Trust Women, Even When It Is Impossible

All women are damaged.  Damage is injury or harm that reduces us.

You, woman, are damaged.

Does this offend you? Do you believe you are not damaged, that you are somehow immune to the forces at work that make women hate each other?

You are lucky.

Who WOULDN’T be damaged? Damage to women is both a direct goal of male supremacy and a by-product of living in a woman-hating culture.

I don’t blame women for this damage.All women are two-faced.  We engage in deception when we pretend we believe one thing, and act according to a different belief.  We “have” to be two-faced. How else would women survive in a woman-hating culture, where what we are socialized to be loyal to doesn’t always match up with what we know to be true in our hearts? And, so, often we sell ourselves out, just as much as well sell out other women.

I don’t blame women for adopting tactics needed to survive.

I am a woman. I am not immune from these observations.

I am damaged and two-faced.

But how do we trust women in light of the fact that all women are damaged and all women are two-faced (and three- and four-faced, depending on the lives we lead and the masters we serve)?

How do we trust women in a Feminist Movement when, as a result of this damage inflicted upon us, women trash other women?

We MUST trust women if we are to advance even by inches the cause of Women’s Liberation.

How are we as a Feminist Movement able to offer critique and criticism of bad ideas (because, yanno, not everything a Feminist says is gold, me included) without it denigrating into accusations of “meanness”? How can we as a Feminist Movement advance specific campaigns to highlight inequities against women without the women working those campaigns and showing *gasp* initiative then having to endure endless rounds of _______ is a sociopath, _______ is a Rich Prick, ________ “barely joined feminism,” _________ thinks everyone is in love with her and buys their affection, ______ is crazy, _______ is an Ice Queen, ____ thinks they can LEAD, ______ is unstable, _____ fucks anything that moves, ______ is in this for personal glory.

Fuck if I know.

I don’t know.

Just stop doing it.

Trashing is not a new phenomenon, and has been written about before by women far smarter than me. But since this is my blog, a selfish, relevant observation for me from Jo Freeman’s excellent essay on trashing (which I encourage all women to read):

Trashing is not only destructive to the individuals involved, but serves as a very powerful tool of social control. The qualities and styles which are attacked become examples other women learn not to follow — lest the same fate befall them. This is not a characteristic peculiar to the Women’s Movement, or even to women. The use of social pressures to induce conformity and intolerance for individuality is endemic to American society. The relevant question is not why the Movement exerts such strong pressures to conform to a narrow standard, but what standard does it pressure women to conform to.

This standard is clothed in the rhetoric of revolution and feminism. But underneath are some very traditional ideas about women’s proper roles. I have observed that two different types of women are trashed. The first is the one described by Anselma Dell’Olio — the achiever and/or the assertive woman, the one to whom the epithet “male-identified” is commonly applied. This kind of woman has always been put down by our society with epithets ranging from “unladylike” to “castrating bitch.” The primary reason there have been so few “great women ______” is not merely that greatness has been undeveloped or unrecognized, but that women exhibiting potential for achievement are punished by both women and men. The “fear of success” is quite rational when one knows that the consequence of achievement is hostility and not praise. Not only has the Movement failed to overcome this traditional socialization, but some women have taken it to new extremes. To do something significant, to be recognized, to achieve, is to imply that one is “making it off other women’s oppression” or that one thinks oneself better than other women. Though few women may think this, too many remain silent while the others unsheathe their claws. The quest for “leaderlessness” that the Movement so prizes has more frequently become an attempt to tear down those women who show leadership qualities, than to develop such qualities in those who don’t. Many women who have tried to share their skills have been trashed for asserting that they know something others don’t. The Movement’s worship of egalitarianism is so strong that it has become confused with sameness. Women who remind us that we are not all the same are trashed because their differentness is interpreted as meaning we are not all equal.

Consequently the Movement makes the wrong demands from the achievers within it. It asks for guilt and atonement rather than acknowledgment and responsibility. Women who have benefitted personally from the Movement’s existence do owe it more than gratitude. But that debt is not called in by trashing. Trashing only discourages other women from trying to break free of their traditional shackles.

All we have as  Radical Feminist Movement (if we are a Radical Feminist Movement) are ideas and each other, sisters.

Ideas can be debated and dissected.

Women cannot.

Women as women (not their ideas) cannot be debated and dissected without destroying them.

If you debate the existence of an individual woman and dissect her, you destroy her.

If your goal is to debate and dissect individual women, you are doing Radical Feminism wrong.

You win, Patriarchy.

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A friend recommended Phyllis Chesler’s book. A summary:

            “Man’s inhumanity to man”–the phrase is all too familiar. But until Phyllis Chesler’s now-classic book, a profound silence prevailed about woman’s inhumanity to woman. Women’s aggression may not take the same form as men’s, but girls and women are indeed aggressive, often indirectly and mainly toward one another. They judge harshly, hold grudges, gossip, exclude, and disconnect from other women. 
            Like men, women are exposed to the messages of misogyny and sexism that permeate cultures worldwide. Like men, women unconsciously buy into negative images that can trigger abuse and mistreatment of other women. But like other social victims, many do not realize stereotyping affects members within the victimized group as well as those outside the group. They do not realize their behavior reflects society’s biases.
            How women view and treat other women matters. Are women oppressed? Yes. Do oppressed people internalize their oppressors’ attitudes? Without a doubt. Prejudice must first be acknowledged before it can be resisted or overcome. More than men, women depend upon one another for emotional intimacy and bonding, and exclusionary and sexist behavior enforces female conformity and discourages independence and psychological growth.
            Continuing the pioneering work begun in Women and Madness—Chesler’s bestselling book that broke the story on double standards in psychology—Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman draws on important studies, revolutionary theories, literature, and hundreds of original interviews. Chesler urges us to look within, to treat other women realistically, ethically, and kindly, and to forge bold and compassionate alliances. This is a necessary next step for women, without which they will never be liberated.

I am reading this book now. I hope you will read it.

I trust you, woman, regardless, even though it sometimes feels impossible. Because I am not sure our damage is fixable. I am afraid our damage might be permanent. I want to be wrong.

Because what choice do we have women? We are in this together.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not an attempt to LEAD. If you want a leader, look inside yourself.

Further recommended reading:

Sisterhood in application (Part One)

Sisterhood in Application (Part Two)

Sisterhood in application (Part three)

Also, read this.

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3 thoughts on “Trust Women, Even When It Is Impossible

  1. Thank you so much for this! I have been trying to change some of my feminist sisters minds about their distrust for women for a while now and it has been difficult. We must have empathy and trust for our sisters, regardless of their behaviors because their behaviors are a direct result of being socialized in patriarchy and to distrust other women is to be agents of patriarchy. Thanks again for this. 🙂

  2. I’d guess this phenomenon helps to drive the whole transman thing. I was always at the top of my class when I was a girl, always in the most advanced placement classes, well up into the ninety-ninth percentile in the tests. And I was eccentric in other ways, and terribly lonely.

    Then I found out that standing out thusly made me one hell of a target. How could I make friends if I was always being targeted and socially ostracized by other girls? (because everybody knows the outcasts have cooties)

    So I started cutting classes and flunking out and trying to figure out how to fit in somewhere, somehow. I could have flown through school with flying colors but I never had figured how to fit into society. 

    I couldn’t figure out the girls, and they considered me competition. I thought I was okay with the boys until they took to sporadically assaulting me.

    So when I first heard of transgender, it was very seductive. I can be a guy? Well, that would just solve everything. The women would be falling all over themselves wanting to get my attention, and the guys would try to bond with me instead of trying to rape me. I could be an oddball eccentric guy genius slob and have friends and not have to deal with all this (sterotypical) “chick shit.”

    I never contemplated getting all medical about it, but the allure of being able to pass as a man was unmistakable, which made it easy to just go along with the whole idea.

    Then I discovered radical feminism, late, and all that melted away. I don’t have to be a guy to be me.

    Meanwhile, those girls who teased me mercilessly on the school playgrounds and terrorized me on the bus and chased me around on the streets are still around. They’ve just gotten older. I hope some get wiser.

    Thanks for the reading material links. I haven’t even read Dworkin yet, I’m so behind. I did watch a couple of her films/clips on YouTube and was just blown away.

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