Taking feminist heresy to where the boys are

workplace sexism

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.

Natasha Chart
Natasha Chart

Natasha Chart is an online organizer and feminist living in the United States. She does not recant her heresy.

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  • IncendiaryLover

    Thank you so much for this eloquent commentary, I’ve been struggling with this sentiment for the past week. Well, always struggling because its so damn painful to see sisters work to placate patriarchy when you know it won’t save them, and trying to warn them when society teaches to distrust and hate ourselves. And the cycle is so obvious once you see it?

    Thank You amazing guest writer Natasha

  • Melissa Cutler

    Phenomenal essay. Thank you.

    It’s tough because, knowing how painful and horrifying the truth is and how much easier it is to believe the lies, we should tread gently on women who are still in denial of the scope of our oppression as a sex. But when I think of all the damage that libfems and female anti-feminists do that contributes to the oppression of women and holds back the feminist movement, it’s just enraging.

  • Alienigena

    I have always thought that many women have a will to power and that they sought that power through maintaining good relationships with men or sucking up to men, if you like (whether they liked or respected those men was immaterial). I have never been able to accept cognitive dissonance as my lot so have often been alienated from female friends, my sister and mother. I don’t see men as a viable … anything. Definitely not a route to personal power (that is, power over one’s own circumstances). People who want power over others just seem pathological to me … be they men or women. I know my view is not a common one … witness fandom and the kind of mindless allegiance that some politicians or spiritual leaders inspire. I am not a fan … of any description. Don’t get the whole mindset. Not a fan of men or of powerful women. I am glad someone has finally said that women with a will to power tend to be the worst kind of male collaborator and their own worst enemy. I fully understand wanting power over one’s own life … but not over the lives of others. To me the hatred of women / females seems almost biological … but I have always been a fan of fighting one’s programming. If humans can claim to be separate from nature and decimate the environment, they can damn well ignore their own upbringing and impulses … or make a good effort to do so. It is called self-control, an essential part of what it is to be human.

    • Sally Hansen

      I think Dworkin wrote a book about this called “Right Wing Women”. i plan to read it.

  • pyrite00

    Wonderful article! This is what women need to understand – there is no level playing field to be found and we are all playing a game that was rigged against us before we were even born. Yes, some women have advantages that other women don’t (family status, wealth, being the favored race/skin color/body shape in their culture, etc.) but no woman has an equal chance against a man who would be her “twin” in everything else. Realizing that the problem is the culture is depressing at first but it also frees us from the constant drumbeat of “what is wrong with me” that women hear 24/7/365. My adult life really began when I realized that the only way to live well and be happy was to always try to figure out how much I could GET out of this patriarchy while giving as little as possible of my life/labor/time back. I don’t worry about playing fast and loose or even ignoring (when I safely can) the rules of a game that is not fair to me to begin with. I thank the author of this article again and wish there was a way we could get teen girls to read stuff like this – maybe compile a book of like-minded articles as the REAL subversive stuff society does not want young women to read….

  • Melissa Cutler

    MRAs are actively trying to keep women from creating those networks: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/01/men-rights-unruh-act-women-discrimination

  • Sally Hansen

    omg… someone NEEDS to make this.

  • Cassandra

    If only every girl could read this piece and understand the absolute truth of it, early on. What a different world it might be.

    Excellent essay.

  • Tired feminist
  • will

    …or Samantha Bee.

  • Misanthropia

    My question is whether we will push back and destroy patriarchy or will we continue to be oppressed within this system. Some days I just feel so hopeless about the whole thing. I look back at the thousands of years of female oppression and think that, can this be destroyed, can this be undone. Do we need to rev up the fight and take it to the next level? How can the average Jane do something?

    • Rachel

      I agree. It is so disheartening to see just how engrained it is in society that women are these sub human species to men. Even looking at the most obvious signs of this being in violence against women and porn culture, I can’t fathom how people cannot see the absurdity of the double standards we have in society. And to then take it to the next level and actually redefine these issues is baffling. I feel so hopeless too. At least we can stand in hopelessness together. I don’t know if you find this, but outside of Feminist Current, and very few other internet “spaces”, I feel completely alone in the way I see these things. Everyone is still under the patriarchal fog, and it seems that we’re doomed for them to stay there.

  • Sally Hansen

    nice! *bookmarks*

  • ptittle

    A friend of mine has written this as a novel — if anyone here is an editor or publisher, would love to hear from you!