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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student


Gender imbalance

The myth that women are moodier than men is a concept that’s been passed down generation to generation as one flower in a bouquet of gender stereotypes as resilient as they are pervasive and damaging. Tons of literature and analysis exists on the subject, but a column written by CNN’s Julie Holland on Friday throws the matter into sharp, modern relief.

According to Holland’s column, Americans are supremely overmedicated: we comprise 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we take half its pills and nearly 80 percent of its painkillers.

Even more distressing is the issue’s heavy gender imbalance: 25 percent of American women are taking antidepressants, compared to 10 percent of the nation as a whole. In analyzing this data, Holland makes reference to a phenomenon called “cosmetic psychopharmacology,” or the establishment of a new standard for women’s behavior as relaxed and rational.

That implication in itself is problematic due to its assumption that women are naturally anything but the above traits. Where Holland misses the mark entirely is in her assertion that women are moodier than men and draw a sort of natural power from their mood swings. She links extreme emotional literacy to an evolutionary survival mechanism.

A study done in 1998 by four psychologists from various American universities disproved this matter almost entirely; their data revealed a slight difference, but it was hardly statistically significant. Therefore, they concluded men and women manifest drastic emotional differences because their genders are deeply influenced by the socially perpetuated stereotype.

In other words, they’re visibly different only because they’re told they are.

Mood — like gender itself — is performative, and shaped nearly completely by assumption. What, then, accounts for the dramatic difference in medication, specifically of mood controllers?

For Holland, it points to a basic insecurity about the femininity of extreme emotion. According to her, women are dramatically more empathetic and sensitive than men, which is disdained in the workplace. So those who seek to “have it all” find they must chemically induce a “masculine,” emotionally-deadened state to earn ?colleague’s respect and trust.

However, the truth resists simplicity. The psychological experience described above may be a reality for some, but it too finds its roots in social construct. Nine out of 10 pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research and development, undoubtedly targeting the cracks of female insecurity regarding emotion and apply the hammer of advertising until that uncertainty splits into the staggering data we see.

Holland is well-intentioned in underscoring the gendered nature of overmedication in America, but her analysis fails to fully assess the underlying motivations of that discrepancy. Sure, men and women handle emotions differently, but it’s incorrect and subtly dangerous to assume that difference is inherent. When it comes to performative characteristics, we are what we learn, so err on the side of influence and assume it’s society talking before perpetuating the stereotypes that threaten to undo us.

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