Don't Tell Women to "Chill"
an oped by Cathay Lau
Dear Asian Youth,
I’ve had enough of people telling me that I should “chill.” It’s always delivered in that all-too-familiar tone that comes with the shiny, packaged ignorance of a thousand suns. It has a knack for being said when myself or other women are talking about something with passion or without any at all; a harmless, passing thought. Like the “crazy woman” trope, utilised mercilessly in Hollywood movies and TV programmes, it seems to be a habit that media cultures all around the world adopt. I could sit here and write about how some men and even women (but mostly men) are socialised to think of women who speak their minds this way. I’d wonder when I was younger if it would please them if I simply sat there in feminine silence, legs crossed and hair long.
The earliest experience of this was with my extended family, who I rarely spoke to, but nevertheless, tried to. I don’t quite remember what I said word-for-word but I do believe that it was about how autism in men and women is identified differently, with some women getting diagnosed way later than men on average. It was as if this fact had annoyed one of my older family members since he rubbed his nose and told me to “chill out and drink some tea”. My first thought was that technically I couldn’t chill out if I drank some piping hot tea, but then I realised half a second later that I loathed that sentence. From the tone of voice, to the meaning of the words, to the place he had decided to say it, and the idea that he was dancing around the words “shut up” really irked me. By doing this, he could insult me and my gender whilst taking no accountability for his underlying statement. It was a sly and passive aggressive way of speaking, the type of comment that you can’t really defend yourself against in the moment. Part of me would have even appreciated it more if he had just told me to zip it and to stay in my place as a woman. At least then I could argue back unabashedly without risking the role of the bad guy, the one that the rest of my family might genuinely believe needs to “chill out.” It would have evoked the people listening to take sides which I didn’t want since that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered to me was that I was being told to “chill out” like I was some mad woman when I wasn’t one. I was a normal girl who was talking about something that didn’t appeal to or please the male in front of me.
Julie Zeilinger writes that in comparison to men who express their opinions and are “generally taken seriously” with their comments “considered for their merit”, women are “often dismissed and their comments are attributed to their emotionality.” This diminishing of women's opinions and thoughts dates back to the functionalist idea of how a woman's job is expressive, meaning that they should be submissive to their husbands and fill the role of emotional support for the whole family as well as cooking, caring for the children and cleaning. Be all and end all, telling a woman to “chill” or to “calm down” is contributing to this outdated belief and way of living. Although I as a woman consider myself capable of emotional support, cooking, cleaning and taking care of children, I am much more than that. To tell a woman to “chill” when she is talking (albeit something that she is or isn’t passionate about), ignores her contribution to the conservation being held and is disrespectful because it implies that her thoughts are not as valuable as a male’s.
With the ever growing ideals of what women should represent to people during their everyday lives, women are now working full-time. They are the boss of their own finances, careers and lives in general. Although there is still a lot to improve upon, to pass a comment to a woman telling her to “chill” also disregards these improvements made in society towards equality, it supports the idea that women should work just as much as men but also that their work is nowhere near as significant and formidable. These types of disrespectful behaviours and practices are encompassed perfectly in how according to Business Insider, “a woman working full time earned 81.6 cents for every dollar a man working full time earned on average. Additionally, women's median annual earnings were $9,766 less than men's” in 2018. This statistic essentially implies the same concept as the previous, women's contributions and work not being as esteemed as men’s.
The crazy woman trope has graced our screens and literature for centuries. If it isn’t dark and melancholy Esther Greenwood in ‘The Bell Jar’ (Sylvia Plath), to cold and psychotic Amy Dunne in ‘Gone Girl’ (Gillian Flynn), the trope is made use of repetitively by both male and female authors/directors. Arwa Mahdawi for The Guardian writes that (the trope) has “become a cultural norm” and is a “kneejerk way to put women in their place and remind them that, no matter what they achieve, they are inherently flawed”. The impact of media and entertainment around us has socialised our attitudes towards everything, especially gender as it appears that even female authors (like the prior examples) also use this trope to represent their flawed and interest-piquing characters. Perhaps this suggests that there is a certain fascination with crazy women who need to “chill”. A lot of the time, they’re represented on the TV screen, casted because of their beauty to spin the trope on its head and make the viewers feel conflicted because it’s hard to hate or dislike a character when they’re good looking. Mental health does not look the same on everybody and isn’t a subject that should be used lightly as a mere trope in the media, so why do we still do this? By telling a woman to “chill”, people are oversimplifying mental health issues, as well as implying an uneducated diagnosis just because a woman is being a little too passionate or emotional for their liking.
Overall, I believe the best way to battle these types of behaviours as a woman is to educate respectfully. Having said that, please don’t be afraid to just ignore them and carry on if they decide to choose ignorance, some people are hard to educate, especially when they don’t want to be. You don’t owe anyone anything if they’re being disrespectful and dismissive of you. If the male or even female in front of you is telling you to “chill”, don’t back down, ask why and if they don’t give you a good enough reason, carry on. Being a woman in this world is harsh at times, we all have experiences that are unique to us as individuals but also show eerie similarities to the woman next to us. This should bring us closer together, creating a safe space to talk and be whatever we want without being told to “chill” just because we dare to love or care about something. If you’re ever in a conversation where a woman is told to chill just because she is passionate about a subject, I encourage you to stand up for her. If anything, the person who is telling her to “chill’ probably needs to chill him/herself. If you are ever the woman who gets told to pipe down, demand your respect and never back down on your fervour.
- Cathay Lau
Cover photo source: Eleni Kalorkoti