When a friend of mine told me she only dated men because women are too complicated, it stung. I remembered all the times I’d been on the receiving end of this “women are complicated” stereotype.
There was those times when I took issue with my ex-partner when he was gaslighting me or not listening, and he’d tell me I was being petty and losing sight of what’s important.
There was that other time when I confronted another ex about telling mean jokes about me, and he responded by telling me I was “overanalyzing” it.
Not to mention all the men I’ve witnessed in person and on TV who’ve looked at each other, rolling their eyes, and complained – “women.”
I don’t think I’m the only one who has witnessed or experienced this. There are countless women who’ve been told they’re complicated – especially if, God forbid, they ever ask for something in a relationship.
For whatever reason, it’s commonly believed that men are simple and women are too complicated (and non-binary people supposedly don’t even exist).
But are women really too complicated?
I would say, simply put: No.
Most claims about the innate differences between men and women are scientifically unfounded. It’s more likely that the idea that women are more complicated often gets used to discount their feelings and that’s not cool.
We need to stop saying women are complicated and start empathizing with them. Here’s why:
1. It Treats Valid Emotions As Evidence That Something’s Wrong with Us
A woman’s having trouble deciding what dish to order for dinner? She’s just a superficial, self-obsessed woman – forget all the ways the media teaches women to obsess over food.
She needs very specific things to get in the mood for sex? It’s just because women are so finicky – forget all the negative experiences she may have had around sexuality.
She dislikes it when her boyfriend talks down to her? Ughhh, she’s so demanding!
When people say women are complicated, they’re usually referring to something intrinsic to our personalities, not our circumstances.
But in reality, these “complications” result from women being oppressed by societal gender norms that make things like food, sex, and relationships complicated. If we seem too complicated, that’s probably because the media, politics, and other external forces affecting us are.
How can we not react in a complicated way to all the conflicting messages society sends us?
Women struggling with these issues deserve to be heard and addressed, not shamed and victim-blame.
2. It’s Dismissive
One common consequence of labeling women too complicated is dismissing their feelings and requests. This can lead to an enormous amount of gaslighting in relationships.
I’ve already mentioned two instances when I was personally impacted by men implying I was too complicated to be paid attention to. Unfortunately, there’ve been many more. These experiences have made me reluctant to advocate for myself in relationships, even when my partner’s not saying anything.
One ex would sigh in exasperation when I was unhappy with him and say we should just enjoy the beautiful day.
Another asked why I had to go and “make him feel bad about himself” when I expressed hurt at something he said. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions or talking about what I was taking issue with, I became the antagonist, and my concerns were never addressed.
Maybe women are more likely to speak up when something goes wrong in a relationship. After all, thanks to the pressure of masculinity, men are socialized to not talk about their feelings, especially when it comes to relationship dynamics.
Women end up doing a lot of emotional labor to comprehend men’s needs and meet them, but men rarely do the same for us. Why would they when they can just set us aside as “too complicated” to address?
3. It Implies That Men Are Simple
The belief that “women are complicated, men are simple” contains so many gender stereotypes, not to mention ignores people who identify as non-binary.
It comes up in nearly every area of life: Women supposedly want a long list of things from relationships, while men just want sex. Women are impossible to please in bed, while men are easy. Women get all emotional about everything, while men don’t feel much at all.
In fact, one can argue that de-complicating makes things worse. If men seem more simple because they’re more willing to dismiss emotions, that’s actually an effect of toxic masculinity – a huge part of our culture that pressures men to keep their feelings to themselves and to avoid asking for help.
In the end, this doesn’t only hurt women, it also hurts men and the people in their lives.
Dealing with someone who’s hiding or being indirect with their emotions can be more complicated than dealing with someone who directly states their needs and feelings.
By encouraging these stereotypes, it also fails to acknowledge the breadth of emotional experiences men can have and all the things they want out of life other than sex, food, and watching football games.
A man who storms out of the room during an argument or doesn’t text someone he’s just hooked up with almost never gets questioned because it’s expected that men don’t have to work out their feelings by talking them through and that sucks for everyone involved.
4. It De-legitimizes Our Own Perspectives
In a lot of the situations where women are labeled complicated, many of us could clearly explain exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing. Our behaviors aren’t complicated to us. But people aren’t listening to our versions of the story.
Because men may not understand our behavior, it’s somehow objectively complicated.
And because many more men hold positions of power in our society and the male perspectives is often viewed as universal, the way women are taught to work out our emotions is viewed negatively.
If the men who believe our behavior is so hard to decode would put themselves in our shoes, they’d see there’s a reason behind the ostensibly “complicated” things we do.
One man learned this after switching email signatures with a female coworker. Their boss thought she was just slow because collaborations with clients took her longer. But when her coworker started signing emails with her name, he realized she took longer because people were giving her such a hard time.
Calling us complicated doesn’t allow for the opportunity to see problems like this. It, instead, just reinforces the idea that we don’t know our lived experiences and need them mansplained to us.
5. It Downplays Actual Mental Health Issues
The idea that women are too complicated is often expressed in ableist terms. We’re called crazy, bipolar, or psychotic to convey this same idea.
Using these words outside their clinical context is very problematic because these conditions are difficult struggles people face, not insults to antagonize others.
Teaching women that part of their nature is to be emotionally messy and engage in behavior that doesn’t make sense to others dissuades them from seeking help when they actually are dealing with mental health disturbances.
As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I’ve taken my own mental struggles less seriously because I assumed having mood swings or emotional problems was just part of being a woman.
Using the word complicated to describe women is just code for calling them “cuckoo.” In order to ensure that everyone with mental health issues can appropriately get diagnosed and treated, we need to get rid of this idea that poor mental health is a natural state of being for women.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being complicated, if that means having rich, nuanced thoughts and feelings.
But calling women complicated stops us from putting ourselves in women’s shoes. It implies that men and women’s motives result from different wiring, and we can’t possibly understand or relate to one another.
That’s how gender-based oppression functions: People don’t put themselves in women’s (and other oppressed gender’s) shoes, so they don’t need to care about them.
In order create healthy relationship dynamics for everyone, we all need to entertain the possibility that women aren’t too complicated after all.
Suzannah Weiss is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Seventeen, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Bustle, and more. She holds degrees in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Modern Culture and Media, and Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University. You can follow her on Twitter @suzannahweiss. Read her articles here.
Search our 3000+ articles!
Our online racial justice training
Used by hundreds of universities, non-profits, and businesses.
Click to learn more