and a lumber wagon sort of, you know, parked up outside the house and she realizes, this is the moment. So she locks the doors.
Reva (in studio): But these men are carrying hatchets, so no wooden door is going to stop them from barging in on her..
Kate Moore: The men hack their way into her bedroom to cart her off to the insane asylum.
Saleem (in studio): They hacked their way into her room with hatchets.
Reva (in studio): Mm-hmm.
Saleem (in studio): I can’t imagine how I’d react to that.
Reva (in studio): Yeah. It’s basically a scene from a horror movie. But this is also where we start to get a sense of what this woman Elizabeth is really capable of.
Kate Moore: Elizabeth reacts in the most extraordinary way. Everything that you would expect her to feel, she is feeling - rage and grief. But it's bricked up behind this fortress of self composure because she is calm. [music changes] She doesn't scream. She will not physically rail against her husband, because she realizes instantly that to do so will give him ammunition that she is mad.
Reva (in studio): And Elizabeth just folds her hands in her lap. And she refuses to walk out of the room. And these men surround her and pick her up and they carry her out of her house. And the composure she’s able to show here is even more incredible if you think about who she’s leaving behind. She’s the mother of six children. Five of them are still small enough to still be at home. One is an 18 month old baby. And just as Theophilus promised, Elizabeth is admitted to the asylum over 200 miles away from home.
Kate Moore: It's a hot summer's night in June 1860. Elizabeth is on her own for the first time in decades. She is sitting on a hard settee bed in a small private room on Seventh Ward. And as she lies there, all she can hear through the barred windows are the cries of the other supposed mad women who were also residing within the Illinois State Hospital.
Saleem (in studio): So how is Theo even getting away with any of this?
Reva (in studio): It’s, disturbingly, very very easy.
Kate Moore: Married women at that time had literally no sense of identity, legally. No right to the custody of her children, to property, even to her liberty.
Reva (in studio): And if that wasn't enough to leave Elizabeth completely at the whim of her husband.
Kate Moore: The legal statutes of Illinois at that time said a husband could send his wife to an asylum by request. Men had a court trial uh, before a jury. But Elizabeth is not afforded a fair trial because she's a married woman. She can just be dispatched as swiftly as we've been describing.
Saleem (in studio): Wow.
Kate Moore: It's outraging really isn't it. It's outraging and enraging.
Reva (in studio): So back to Elizabeth in that room all alone. She’s grieving. She’s angry. And then she meets the man who’s going to be responsible for deciding if and when she’s ever going to get out of there. And at first there’s actually a glimmer of hope because it seems like he might be on her side.
Kate Moore: So Dr. Andrew McFarland is the doctor who holds Elizabeth’s fate in his hands. He's about six months younger than her. He's a handsome man. He's got a bald pâté, and a goatee beard. And he is a man who listens to her. And this is extraordinary. You know, she's never had a man who has listened to her before. What happens initially is that Elizabeth believes she can convince McFarland of her sanity. If she is just herself. If she is logical, if she is calm, if she converses intellectually with him, he will let her go.
Reva (in studio): And Dr. McFarland seems like he’s pretty impressed with Elizabeth, too.
Kate Moore: McFarland himself waxes lyrical about how intelligent she is. About how, you know, she has this rare command of language. He's completely fascinated by her. But of course he proves to be just as duplicitous and as dangerous as her husband, if not more so.
Saleem (in studio): This tale is so full of twists.
Reva (in studio): Yeah, and this man definitely cannot be trusted. Because from the point of view of an 1860s psychiatrist, pretty much anything a woman could feel or do was worthy of a diagnosis.
Kate Moore: To be honest, it's quite a long list. The received medical wisdom of the age was that an assertive woman was insane. Anything beyond that ideal of a silent, docile smiling woman. Educated women who studied or even simply read were seen at risk of going mad. But simply the possession of a female body meant that doctors thought you were mad. This is a medicalization of female behavior. Women's menstrual cycles were noted on their admittance forms. This is a theory that has stretched back absolutely centuries, that women are more likely to go mad, that that's because of their female bodies…
Reva (in studio): Like Kate said, this “medicalization” of women was not something new. It went back as far as ancient Egypt and Greece, and back then it was the going theory that women’s reproductive anatomy was the source of all kinds of physical, emotional, and spiritual problems. Like the uterus could come loose, and go roaming around inside a woman’s body.
Very conveniently for the men who came up with these theories, it appeared to validate how society was organized. If women were so vulnerable to losing control all the time, then men were of course in their rightful place, in charge of everything. And that idea stuck around for a very very long time. A condition called hysteria – from the Greek word hystera for uterus – was still around as a psychiatric diagnosis until about 1980.
During Elizabeth’s time, what was kind of new was an emphasis on the brain and nervous system as the source of emotional and behavioral problems. And there was a new field of experts called psychiatrists who sprang up to diagnose these problems. But honestly they weren’t much more informed about mental health than the ancient Egyptians and Greeks had been.
Kate Moore: In the 1860s, psychiatry was really just beginning to find its professional feet. And so the doctors who at that time had no formal training in psychiatry, they were learning on the job. But they were so keen to assert their professional authority they wanted to say, “We are the experts. We know best.”
Reva (in studio): The field of psychiatry had been spreading across Europe and the U.S. And so had asylums like the one in Illinois. And psychiatrists were basically enshrining their worldview – as white, middle class Protestant, men into professional mental health care. They excluded people of color from asylums almost entirely. And used their power as doctors to enforce both white supremacist beliefs, and strict gender roles. They even had a special diagnosis called “moral insanity” for any white woman who was not perfectly submissive, or any white man who seemed like he was too emotional. And they saw no need to question any of this. Men like Dr. Andrew McFarland, Elizabeth’s psychiatrist, had all the credentials that were required in their field.
Kate Moore: As he put it, he became an “enthusiast.”
Reva (in studio): And this guy didn’t just run the Illinois State Hospital. He was president of a national association of asylum superintendents. These were men that he called:
Kate Moore: The best men that society can produce.
Reva (in studio): And Kate told me these men would have their meetings in fancy hotels and they would compare notes.
Kate Moore: So many superintendents talked about the way they would use chloroform or ether to control boisterous women. They talked about how women would be put in straitjackets far more often than the male patients in order to control them.
Saleem (in studio): All that definitely makes you wonder who in the story it is that really isn’t living in reality.
Reva (in studio): Yeah, these men are full of contradictions. Like McFarland. He’s so proud of his own intelligence. But this is what he wrote about smart women:
Kate Moore: When minds have limited capacity to comprehend subjects try to do so, that ultimately leads to mental breakdown.
Saleem(in studio): So McFarland wouldn’t see a woman pursuing something intellectual and think hey, a really smart woman! Maybe I’m wrong about what women can do?” Instead, he might think, “That’s dangerous. That might break her brain.”
Reva (in studio): Yeah and Elizabeth didn’t realize that she was making things worse for herself when she told him something that of course she thought was perfectly rational, which was that she hated her husband.
Kate Moore: That is the evidence that he saw for her madness. The fact that she hated the husband who had sent her away to be locked up in an insane asylum. I don't think there is anything she could have done to convince him otherwise. For him, that was madness when a woman's love is turned into hate.
Reva (in studio): And the one thing she maybe could have done to get out, was the one thing she was not willing to do.
Kate Moore: Essentially, it's her sense of self that she will not give up. And she wants an apology from her husband and she's happy to return to him actually, which surprises many people, but she says she would go back to him as long as she can be herself as well.
Reva (in studio): But Elizabeth is starting to realize none of this is ever gonna happen. So she starts to put up a fight. She writes down all her concerns – that she’s been wrongly diagnosed, that the staff are cruel – and she confronts McFarland with all of it.
Kate Moore: She talks about how her pen shall rage. And that is how she comes to express herself, is on paper.
Reva (in studio): And this is where Elizabeth gets to see who this Dr. McFarland person really is. Because he comes to find her, he grabs her by the arm, and he leads her to a different ward...
Kate Moore: And here there is degradation. There is filth. There are literally puddles of urine on the floor. There are women howling and shrieking, genuinely mentally ill people. People who have such an awful environment that they have given up.
Reva (in studio): But if the doctor thought that any of this would break Elizabeth, he was very, very wrong.
Kate Moore: Elizabeth writes that in her case, “This woman crushing machinery works the wrong way.” That “women are made to fly and soar, not to creep and crawl as the haters of our sex want us to.”
Reva (in studio): And I realize it’s probably hard to imagine this from where we’re leaving off right now, but Elizabeth’s story takes a lot more twists and turns.
Kate Moore: She does ultimately manage to get out of the asylum. And she's been so changed by her experiences there, that it's not for her to go back to that quiet life that she led before. Elizabeth embarks on a landmark legal fight for justice. She has a trial where they're assessing her sanity, this married woman who is not supposed to be granted a trial.
Saleem (in studio): Okay, so she goes to trial. Does she win it?
Reva (in studio): Actually she does win. And that’s not all.
Kate Moore: She became a published author. She didn't find a publisher to take her on. No publisher would touch her. She incredibly, ahead of her time, crowdfunded that publication. She essentially went door to door, pitching herself to people. And she convinced thousands of people to invest in her.
Reva (in studio): And she doesn’t just publish her story. She becomes an activist fighting for women who have been wrongly accused of insanity. And for women who are suffering from mental illness or disability and are being neglected and abused. She also fights for the kind of policy change that would have stopped her husband from being able to send her away in the first place.
Kate Moore: Her world expands and expands until she's traveling from coast to coast and changing laws and campaigning politically. And people found it impossible to ignore her. And Elizabeth does effect a change that improves the lives of millions.
Saleem: Elizabeth Packard’s journey to freedom and then victory was clearly extraordinary. And it’s wild to remember that her story is just one data point, among so many others who suffered similar situations. All because some so-called experts used their positions to control people, rather than finding ways to help them. I spoke to a therapist named Araya Baker…
Araya: I am Araya Baker. I am a writer, a therapist and a researcher…
Saleem: And he told me about some other times when rebellious women were accused of insanity. Like when they wanted to enter the professional workforce. And he also mentioned something that happened during the civil rights movement….
Araya: There's actually a really good book that I would recommend called “[The] Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease” and it details how one particular psychiatric hospital interpreted activists’ stances about white supremacy being a reality. They interpreted that as delusional, as psychotic. The psychiatry field has weaponized similar stereotypes against queer people. Quote unquote “homosexuality” was likened to pedophilia and emotional disturbance.
Saleem: Today the mental health field is a lot more expansive. There are all kinds of therapies and different professional fields. And it feels like a lot has improved.
Araya: I am a huge mental health advocate and I am all for people getting the help that they need. There are people whose lives have been saved by being diagnosed and like having this label that finally speaks to the reality of what they're experiencing. And they're like “The relief I felt…” And then like, “I have a language to describe it.”
Saleem: The name, yeah. Hear the name, yeah.
Araya: It just gives people so much hope.
Saleem: Given everything we’ve talked about in this episode, I asked Araya how the field can keep improving and avoid the mistakes of the past.
Araya: I think these systems and institutions have to be open to being re-evaluated over time. In particular being critiqued by folks who are on the margins. We have to look back on our history and really take seriously some of the harm that our field has caused. And how the onus is on us now to repair that mistrust.
Saleem: What are some of the safeguards or techniques that can help keep people from pathologizing what shouldn't be pathologized?
Araya: I think what comes to mind immediately is just cultural humility. This idea that we are not experts on other people's reality, their cultural socialization, or upbringing. And that we have things to learn, versus like telling and preaching as if we have all the answers. You can't tell people who they are. I think the counseling field in particular has done a pretty good job of redefining counseling as being collaborative and egalitarian and this very mutual journey of self-discovery.
Saleem: One of the things Araya has observed as a counselor himself – is how much gendered stereotypes about emotion can be embedded in our families and cultures, too.
Araya: What first comes to mind for most people is the stereotype of women being seen as weak, as helpless, as needy. When you see women defy that stereotype, there's a price for that. In the workplace, for example, women who are assertive are often labeled angry and aggressive. And I've seen black women struggle with self-advocacy around promotion, compensation in the workplace. Because there's already this expectation that black people in general are going to be assertive and aggressive.
I've also seen instances where queer and trans folks stand up for themselves and stand up for their communities and it gets distorted and it gets mislabeled as aggression and… So, it's not just this idea that all men are in control. It's that specifically cis-hetero men are most in control and most rational.
Saleem: So often people think of bias hurting the person with less power, as like a really clear thing, right? I'm curious if you could flesh out a bit, how bias can hurt the person who possesses that bias?
Araya: I think patriarchy undermines the emotional development of men, and stunts that emotional development. And that has implications for areas of life that men don’t necessarily value as much. So like social relationships, parenting, romantic relationships, career. Leadership development is very much tied to emotional intelligence.
Saleem: The thing that immediately came to my mind. Just thinking about my own life is sports. Being injured and being told to power through it, walk it off. It's kinda interesting thinking about that physical metaphor for what might also be happening emotionally.
Araya: Mmhmm. Definitely. Phrases like “man up,” “be a man,” are used to condition men to really disassociate from our bodies. And our bodies hold so much emotional intelligence and if we're not tuned into that, what does that mean for direction of our lives? I think internalized patriarchy prevents men from seeking help. Men feel weak for not being in control, for not having the answers, for not being able to power through. For men, there are higher rates of substance use. Men also attempt suicide and complete suicide at higher rates.
Saleem: What's it like when you talk to other men about this, how do folks react?
Araya: Almost always everyone in the room has felt seen and understood for the very first time. As if that's like the first space in which they've ever felt comfortable divulging the pressure to really avoid being seen as weak at all costs. It really transcends ethnicity, race, religion, class. I mean, it's – it's all men. [laughs] And, um, that was a huge awakening for me, just seeing how powerful gender socialization is, and the power that we associate with someone’s sex or assigned sex at birth.
Saleem: You have so much practice through your training, through your experience, through being a therapist, I was curious what your advice would be for someone who hasn't gone through the process of gaining this toolbox.
Araya: Yeah. A first step that I always recommend to anyone is just to pay attention to what's going on in your body. Listen to your heartbeat. Pay attention to your breathing. Especially when you're about to make big decisions, that's a time when you need to tune into your intuition. All of that is a part of emotional intelligence. And I think once you develop your own personal practice of doing that, you start putting things together like, you know, I feel a lot of pressure to conform, to expectations that - actually, that's not who I am. For men and boys I often have to start with anger. That is generally the most relatable emotion that men can identify with. Like, “Oh yeah, I can off the bat think of an instance where I was enraged.”
Saleem: It’s so striking that you bring up that so many men go straight to anger when they’re asked to think of an emotion. Where do you go from there?
Araya: I think it's a huge wake up call for most boys and men to realize that anger is an emotion. And I think anger aligns so well with what we conceive of as masculine power and control. A lot of times, men feel like, they have to be angered. They have to evoke some level of fear to get respect. And so it doesn't really register as an emotion until you mention how, in many situations where men are extremely enraged, they lose control and suddenly become totally irrational. And so the hypocrisy becomes extremely apparent between looking at a woman crying and stereotyping that as the extreme of irrationality when – when most people are sad and they're crying and they're overwhelmed, they're going to cry until they're exhausted and like shut down. When someone is enraged, the potential consequences are infinite.
Saleem: Thank you so much for your time and diving in so deep. This has been great.
Araya: Thank you…
Reva (in studio): Saleem.
Saleem (in studio): What’s up, Reva?
Reva (in studio): That conversation with Araya Baker was just so intense and insightful. And I’m just wondering what’s going through your head after that?
Saleem (in studio): It’s that constant challenge of understanding that you’ve been socialized a certain way. But knowing that just having the factual knowledge doesn’t magically fix you. Um and I certainly wouldn’t claim to have overcome what society has put inside a lot of us. I can speak to what I think is helpful. I do think that the folks you spend your time with have a huge effect on you. It’s really about witnessing men calmly, thoughtfully point out something that’s wrong, but leave space for the other person to change. That’s huge. And if you can find folks who seem to be kind of breaking some of these molds, spending time with them…it’s certainly helped me.
Reva (in studio): Honestly, Saleem. I think that's good advice for anybody. I think the more you can be around people that you can process things with, kind of away from prescribed roles or ideas of how you're supposed to feel and who you're supposed to be…the more you can do that, the better, you know?
Saleem (in studio): For sure.
Reva (in studio): Before we go, should we hear the results from the big emotion study that Adriene did?
Saleem (in studio): Let’s do it.
Saleem: Here’s what Adriene Beltz and her colleagues found out about who’s more emotional than who…
Adriene: The results themselves were just so clear. Um, we looked at men, we looked at women, we looked at positive emotion, we looked at negative emotion and we characterized emotion variability in three different ways. And none of those things change the gist of the findings, which was that men and women had similar emotional variation. And we found that women using oral contraceptives didn't differ from naturally cycling women. Hormones don’t make those ups and downs so great that they overshadow the reasons that emotions go up and down due to other experiences.
Saleem: So you're not necessarily saying that hormones don't matter, but instead that the common perception of how much they matter might be hugely disproportionate.
Adriene: Yeah. Men and women are more similar than they are different. We all have emotional ups and downs for a variety of reasons. Hormones are part of our daily lives, where we also have relationships and watch sad movies and have stress at work and have all of these other things that also influence our emotions a great deal. Basically our takeaway was that we're all on an emotional roller coaster, but that's part of the human experience.
Saleem: I just had one more question, and it’s admittedly way less scientific. It’s about the toy study my friends and I did. I wanted to know if Adriene learned anything about our emotions.
Adriene: In our toy study, your group of friends was at about the mean, close to three, for positive emotion. And the negative emotions, they were lower. They were actually a little bit below 2. So folks were feeling colloquially more positive than more negative.
Saleem: At the risk of sounding egotistical. I feel like I just have to ask…
Adriene: How did you compare?
Saleem: Yeah. Yeah…that’s kinda what we all want to…
Adriene: Isn't that what we all want to know? We all think we're not average.
Saleem: Yeah. Are we normal? Yeah, yeah.
Adriene: You were more positive than most.
Adriene: A little bit.
Saleem: A little bit.
Adriene: And you were a little bit less negative. You also went up and down less. Your variation was less. So, If I may make a joke, perhaps you're emotionally boring.
Saleem: [laughing] I'll take emotionally boring. I love it. Not an amazing Tinder profile perhaps, but I'm not at that stage of my life…
Saleem: Thanks, y’all. This is your emotionally boring host [Reva laughs], Saleem Reshamwala, signing off. Oh! Here’s your credits.
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By the way, if our show has you thinking about doing more to tune in to your own emotions, here’s something that might help you do that. This show is part of the Ten Percent Happier podcast network. And the Ten Percent Happier app has an entire course about how to understand your own emotional landscape with meditation teacher Oren Jay Sofer. Because you listen to More Than A Feeling, you can try this app for free for thirty days. Visit tenpercent.com/more (that's ten percent, all spelled out, dot com slash M-O-R-E) or go to the link in our show notes.
And you can always get in touch with us about an emotion you’ve been grappling with by sending us a voice memo at firstname.lastname@example.org. You gotta spell out T-E-N percent. Who knows, you might end up hearing yourself on a future episode. We’re also on Twitter at “pod feelings” – P-O-D-F-E-E-L-I-N-G-S. If you like what you heard in this episode, let us know by giving us those five stars on Apple Podcasts. It helps other people find the show.
More Than A Feeling is produced by Reva Goldberg, Mark Pagán, Will Coley, Palace Shaw, and Kim Buikema. Our managing producer is Kimmie Regler. Our executive producer is Jen Poyant. Scoring, mixing, and sound design provided by Ultraviolet Audio. Production support for this episode was provided by Connor Donohue. Our theme music was composed by El Michels Affair. Thank you to Danny at Big Crown Records. Additional music provided by APM. Music licensing help by Rebecca Grierson of SixtyFour Music. Fact checking for this episode provided by Robin Palmer.
Special thanks to Adriene’s co-authors Alexander Weigard and Amy M. Loviska. And to Jenny Zhang and Dominic Kelley for their help with the toy study. Thanks as well to Carla Bittel, Cassius Addair, Jess Goldberg, Ben Rubin, Dan Harris, Matthew Hepburn, and Toni Magyar. And our folks who you heard taking the emotion survey: Dan Harris, Yasmeen Khan, Marissa Schneiderman, Justine Davie, Kimmie Regler, Will Coley, Jay Michaelson, Mark Pagán, Toni Magyar, Kim Buikema.
I’m Saleem Reshamwala, and I can no longer tell you how I’m feeling without taking a 20-point questionnaire.
Adriene: You had three emotions that had the lowest variation
Saleem: Oh wow. What were they?
Adriene: Strong, jittery, and ashamed.
Saleem: Low on shame? That makes sense, I’m mainly wandering around my own house alone. [laughs] Like, there’s no one to be ashamed in front of for most of the day.
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