Over the past two weeks, I have texted friends of mine (all of whom identify as male) with obviously selfish messages like “I need to rant.” I’ve grown frustrated with them for not answering my inconsequential texts only to see them cramming for a midterm and realize that they obviously did not have time to answer me. So, when I read Avigayil Halpern’s ’19 oped “Stop dele-guy-ting” (Apr. 14, 2017) and Amelia Nierenberg’s ’18 piece “Soft-boy hardball” (Sept. 8, 2016) to which it clearly alludes, I came to a shocking realization: I’m a soft-boy, but I have a vagina.
I have been on both sides of relationships that are emotionally laborious, to use Halpern’s term. While unreciprocated emotional dumping is certainly troublesome, it is not inherently a gendered phenomenon. Nierenberg writes: “I’m not writing to condemn emotionally intimate heterosexual friendships; I’m writing to dispel the myth that sharing sadness equates to friendship at all.” This is an important point that made me reflect on many of my relationships, but the gendered context in which she presents this idea detracts from it.
There are men who are on the receiving end of emotional dumping and women who delegate. Even if people of one gender more frequently fall into a certain category, it is not their gender identity that is the problem, it is their personality. Why not encourage all people who fit the description of “soft-boy” to be more conscious of their friends’ time and emotional energy? This way, maybe the “soft-boys” as well as the “soft-girls” and the “soft people” on any part of the spectrum will realize that they should be more considerate.
It is a lot easier to write an article about “soft-boys” or “dele-guy-tors” than it is to write one about “soft-people” or “delegators.” An article about the negative impacts of emotional dumping or frustrating incompetence may seem like a rant. When written in a gendered context, however, these issues are given the import of feminism. The problem is that this kind of writing alienates two groups of people who by and large support the feminist cause — men who do not fit these personality types and women who do.
There is a very real problem of powerful and competent women being labeled as “bitchy,” “bossy” or “nagging.” By labeling men with a certain personality types as “soft-boys” or “dele-guy-tors,” writers perpetuate this propensity to gender certain personality types and thus limit people by their gender identity.
Laura Michael ’20
Laura Michael is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact her at email@example.com .