“You are being oversensitive.”
I don’t know how often I have heard this sentence before. And to be honest, it took me a while to realize that being oversensitive wasn’t in fact a bad thing. Yes, I was being oversensitive, but what if that didn’t mean I should have let go, don’t care, feel less. It meant that I have a good intuition for what feels right for me and what feels wrong. The problem is that this is often not what people want to hear from you. And I was not intimidated to tell them what they didn’t want to hear. So, I ended up being the complainer. “Oh, Fabienne disagrees with something? Is she again causing a drama? Well, that’s just how she is.” Whether at school, in my dance classes or at home: I would probably get the award of causing dramas.
What is even meant by drama?
It means not accepting everything just as it is. Running the risk of disrupting the apparent peace of a situation. Being uncomfortable. Making people face their wrongs and maybe with-it face certain emotions. Which can be hard to bear. But it also means running the risk of being wrong yourself and creating a drama over nothing. And don’t you dare causing a drama over nothing.
If you complain as a woman, you very quickly fall into a certain drawer. There is an exaggeratedly distorted image of women complaining too fast and too much. When you raise your voice, you are causing a drama. Your actions are constantly on the edge being seen as an overreaction. Keep your voice down, keep your opinion down and most importantly, keep your emotions down. If you do find the courage to speak up, don’t run the risk of mixing it up with your feelings because you will most probably end up being defined as hysterical. Hysterical: women’s favorite word. Defined as hysterical you are not just a concerned person anymore that found itself in a difficult situation it wanted to change or has experienced unfair treatment. No, now you are just “always” overreacting. Hence as a woman, if you complain you have to be even more rational, come even more strong, be even more neutral and base what you experience even more on facts, than man have to do. US-psychologists around Victoria L. Brescoll from the University of Yale noticed that when a woman is angry, she loses her status, no matter what position she is in. Within an experiment they found out that being angry as a man is seen as positive, while coming from a woman it is seen as negative.1 Women should not be uncomfortable. They should care and encourage peace. Because a woman who does not complain and does not get angry, won’t change anything about the inequality between man and women.2 As a consequence there is a tendency of women not expressing their anger and their concerns outwardly. They make it out with themselves. So, while there is this image of women complaining too much, they actually learn from very early age on to be quiet and smile.
Furthermore, as a feminist you might find yourself losing your credibility when it comes to criticizing men as for example a feminist PhD student expresses in the book “Complaint!”: “I think they thought almost that I was looking for it, like a feminist thing, you are always overreacting, blowing things out of proportion because that’s what you see everywhere.”3 It might even come to the point of questioning yourself, your own judgment when you experience sexism. “She tells herself off, even: she gives herself talking to; she tells herself to stop being paranoid, to stop being a feminazi, to stop being a feminist, perhaps.”4 When complaining as a woman and as a feminist you run the risk of being seen as a “man-hater”, one that discards everything men do. Hence everything you criticize is not perceived as being expressed because there is something wrong about what a certain man did but simply because you despise man. You are not listened to and the louder you get, the less you are heard. “The could-be complainer is also the feminist complainer, feminism it-self being charged with complaint through the exercising of old and familiar negative stereotypes (feminists as “man-hater”). Feminist complainers are called vermin, polluting agents who need to be eliminated.”5 Being afraid of endangering their status and their position within a structure might lead to woman not speaking up anymore.
Speaking up and making abuses visible is seen as a danger. It is seen as a danger and tried to be avoided, when it meaningful and impactful. Analyzing who is trying to avoid it makes visible who is in power and who wants the status quo as it is, meaning who benefits from it. “One way a complaint can be dismissed is by magnifying the demand; a demand for “equality and safety” is treated a wanting to bring an end to what or who already exists, or as separatism, a wanting not to share a space or culture.”
Being told that you are overreacting and being oversensitive is very dangerous, as by time you might lose your sense in trusting in your own judgment. We need to learn to trust in our senses. In addition we need to be open for criticism and change. Being sensitive is not something negative and is also not tied to a gender. Everybody should develop a certain level of sensitivity so we can create a space of awareness and of living with and not against each other.
1 See: Hoeder, C-S. (2021): Wut und Böse. München: hanserblau, p.38.
2 See: ebd., p.11.
3 Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint!, p.105.
4 ebd., p.104.
5 ebd., p.131-132.