Women Are Too Emotional – And Other Tragedies

By July 9, 2015My Thoughts

“Women are too emotional to be in church leadership. When a high pressure situation arises, they will act impulsively and out of their emotions, and that’s not what God wants for the church.”

I wish I could say that this was something terrible someone said to me when I was on the path to ordination.

I wish I could tell you that I had a witty comeback for such hurtful words, and that I managed to silence the person who said such terrible things.

I wish I could tell you that someone else said this. But, it wasn’t someone else. The quote I’m sharing with you is something that I once said when I was about fifteen years old and heard someone bring up the topic of the ordination of women to church office.

I said that. As a young woman. About women.

Sometimes when I think back on how I used to believe and the things I have said (quite confidently, I might add), it makes me pause to catch my breath. And, I have trouble deciding if I’m angry about the things I believed, or devastated that as a young woman I had already internalized such a painful and dehumanizing story of what it means to be a woman.

And that story – the story of women being too emotional, and somehow inherently unreliable – has been the lens through which I’ve read the Bible, interacted with other women, and how I’ve discerned God’s leading in my life.

I didn’t even realize how deeply I had taken that story in until I was re-reading the story of the Fall in Genesis 3.

[The serpent] said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?'”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”

Nor shall you touch it?! God didn’t say that! If Eve had just listened to God, none of this would have happened!

Before Eve has even sinned, we’ve already condemned her as guilty.

How many of you have heard entire sermons on Eve’s misunderstanding of God’s original command? I know I’ve heard a few, and I have personally skewered Eve for her inability to remember a simple command from God. But, I don’t actually think that’s what’s going on in this passage at all.

Frequently in the Bible, people relate back their understanding of the law or customs, and they add things we don’t remember. Take, for instance, Peter in Acts 10. He tells Cornelius that it was unlawful to associate with a Gentile, which seems puzzling given that Jesus did that a lot. It also seems strange given the laws in Leviticus about welcoming the stranger. Certainly there were laws about what kinds of associations Jews and Gentiles could have (and they were pretty limited and restricted!), but mere association wasn’t unlawful. Socially undesirable, probably. Illegal, no.

But, I don’t see anyone fixating on that point to show how Peter resisted God’s work to include the Gentiles. Peter is lauded as one who finally understood that God’s plan was much bigger than one people group. God’s plan included the world.

It is quite common in the Bible for us to hear not only God’s words to the people, but also their interpretation of those words and the midrashic way it ends up being lived out. We do this all the time in our own attempts to follow faithfully after God.

But, as I was re-reading the story of Eve and the serpent, I suddenly realized that Eve’s sin was not that she listened to her emotions and instincts, but rather that she allowed herself to be talked out of them. The point of the story isn’t that somehow Eve had missed the point from the beginning, but rather that she didn’t trust her recollection and her instincts.

In short, Eve allowed someone else to talk her out of her understanding of God’s plans for the world and her life.

For too long in the church we’ve viewed our emotional lives with suspicion, as though nothing positive could come from listening to how we feel. We forget that Jesus wept, was indignant, felt distress, and experienced feelings of abandonment.

Our emotions are not inherently wrong or evil, but – like anything else in our lives – have to be discerned.

I wonder what it would look like if I listened to my instincts first before I talked myself out of them.

I wonder what would happen if we didn’t write off women – or others – as “too emotional,” but rather listened to what was coming from the innermost places of our brothers’ and sisters’ hearts.

Perhaps our emotions aren’t the problem, but rather the way we’ve refused to listen to them.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Anna Marion Howell

    So beautiful. Thank you. As you once said to me, “your vulnerability blesses me”.

  • Roland Legge

    Thanks April. I couldn’t have said this better! Amen!!!

  • lepton

    Great post. The “women are so emotional” stereotype is so pathetic.. I’m more emotional than 90% of women and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  • James Brumm

    Amen and Amen!! Wise words for all of us . . .

  • Brenda Kronemeijer Heyink

    Perhaps talking about how our reasoning can be sinful would also provide a healthy balance? I continue to be astounded about how often we talk about how our emotions can cause us to sin and forget how often our heads have caused us to sin (both males and females). It wasn’t, after all, emotions that taught you the lie that women’s emotions were a problem, it was reason that did that.

    • Yes, absolutely! I think anything – emotions or reason – can be sinful. It’s important to have a balance and be discerning.

  • Tim

    When I read Genesis 3 and consider who is unreliable, I look at Adam because when Eve misstated God’s instructions Adam just stood there and didn’t bother speaking up. He knew the instruction because God gave it to him before Eve came along.

    • Wow! That’s such a good insight, Tim! Thank you for sharing…also, feel free to link to your post on this. It’s fantastic!

  • Keri Wyatt Kent

    Eve didn’t hear God’s original command, so she wasn’t misunderstanding it or ignoring it. the text says that God instructed Adam not to eat from the tree. Eve came along later. See GEn. 2:16-18.
    Also: women, in general, tend to be more emotionally aware than men, or at least more comfortable verbalizing their emotions, and our culture allows them to talk about their emotions (while shaming men who talk about their emotions). (I realize a lot of this is sterotypical and also the result of social conditioning in our culture)

    Anger, jealousy and frustration are “emotions” and I think both men and women experience those and act out because of them. But is someone who is able to rationally discuss their emotions more “emotional” than someone who acts out when they feel an emotion?

    • Such great insights, and yes! Adam was the one who had been given the instruction from God, and it’s significant that he was with Eve and didn’t interject or try to offer his take. The Bible (I think, anyway) goes to great lengths to make sure we know that Adam and Eve were equally culpable. It’s pretty sad that so many of us were taught that it was all her fault.

      And you bring up an excellent question. Being able to discuss emotions and allowing emotions to overcome us and dictate our decision-making are two very different things. Sometimes I think “emotional” is the new “hysterical” (a word that was used to discredit women), which is really too bad. Emotions can be a wonderful thing 🙂