Zelophehad’s Daughters

Reason and Emotion

Posted by Beatrice

When the BBC’s modern version of Sherlock aired in 2010, it appealed to my deep seated love of problem solving, mysteries and attention to detail. I had read The Hound of the Baskervilles and one or two of the short stories in the past, but decided to read the entire Sherlock canon, which is comprised of four novels and 56 short stories. Overall, they were a very enjoyable read. However, given that the stories were written between 1887 and 1921 it is not surprising that Sherlock holds some extremely sexist attitudes.  First of all, he completely distances himself from any form of emotion or romantic feeling. From “A Scandal in Bohemia”:

He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.

Secondly, he solves all of his mysteries through using logic and by interviewing the individuals involved. But he is very wary of interviewing women as he claims that they are completely irrational.  From “The Adventure of the Second Stain”:

And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You remember the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No powder on her nose — that proved to be the correct solution. How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs.

Despite Sherlock’s shortcomings, I really identified with him as a character. I believe that this is because from a young age, I enjoyed problem solving. I loved my math classes. I would take notes of important information in complex novels, and would construct elaborate family trees laying out all the relationships between various characters. I think this love of problem solving was one reason why I became interested in scientific research and later became a psychologist. However, as I read the Sherlock stories I wondered whether a convincing female Sherlock character could be created. Perhaps Miss Marple or Temperance Brennan from “Bones” come the closest. However, I believe that it is hard to imagine a female Sherlock because the idea that men are primarily defined by reason and logic and women are primarily defined by emotion is so deep seated in our society. For example, as a missionary it was not uncommon for men to look me in the eyes and tell me that I just believed in my religion because women will follow anything that they feel good about. They would explain in a kind but patronizing voice that they knew I was sincere about my feelings, but I had been deceived because I hadn’t really thought about what my church was teaching me.

I think that in current LDS culture that the idea that men are naturally rational and women are naturally in tune with emotions is still alive and well. Although it may not be explicitly stated, it is manifested through the male and female role models that we see in General Conference and other church settings. Almost every time I heard Elder Maxwell speak, I would think to myself, “When are we going to see a female Elder Maxwell?” I longed for a role model that I could identify with; who exemplified my desire to analyze and think deeply about things who was a woman like me. I still haven’t found those role models in traditional church settings, but I have found them on the Mormon blogs and podcasts. Mormon Matters, especially, finally gave me the female role models that I had been longing for. Almost every panel discussion includes women who are wiling to think deeply, express themselves eloquently and who are not afraid to ask hard questions. I don’t know how long it will be before we see role models like these in traditional church settings.

I think there are two limitations that need to be overcome in order to make progress. First, Sherlock expressed the idea that becoming emotional makes you less rational. I do not believe this is true. I believe that we should strive to understand our own emotions and the emotions of others while we also strive to reason about complex problems and situations. In many cases, understanding human emotions can help us think more rationally, and vice versa. Second, contrary to some aspects of mainstream culture, the LDS church appears to foster emotionality in men. It is not surprising to see men (even in the highest positions in the LDS church) tear up when they are talking about something near and dear to their hearts. However, I don’t know that the LDS church encourages women to become more logical and rational. Personally, it is hard for me to think of times that Relief Society included a deeper analysis of the scriptures or some gospel principle. It is hard for me to think of women that I would consider to be “great scriptorians” who are looked to in Sunday School to address deeper gospel questions. I think that we should strive to foster these qualities in women and girls by providing role models, by asking them harder questions, and by really listening to what they have to say.

What do you think? Does the culture of the LDS church perpetuate the idea that women are primarily emotional and men are primarily rational? What about our general society? How can we foster deeper reasoning skills in women and girls and encourage them to present themselves in this way?

12 Responses to “Reason and Emotion”

  1. 1.

    If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a ward member, bishop, youth leader, high counsel member, etc., say “I’m so thankful for my wife and the way she keeps me on the right path . . . women truly are great because they’re so much closer to the soft emotions of God” or something similar to that, I might not be rich but I’d have several hundred more dollars than I do now. So, yeah, I do think the rhetoric is still alive and well.

    I’m more of a rational person, and I always felt kind of smashed or smothered in primary or young women’s growing up, and still now in Relief Society. What? Asking insightful questions? A female? We don’t do this here. In fact, when I first came back to church and was trying to fit right back into the TBM mold, I talked a little to a woman in the ward about the experience. “I think you tend to over-think things,” she said. “Maybe you should just rely on faith for a while.”

    Blarg.

    I don’t think it would take much to foster reasoning skills, we just need to stop not fostering them.

  2. 2.

    Maybe mothers could benefit their daughters by keeping them home from Primary activity days that involve wedding planning or pedicures and help their daughters find more intellectual–or at least less limiting–pursuits.

  3. 3.

    I agree that actively promoting more rigorous analysis and engagement with scriptures and gospel principles for girls is part of the solution. Unfortunately even that will not be enough. Until the governance of the church is integrated, rather than being patriarchal, it will be impossible for most members of the church to assign authority to women, no matter how intelligent and thoughtful one particular woman might be.

    that said, i do think we should do more to promote more thoughtful, more rigorous engagement with church teachings on the part of not only girls and women, but of all church members. Of course, until we’re a little less frightened of where it might take us, even that will be difficult. Just take a look at Sheri Dew. I initially loved having her in the RS presidency because her talks *were* more thoughtful and intellectual, sort of like the female Maxwell you mentioned. Until she turned that into trying to justify the indefensible idolization of motherhood as the only avenue for the proper expression of being female. And then I lost all respect for her. Because no matter how smart she is and how thoughtful, she had used those skills to advance an argument that is on its face demonstrably false in the name of perpetuating a harmful system of belief.

    Maybe I’m just feeling especially cynical today, but I honestly don’t think the Mormon church as presently constituted will ever promote truly thoughtful examination of its teachings and principles.

  4. 4.

    Great points Amelia. I think you touch on some nuances that I wasn’t able to capture in my original post. As you mention, in some ways all members are taught not to think too deeply about things or analyze things too much. However, it seems to be more pervasive among women.

    I also really liked and identified with Sheri Dew, and even liked her motherhood talk when it first came out. It wasn’t until years later that I saw many of the problems with it. So maybe with her, we just saw a female that was willing to engage in apologetics? Someone who used reason to promote the church teaching of strict gender roles for women?

    So maybe we are dealing with two problems.
    1-How to promote more thoughtful examination of the church’s teachings and practices among members in general.
    2-And how to promote the idea that women are not inherently more emotional then men and that men aren’t inherently more rational than women.

  5. 5.

    contrary to some aspects of mainstream culture, the LDS church appears to foster emotionality in men. It is not surprising to see men (even in the highest positions in the LDS church) tear up when they are talking about something near and dear to their hearts. However, I don’t know that the LDS church encourages women to become more logical and rational.

    Great observation, Beatrice. Do you think it’s the case more generally that LDS culture (or the Church) is more tolerant of men encroaching into stereotypically female space than it is of women encroaching into stereotypically male space? I wonder if this fits with more Church encouragement of men being more involved in parenting, but no corresponding increase in encouragement of women being more involved in wage-earning.

    But I realize that’s a tangent.

    Sherlock expressed the idea that becoming emotional makes you less rational. I do not believe this is true. I believe that we should strive to understand our own emotions and the emotions of others while we also strive to reason about complex problems and situations. In many cases, understanding human emotions can help us think more rationally, and vice versa.

    I recently read a fascinating book that has something to say on this topic. It’s Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide. He cites a bunch of neuroscience research that suggests that we actually need emotion to help us know what to attend to when we reason. Sure, there are circumstances where we can be fooled by overrelying on emotion, but if I remember right, he argued that in most cases, emotion and reason are working together to help us make good decisions, rather than being at odds with each other, as we often think about them.

  6. 6.

    A bit of a tangent from the actual point of the OP, but if you want to see what a female Sherlock looks like, read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice series by Laurie R. King. The second book in the series is about a group of suffragettes who discuss goddess worship. Well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

  7. 7.

    “Do you think it’s the case more generally that LDS culture (or the Church) is more tolerant of men encroaching into stereotypically female space than it is of women encroaching into stereotypically male space?”

    Yes, I do think this is the case. I remember a conference talk from quite a while ago in which the GA saw a bunch of women who were riding in the back of a truck and “acting masculine” (in their dress, language etc). He condemned their behavior and encouraged women to foster feminine traits. Wish I could find that talk again. I can’t remember any examples of GAs condemning men for “acting feminine”.

    “I recently read a fascinating book that has something to say on this topic. It’s Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide. He cites a bunch of neuroscience research that suggests that we actually need emotion to help us know what to attend to when we reason.”

    Yes, I have heard similar things as well. People who, due to brain damage, experience less emotion actually have a harder time making decisions. We have such a strong idea in our culture that emotion interferes with reason. But the neuroscience appears to support the idea that emotion is necessary for decision making.

  8. 8.

    I have never met a man or woman who is “naturally rational.” Rational thinking is a learned process. We are raised to respond emotionally from birth. At some point in time, our parents will try to reason with us, but if we have not been taught to reason, we will still act and react emotionally. I was over forty years old before i finally got some training in rational thinking. It really helped me tremendously.

    One the things that I did learn was to act rather than to react. To analyze situations and to learn when it is okay to act impulsively, based upon emotion, or to dissect the situation before deciding upon a course of action. It really took me a long time to be able to get this right more often than I get it wrong.

    I really do not think that the church policies try to perpetuate a paradigm where men naturally think more logically than men. I do think that society has institutionalized such a paradigm, especially through the situation comedy medium. I have seen this taken to the extreme while watching reruns of the old Burns and Allen Show.

    Glenn

  9. 9.

    Glenn,

    I think you bring up some interesting points. Certainly some definitions of reason and emotion would characterize acting emotionally as being the less mature response, and that rationally comes with maturity.

    However, I think there are other characterizations of these traits as well. Sometimes being “purely rational” is characterized as a bad thing, and deeper emotions (having compassion and understanding of others) is characterized as a more mature response. For example, Mitt Romney has often been criticized for being too rational (with the example of tying his dog to the top of their car), and he has struggled somewhat with connecting with people on an emotional level.

    Overall, I think it is interesting to contemplate how we view rationality and emotionality in our culture. What are the positive aspects of acting rationally? What does acting rationally even entail? What are the mature ways of acting based on emotion? What does that entail?

  10. 10.

    Beatrice, you should read Laurie R. King’s treatment of Sherlock Holmes. She introduces a very Sherlockian female character but also softens (while staying true to) the initial Holmes type. I love them and the series starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

    Nothing else to add to this post other than I think we need rationality and emotion, and sometimes I think a trustest close friend or spouse can help supply a deficit of whichever one an individual might be lacking. I just dislike the idea of assigning which spouse is in charge of which based on gender, rather than personal strengths…

  11. 11.

    *trusted

  12. 12.

    Great post, Beatrice! Like you, I think the idea that men are rational and women are emotional, and that these traits (masculinity/femininity, reason/emotion) belong on a single axis, is both alive in the church and seriously problematic. It would be nice if we saw more female role models engaging in analysis in the church for sure.

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