Thursday, 28 February 2013

"Toughen Up" = Bad Advice.

I read this this morning, after listening to the show on Radio 4.

After listening to the programme I think it's a bit unfair for the headline to focus on the Lib Dem, as they all said that, to one degree or another. But just because they all said it, doesn't make it correct.

But what is worth commenting on, given the general slant of the posts on this blog, around Emotions in Politics, is the advice to "toughen up". It's a rather British response, I would say, but again that doesn't make it right.

This is atrocious advice. 

I've written before about advice to ignore your feelings, and the deadening of feeling experienced by Wellington. I've been reading around, with special reference to Graham Walllas and his exploration of how human nature and politics interact.

I also think the lady goes on to contradict herself, by saying the sisterhood should rise to the occasion and women SHOULD put in formal complaints. So her advice is to toughen up, accept this behaviour goes with the territory and burst into tears and reference an ex-boyfriend to get away from creepy men. And then put in complaints. 

The central advice to "toughen up" I don't get. In fact I think it's misguided and can lead to poor outcomes. When you "toughen up" you ignore your own feelings, which can lead to you not acting on them (i.e. making a complaint, venting to your friends, asking for support or guidance) and you can become dead to yourself. When you are dead to yourself, it's a short step to be dead to others. And thus, if one follows the advice given here, we have this disconnect between the electorate and politicians.

It's pretty obvious to be honest. 

Beliefs drive behaviour, in my view. If one thinks that really, one's own feelings are not that important in the world one is in, then the world will never improve, and worse, your feelings will start to be ignored by yourself, the one person able to do something about them. 

The theory referenced above goes that social (subjective) norms come into this evaluation by the person thinking about whether to report inappropriate touching or not. 

To put this in context, I would surmise if a hypothetical woman who cares a lot about what other people think, thinks they won't be believed, or that other women in politics think they should just "toughen up" then they are correspondingly less likely to report the behaviour and internalise instead.  Which is a poor outcome.

I really don't understand why politics has to be so different, from the standards we have in other areas of life. In part, it's advice like this, to "toughen up" that makes it so. 


  1. Yet it can take courage to show emotion?

  2. Exactly Sandra, which is why the "toughen up" logic doesn't work.

    After all, one could decide "toughen up" meant, yes, put in a complaint. That's why I think it's a rationalisation - people saying women should just "deal with it" don't want them making complaints. But, I say to them, perhaps if a woman "toughens up", but in the direction you don't want, towards rocking the boat and putting in a complaint - what say you then?

  3. This isn't a criticsm of women who decide they don't want to complain, more of the people that seems to want to prevent them doing so if they wish.....