By Samantha Wahl, Contributing Writer
Last week, that phrase started cropping up in Hollywood. You could see it on city benches and posters. It was everywhere.
Why? Well, on October 4, Kimmel addressed the Las Vegas shooting on his show and ended up shedding a few tears. Kimmel’s sensitive moment spurred street artist Sabo to create the “estrogen hour” posters. He’s gotten emotional on television a few times before- usually when talking about intense subjects like his son needing heart surgery or animals getting killed- but this is the first time his emotions have attracted criticism this ambitious. Sabo was hoping to, as he phrased it himself on Twitter, “PUNCH KIMMEL IN THE FACE WHILE THE PUNCHING WAS GOOD”.
My question is, why is associating a man with estrogen considered a punch in the face? Why is it remotely acceptable to mock Kimmel for reacting to emotional subjects with, well, emotion?
Sabo was banking on the expectations that our culture places on its men. The masculine ideal has for generations been compassionate but unconditionally cool, kind but not vulnerable, strong and silent. Popular culture teaches boys that emotionality and vulnerability should be resigned to a little box labelled “girl stuff” and left out of their lives. And that’s unfair. Believe it or not, emotions are a universal human experience, and healthy, regular expression of them is essential to most humans’ mental health and happiness. To deny that half the population has these needs is laughable at best and cruel at worst.
Women are expected to be emotional in this culture; we may be denigrated for it, may be called “irrational” for it, but we’re usually not a punchline when we cry. What happened to Kimmel would never happen to a female host who cried on-air.
A woman cries and she is maybe “emotional”, maybe “hormonal” or “dramatic”, but still a woman; a man cries, and to a disheartening number of people, he becomes less of a man. That is cruel, nonsensical, and frankly sexist. The American conception of gender and emotionality is unfair to men and women in completely different ways, but make no mistake: it is unfair to everyone. Ponyboy Curtis said it best: things are rough all over.
Implying that Kimmel is womanly for crying and that he ought to be ashamed of it sends out two troubling messages: one, that being womanly is something shameful; second, that Kimmel is doing something wrong as a man by expressing emotion.
There will be people who argue that I’m being overly sensitive here. That’s fine. But you know what? Every day at this university I study how language and culture intersect. If there is one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that the words we use do not exist in a vacuum. Jokes are rarely truly meaningless. Even if we don’t consciously make jokes at the expense of others, the things we consider funny, or offensive, or ridiculous are shaped by our conditioning, and speak volumes about subconscious biases and prejudices. Why is being called the host of “The Estrogen Hour” understood as offensive? Because Jimmy Kimmel is a man, and to imply that he is instead a woman is degrading. You might ask whether it’s the idea of purposely misgendering Kimmel that’s the joke. To that I ask you: would calling a woman’s show “The Testosterone Hour” have the same effect? Would anyone feel compelled to slap that picture onto a bench?
All I know is that my brothers are just as human as my sisters. They deserve to be as free to express their emotions as I am to express mine.
I hope that my generation will be able to raise sons who aren’t ashamed to cry. I hope that my sons, if I someday have them, will not fear being compared to women, to people like me. I firmly intend to help build a future where understanding and compassion is extended to people of all genders.
Call me an idealist, but I think men should be allowed to feel. I think men should be allowed to cry.
Maybe that’s just the estrogen in me.