To call a man a “man’s man” is usually meant as a compliment. To call almost anyone a “girly girl” is at best gentle ribbing, at worst, a dire criticism.
If men want to really dig in the knife with each other, they may say, “Don’t be such a ****ing woman.”
When Donald Trump used the excuse of repeating an audience comment to call an opponent in the US presidential campaign a “p*ssy,” his followers thought it was hilarious. Because nothing is weaker or more pathetic to the patriarchal mind than female genitalia. It’s not even surprising that the audience member who said that was a woman… Lots of women think that women are pathetic, too.
This is a pressure that goes one way only. Men are cool, women aren’t — both are pushed to conform to stereotypical masculine norms. You know, if they want to be cool.
Or if they would like to have a job that pays decently. Or if they want to have their opinions taken seriously. Or if they would like to have friends. Or if they don’t want to be mocked in particular ways.
Where the boys are, especially the white® boys, is where most of the power and money is. It’s where the inside tips and mentorships are. It’s where any woman who wants to get ahead in the world has to learn how to make it. It’s where she has to learn how to smile like she means it when a man says something to her that another man would punch him for — and not just learn, but turn that smile into such a deep reflex that she can’t even stop herself or question it in the moment.
They’ll turn to her if she brings up how women are treated — all these affable, benevolent peers — and insist that she confirm that they aren’t sexist, no. No, she’ll agree, of course not. She’ll join them in making jokes about how ridiculous it is to do anything as if it mattered that she had a vagina; she’s no p*ssy, she doesn’t need to dwell in the past. She’ll write off the way these nice, not-sexist guys make crazy b*tch jokes and try to mansplain what real sexism is to her every day. Every day until she can’t.
That can be a long time. Women have phenomenal endurance, and the payoff for knowing that you’re surrounded by sexist jerks is its own reward; by which I mean, nothing. That is to say, there is no immediate benefit from realizing that the people who run almost everything in your life have no respect for you.
But no matter how well she learns to play that game or be accepted “as one of the boys,” she’ll always still be a girl. Until overnight, always sooner than she thinks, she becomes an old woman. An old woman who is considered an unsightly, instant punchline more often than one might expect in a supposedly civilized society.
It may well be terrible messaging to tell young women that it keeps getting worse, but it isn’t wrong.
That is how women’s oppression actually works. That’s how they keep us separated from each other. Embarrassed of each other’s company. Slow to praise each other, quick to criticize. Quick, so quick, to see each other through the lens of conformity to male-centric beauty standards and sexual use-value to men.
Have you ever, if you are a woman, looked at another woman and thought, “Wow, she’s really let herself go.” Why? Think about that, maybe.
Women hope so hard that we can be not like other girls, in the hope we won’t be treated like other girls, as reams of women’s writing on the subject can attest. If we are fortunate to live long lives, we will all eventually be disabused of this notion by the inescapable fact of obdurate sexism. At some point, you can decide that the whole game is crap or you can decide to just agree that you deserved this all along.
Really, it isn’t like there’s much immediate benefit for most women in believing that we are hard done by. Why make a fuss when you’ve been taught so many times that it’s just going to end in a smackdown?
And if you deserved it all along, didn’t that other woman? Didn’t she? Why is she better than you?
As a woman on your own or in your own right, it’s likelier that you didn’t get the raise or the promotion, the nice place to live, the help with the kids, the time off you needed, or even fair acknowledgement for your hard work. You probably lost. You’ve probably quietly watched several men start off in the same place as you, about as qualified, and you’re still treading water while the boys have gone off so far ahead you can barely see them. You’ve probably seen bad things happen to your female friends, too, and eventually you’ll probably see how it happened to your mother and your grandmother.
You’ll try so hard not to end up being held in contempt like other women, and you will almost certainly fail.
It can be hard to think well of yourself when you feel like a failure. Women lose out economically, are routinely humiliated in sexualized ways in public and private, and words for us or our bodies are a popular byword for weakness and lying and incompetence. The general truth of these things mapped onto the life of an individual feels personal — “women” didn’t ask for that raise, you did. “What did I do wrong,” you will not be able to help asking yourself.
And it is very hard to find it in your heart to believe that the reason you have failed is because the world hates women, as Andrea Dworkin explained years ago. It’s very hard to face that as a consequence of that, men keep pushing your head under water on purpose. These are much harder propositions to accept than the personalized conclusion that there is something wrong with you compared to a similarly able or situated man, as pretty much everyone else believes.
Feminists aren’t just asking women to face the unholy knowledge of how much men hate us, but the equally dread reality of the extent to which we have been lied about. We are asking women to believe that everyone else is wrong about us, that the circumstances of our own lives don’t speak of some deep inferiority. We must hold ourselves to be correct in a heresy that all the world hates us for persisting in.
That is very hard. And I don’t think it’s very romantic at all.
Natasha Chart is an online organizer and feminist living in the United States.