Being sad. It should be simple. When something upsetting happens, we get upset. That’s the gist of it. Yet the emotion of sadness has turned into this complex concept that holds so many different implications. Sadness, in general, has come to mean weakness and is something to be pitied. Sadness in men is not tolerated at all; the emotion itself has become the antithesis to masculinity and the male gender. Sadness in children is not taken seriously; it is a trivial emotion that can be fixed with something simple like ice cream or candy. Sadness in women is associated with irrationality, as are any emotions that women express. Rather than being a form of healing and catharsis, sadness has become just the opposite; a negative experience that should be ignored and dismissed.
I’m not quite sure how sadness became this emotion that we do not allow ourselves to feel, or allows others to see us feel. Sadness does not have to be this unacceptable, taboo feeling. Sadness can be just like any other human emotion; normal. Obviously being happy is preferred to being sad, but that doesn’t mean that being sad has to be horrible. Sadness is a form of healing, and even though it’s not always a picnic, it’s a significant part of the human experience.
For women specifically, sadness does not have to be this expected form of weakness and feeling sorry for ourselves. Artist and feminist, Audrey Wollen, has a theory of female sadness and the benefits it can have to women on a personal level and on a societal level. She calls it the Sad Girl Theory. “Sad Girl Theory is a proposal — a gesture, a question — that’s structured around the idea that girls’ sadness and self-destruction can be re-staged, re-read, re-categorised as an act of political resistance instead of an act of neurosis, narcissism, or neglect. This opens up an entirely new history of activism: what happens if we understand “revolt” as something that can be internal, personal, performed on our own bodies instead of another’s? Girls’ agency has been so dispersed and diluted throughout history; it makes sense to me that maybe the way we fight back has stopped mimicking the masculinised tactics of past revolutions. We can redefine what violence, activism, and autonomy can mean for girls by looking at the actions that are already so pervasive in girl-culture (self-hate, sorrow, suffering, and even suicide) and asserting them as scenes of protest.”
I think Sad Girl Theory allows women to feel sad without the regular side effects of self-punishment and self-hatred. Sad Girl Theory perpetuates the idea that sadness is not a bad emotion, rather it is a powerful form of self-expression. I think of this theory when I am sad. It helps me to see my sadness as an art form and a form of healing rather than a thing to be ashamed of.