The hidden impact: How patriarchy’s emotional policing shapes our lives

Four emoticon balls portraying sadness, happiness, anger, and worry.
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay.

When I was a child my parents and teachers would label my emotions and try to regulate them. That’s what we all do with children when we tell them

“You shouldn’t be angry because you lost your book.”

“You should be happy because got a new backpack for school.”

“You look surprised when you opened the gift”.

Emotions are learned and they are not universal, as the neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett explains in her book 7 ½ Lessons about the brain.

Emotions and women

The problem is that half a century later I realised that people and society are still trying to regulate my emotions and label them.

As an example, recently, during a conversation with a male acquaintance and after disagreeing with his proposed solution to a problem, he told me that I was frustrated. I replied to him that I wasn’t frustrated, I simply had another opinion. He insisted with an “Oh, yes, you are frustrated, you are” to which I replied that he didn’t have any special powers to determine my emotions better than I did. An award silence followed…

So what emotions society “allows” me? Some of the emotions that are permitted and encouraged as a woman are modesty, empathy, solidarity, and love (maternal and romantic). Not because society cares about my well-being but because that’s expected to make others feel good.

Also, society is keen on me feeling guilt and shame so I can be sold diets, cosmetic surgery, makeup, etc.

What about the emotions that society determines that are “not ok” for me to feel? Some are rage, frustration, empowerment, pride, lust, and pleasure.

There are also feelings that we have collectively labeled as “feminine” such as intuition, which is despised because somehow we give it a magical quality and correlate it with bad choices. 

But is that true? Let’s check its definition in the dictionary 

“Intuition: An ability to understand or know something without needing to think about it or use reason to discover it, or a feeling that shows this ability.”

I’d argue that, based on that definition, all religious beliefs are intuitions. Where is the selfie of Moses with the burning bush? Or that picture showing Eve giving the apple to Adam?

Although finally intuition is getting traction in business, note that has been repackaged as a bridge between our emotions and intellect to make it palatable. From a Forbes article

“Intuition is unique in that it bridges the emotional reaction of instinct with the intellectual response of analysis. In other words, it combines feeling with thinking. It is balanced.

More specifically, intuition is built on our past experience, which is the richest source of wisdom.“

I feel now so much better about my intuition now that’s been mansplained to me!

And I’m not the only one whose emotions are policed.

For example, Black women are stereotyped as “angry”, Asians are “cold”, and elders as “cranky”.

In summary, “having” emotions is judged to be undesirable. And if you don’t believe me, please share an example when calling somebody “emotional” was said as praise.

Emotions and men

What about men? Their emotions are also policed.

If emotions are not seen as an innate or advantageous “feature”, the patriarchal rule mandates that men should downplay and stifle their emotions, although exceptions are made for lust, pride, and overconfidence.

The result? Men leading on the scoreboard of death by suicide and mental and physical violence.

But are emotions as undesirable as patriarchy wants us to believe?

What emotions really are

Actually, being emotional is an inherent quality of being human and having a brain.

In this insightful 9-min video, Dr. Feldman Barrett debunks the myth that “when the rational part of your brain wins you’re a moral, healthy person and when the emotional side of your brain wins, then you’re either immoral — because you didn’t try hard enough — or you’re mentally ill because you couldn’t control your emotions”.

She shares that emotions are the stories that your brain tells itself about what is going on inside your body in relation to what’s happening in the world.

Moreover, she explains that emotions “are primarily based on past experiences and the brain’s predictions of future events. This means that emotions aren’t merely reactions thrust upon us, but something we actively participate in creating. Barrett further posits that we can alter our brain’s predictive patterns by diversifying our experiences such as learning new things, watching films, or engaging in activities like acting that deviate from our routine. By doing this, we can shape the architecture of our future selves.”

Personally, I find it empowering to know that I’m the architect of my experience and that emotions are an asset to master rather than the handicap that patriarchy wants us to believe.

BACK TO YOU: Now that you know emotions are not something to be ashamed of — like patriarchy wanted us to believe — what will you do differently?


If you are ready to stop “feelings” happening to you and start using your emotions to achieve what you want on your own terms, book a strategy session with me to explore how coaching can help you to become your version of success.

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