My inbox’s tone has been very gentle lately. The newsletters tell me, it’s a big scary world and I shouldn’t feel bad staying in my fetal position and only resurfacing when the world is better. Drinking more wine, spending time alone, and vegging out are encouraged, perhaps even celebrated.
Most of my newsletters are directed at women. This is not a coincidence. We teach women to retreat; we men to take charge.
Why Different Treatments May be Warranted
Different treatment for men and women makes sense to a certain extent. It feels cute and fun to encourage a woman to indulge in a glass of wine; it seems dangerous and creepy to encourage a man to indulge in booze. Men are already more likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking.
Males are less likely to have any friends at all so you don’t need to tell them to be isolated. Women, however, are less likely to take time for themselves. Men don’t typically need to be told to play video games or goof off. But some women question whether they can even take a shower when other things need to get done. So to a certain extent, I get that advice is different depending on your audience’s predilections.
But still, I think the advice goes beyond simple gender differences and into the roles we create for men and women in an emergency.
Women Are Encouraged to Worry
In New York City, the coronavirus is killing men at a rate of twice that of women. Yet more women than men worry about themselves or a loved one getting sick, and this worry is having a significant negative affect on their mental health.
Women are encouraged to worry. In fact, I’ve seen more and more women defend their right to be 24/7 anxious during the pandemic. They wear it as a badge of honor to show their compassion toward others and it’s encouraged. What else is there to do right now rather than read the news, worry, and stay in bed?
What’s Wrong With Staying In Bed?
Being gentle to yourself is a good thing, especially during a time of crisis. It doesn’t make sense to beat yourself off for taking a little break. But I worry about the advice being so one-sided and the types of breaks we are encouraging. Taking a break to connect with a loved one, to be creative, to stretch, to move one’s body, to engage in restful sleep – all good things. Taking a break to scroll through the internet to increase our worry, to drink without end, to eat junk food – all bad things. They don’t give us the rest we need and make our lives more difficult that day and in the future. Further, taking a break is useful advice to the extent that the break helps you to come back fighting. It’s a rest stop – it’s not your new normal.
When we were children, stereotypically our moms and dads took different approaches to helping us when we were down. Our moms kissed our booboos and our dads encouraged us to get back on the horse. Both types of encouragement are useful to overcome setbacks. Our moms provide for our emotional needs and our dads make sure we don’t wallow for too long. We need the acceptance of our limitations but we also need the push to try to exceed them.
Here are foreseeable problems with coddling women:
Women Will Take Longer to Recover
Most people know how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You eat healthy meals, you exercise, you spend quality time with loved ones, you get fresh air, you read educational books, engage in creative pursuits and hobbies. YOU STOP WATCHING THE NEWS or doing things that stress you. Of course, in times of stress, these are often the first things to go. We are on triage and instead we wait for motivation and self-control to strike in order to get back onto track.
We do activities like binge watching TV because it’s easy, not because it’s beneficial in any way. We hope that by vegging out in front of the TV, we will somehow regain the energy to partake in more difficult but restful activities. That’s not the case though – those that watch too much TV feel like their energy is sucked out of them and it’s much more difficult to concentrate than before the binge.
So watching TV is counterproductive to making good choices. If instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, if we just went through the motions of eating well, exercising, and having good social connection, we would feel better sooner. Plus these steps help support our immune systems at a time of pandemic, and that’s empowering.
Women Will Miss Out on Joy
According to an article in New Scientist magazine, the increased anxiety occurring during the pandemic is interfering with our sleep, and when we are sleep-deprived, we become more negative. An Italian study found that five nights of less sleep led to a more negative mood so that volunteers would misinterpret neutral events as threats and had a dampened ability to experience pleasure.
It makes sense evolutionarily that if we were tired, we would be hyperaware to potentially negative stimuli. A mistake could mean being dinner for a large animal, so considering everything a threat would be safer to consider everything dangerous. Of course, now most of our threats involve other people, and considering everything as a threat has negative impacts on our relationships, our mental health, and our growth. Those that approach their lives clouded in anxiety tend to be unlucky in life.
Women Miss Out on Opportunities
I heard two different podcasts recently – one directed at women and one directed at men. Both covered the topic of starting a new business. The advice to women is that it’s too risky to start something now. The advice to men is there is a lot of opportunity now, try and see what others can’t see.
And of course this could be a recipe for disaster but the opportunity ideas were quite modest. Tutoring, entertaining or educational events that could be done on Zoom, providing essential needs – all require few startup costs. I wish we could encourage this kind of creativity in women as we do with men.
Women Will Take Longer to Get Back to Real Life
Motivation and self-control are in limited supply right now during the pandemic. And while it seems cold to say, just do it, that’s likely the best approach.
We spend too much time trying to will ourselves to have the right emotions. But actually the only way we can control our emotions, is by acting. Emotions follow actions. Act like everything is ok and eventually your emotions will improve. Act like the world is falling and you’ll never leave your bed.
Teaching Women to Retreat Implies that Women Are Unnecessary
When we coddle women, it sends the message that women’s work isn’t necessary right now. Right now the essential workers are working and the rest are staying at home, but likely still working. Staying at home doesn’t mean the work isn’t important though. And having a purpose, feeling needed, is vital to our mental health. We have to believe that our life matters, and when we treat some people as if it doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do, it can be a huge blow.
When the game is on the line, the star players aren’t the ones that sit out the game on the bench. They’re the ones called to action. And while it can seem like you’d rather be the one resting outside of the chaos, everyone needs to feel needed. Everyone needs to feel like their contributions matter, that they matter. We can’t just tell women that it’s ok to stay in bed because it sends this message that what they do doesn’t matter and that’s far from the truth.
We Teach Women to Retreat; We Teach Men to Advance
Do I think women are going to stay in bed all day for all time? No. I’m sure women will kick themselves back into their routines. But I worry that women are encouraged to engage in bad activities and to wallow in ways that are going to be hurtful in the short- and long-run. This quarantine period could be a time of great growth or rest, but encouraging TV binges and endless drinking could wreak a lot of havoc.
Let’s Not Forget: Women Are Strong As Hell
I’m concerned that some may think women need to be coddled at this time, more so than men. It’s a little insulting that I’m given a frickin’ parade for showering. Actually, women are on the frontlines of the pandemic fight. Women have taken on a disproportionate burden of childcare with kids out of school while still continuing to work.
I’ll conclude with a sentence from my post What If We Stopped Teaching Women to be Afraid?: “Don’t give up your life so you can feel safe. You’ll never get it.”
If you rest for a bit, really rest with something creative or healthy, that’s fine and great. Take the time and don’t feel bad about it. But remember it’s a brief respite and we are expecting you to come back stronger than ever. The fight never ends and we need you there.