The Left

Dealing With Feelings

Carey Mulligan
Carey Mulligan
Carey Hannah Mulligan, born May 28, 1985, is an English actress. She made her film debut as Kitty Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. She had roles in numerous British programmes and, in 2008, made her Broadway debut in The Seagull to critical acclaim. | Carey Mulligan, England, Crying, Actress, Sexy, Style, Short Hair, British,

Emotions don't prove who's wrong

When I was in my teens, my therapist mother would periodically remind me that other people were not responsible for my feelings.

If I was angry because of what someone else did, that didn't prove the other person was at fault. Ditto if I were scared, sad, worried, whatever. That's not to say I was wrong to feel the way I did, just that it didn't prove anything about the facts of the case.

A whole lot of people still have trouble grasping this.

Take, for example, mass shootings. As I've written about before, an argument that crops up repeatedly is that when men snap and shoot things up, it's women's fault. The shooter was angry because women didn't have sex with him, or had sex with lots of guys who weren't him, and that drove him to kill and kill again.

Sometimes the shooter's issues with women are a factor. One 2014 shooter, for example, said he wanted revenge on women who "rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men." But that feeling doesn't make the attack the women's fault. As my mother would have said, the killer's hurt or angry feelings are not other people's responsibility.

Nevertheless, people ranging from online misogynists to New York Times pundits have suggested women must shoulder the blame for the men's pain. A recent online discussion included calls for women to provide pity sex for lonely guys so the men don't snap; a Times columnist in 2012 said there'd be less violence if women showed more deference to men.

The same treatment of feelings shows up in discussions of rape. If men get horny, the argument runs, they can't help raping someone, so if a woman gets them horny -- even if she's not interacting with them, just standing around and looking attractive -- it's the woman's fault. She aroused the guy, so she was "asking for it."

Similarly, some pundits have argued that as they find black men scary, it's totally appropriate for police to target law-abiding black men as a threat. The Washington Post's Richard Cohen, for example, wrote that profiling blacks is justified because of "the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males"; Trayvon Martin died because even though he wasn't doing anything illegal, as a black teen he was still "understandably suspected."

But being afraid isn't proof of danger or criminal behavior: it can just as easily be a sign of racism or personal issues. I used to be terrified of the dark in my youth, but that wasn't evidence there was anything lurking in the night. If Cohen (and other pundits who make the same argument) wants to avoid situations where he thinks he's at risk, fair enough; demanding police eliminate a danger that may not exist by harassing law-abiding people is anything but fair.

Then there's the argument that a particular sex act or relationship is wrong because it's just icky. SF author John C. Wright, for example, has argued it's absurd to think "two lesbians licking each other in the crotch" can represent a romantic relationship like he has with his wife -- I mean, licking! And gay cooties! Cohen (yes, again) has written that people who have to "repress a gag reflex" over New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's biracial family aren't racists, they're reacting in a perfectly conventional manner to such a freakish relationship.

Dealing with emotions can be hard, particularly when they're unpleasant, overwhelming or unwanted. It's sometimes easier to blame the other person -- it's not my fault I feel this way, she made me! -- and on some issues, it's also politically convenient. But it's still wrong.

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:51 AM EDT | More details

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