Trust and Women’s Feelings

Damon Young has written an incredibly honest editorial at Huffington Post about trust and men’s perception of women’s emotions. He writes:

Generally speaking, we (men) do not believe things when they’re told to us by women. Well, women other than our mothers or teachers or any other woman who happens to be an established authority figure. Do we think women are pathological liars? No. But, does it generally take longer for us to believe something if a woman tells it to us than it would if a man told us the exact same thing? Definitely!

This conversation is how, after five months of marriage, eight months of being engaged, and another year of whatever the hell we were doing before we got engaged, I realized I don’t trust my wife.

When the concept of trust is brought up, it’s usually framed in the context of actions; of what we think a person is capable of doing. If you trust someone, it means you trust them not to cheat. Or steal. Or lie. Or smother you in your sleep. By this measure, I definitely trust my wife. I trust the shit out of her. I also trust her opinions about important things. I trusted that she’d make a great wife, and a trust that she’ll be a great mother. And I trust that her manicotti won’t kill me.

But you know what I don’t really trust? What I’ve never actually trusted with any women I’ve been with? Her feelings.

Young argues that this basic kind of discounting – the same kind of phenomenon Miranda Fricker writes about in her discussion of testimonial injustice – is so insidious in part because it’s considered an accepted, almost laughable part of normal social interactions:

Basically, women are crazy, and we are not. Although many women seem to be very annoyed by it, it’s generally depicted as one of those cute and innocuous differences between the sexes.

And perhaps it would be, if it were limited to feelings about the dishes or taking out the garbage. But, this distrust can be pervasive, spreading to a general skepticism about the truthfulness of their own accounts of their own experiences. If women’s feelings aren’t really to be trusted, then naturally their recollections of certain things that have happened to them aren’t really to be trusted either.

This is part of the reason why it took an entire high school football team full of women for some of us to finally just consider that Bill Cosby might not be Cliff Huxtable. It’s how, despite hearing complaints about it from girlfriends, homegirls, cousins, wives, and classmates, so many of us refused to believe how serious street harassment can be until we saw it with our own eyes. It’s why we needed to see actual video evidence before believing the things women had been saying for years about R. Kelly.

He then points out that this type of distrust – a distrust that’s especially geared toward emotional reactions or feelings of anger, betrayal, and hurt – isn’t just something that crops up between men and women:

There’s an obvious parallel here with the way (many) men typically regard women’s feelings and the way (many) Whites typically regard the feelings of non-Whites. It seems like every other day I’m reading about a new poll or study showing that (many) Whites don’t believe anything Black people say about anything race/racism-related until they see it with their own eyes. Personal accounts and expressions of feelings are rationalized away; only “facts” that have been carefully vetted and verified by other Whites and certain “acceptable” Blacks are to be believed.

4 thoughts on “Trust and Women’s Feelings

  1. Do men generally distrust women?

    I trust women more than men. My best and most trusted friends are generally my women partners and now my ex-partner. My psychotherapist, the person who listened to and tried to sort out my deepest fears, was female. That was a relation of very deep trust on my part.

    My dentist is a woman as are all my doctors except the urologist. My father, who came from a pre-femiist generation and whom, I admit, I trusted more than I did my mother, once advised me to prefer women doctors, they being just as smart as men and more caring, in his opinion.

    Women generally, in my experience, are more in touch with their feelings than men and thus, know themselves a bit more than men do and hence, I trust their sense of reality more, once again, in general.

    Now I tend to distrust organized groups and their discourse and so at times I’m skeptical of what feminist organizations say, but I distrust anti-feminists ten times more.

    Maybe I’m atypical of what men believe, but my male friends all have women friends (as I do too), appear to trust them and above all, form trusting relationships with their partners.

  2. Reblogged this on Vicki Clough Curates and commented:
    Posting this here, as I have yet to start the cultural criticism blog I have mentioned previously. This topic interests me greatly, especially since it is something I have experienced in my own life over the years and most notably while in grad school.
    A couple of days ago I was having a conversation with a female colleague about certain fellow male academic’s attitude towards us and we both came to the conclusion that he had never showed any respect for us as peers. As this article mentions, it’s not a conscious decision to distrust the female experience and I certainly think this holds true in my own situation as he appears to like both my friend and I as people, is outwardly friendly and is even a feminist advocate (among other causes). But this discounting of our ability to communicate and the distrust shown for the things we say and do hold the tremendous power to completely obliterate relationships that could have been quite wonderful otherwise. When you know that the things that you say to someone are treated with internal disdain and skepticism, even when you are expressing encouragement and your wholehearted belief in someone’s ability to succeed, it has an extremely negative impact on the foundations of that relationship, whatever the context.
    Feminism needs male allies, just as people of colour and those outside of gender normativity do (and I am in no way suggesting that these are mutually exclusive causes or terms), but this can’t truly be achieved without a measure of self-reflexivity on the part of those who claim to be allies. I believe that, for marginalized people to feel trust for those allies, they need to feel trust in return.
    I don’t have a solution, but it’s a conversation I’m willing to join in on and I welcome comments.

  3. As you’ve undoubted noticed, lots of people, men and women, do not “see” others who are of a lower status, less “important” or less powerful.

    Men probably tend to see lower status others even less than women do, because first of all, they’re generally of a higher status than women and second, because men generally have more tunnel vision than women do (that’s a metaphor) or maybe it’s that being beneficiaries of the rules of the game, men tend not to notice that it’s a game and it’s fixed in their favor.

    I don’t have a solution either. People generally do not like being informed that they don’t “see” you and screaming to get people’s attention (another metaphor) generally does not have positive effects in constructing sane human relationships.

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