How The “Women’s” Conversation Isn’t Helping
Don’t you put that on me
First of all, let me be clear:
I am a feminist and I will readily identify as one.
I agree that everyone is better off joining our 21st Century society: everyone can work if they want to work; anyone can stay home if they want to (and are otherwise supported); anyone can wear makeup; anyone can skip it; everyone should have access to (and have the right to be in control of their own) birth control.
My issue isn’t with any of that.
My issue is with how the conversation is happening. And my issue is also with being dragged into the conversation purely on basis of gender and having it set on top of my head like a paper party-hat at a place I don’t even want to be.
My issue is that one set of demands (conventional femininity) is simply being replaced by another:
With all due respect: fuck off.
The cry for “empowerment” is cringe-worthy at best
As Jia Tolentino wrote in The New York Times article “How ‘Empowerment’ Became Something for Women to Buy,”
“Today ‘empowerment’ invokes power while signifying the lack of it. It functions like an explorer staking a claim on new territory with a white flag.”
And on top of that:
“An emphasis on empowerment is often a sign of something to atone for.”
People cry for power — or claim they already are empowered, or offer “empowerment” to their female brethren — because deep down they are accounting for the fear that they don’t have it. But by calling it out over and over, they are only cementing that in our heads.
If you want to rally-cry, go for it. But just because it’s about gender doesn’t make it every woman’s fight.
Women: don’t tell other women how to be a woman
And “gender” is a personal experience.
Everybody— not other (however well-intended) people — owns his or her own gender experience. And when it comes to “being a woman,” as a woman, it is as simple as “anything I fucking do.”
In the words of Sojourner Truth,
“Ain’t I a woman?”
Yes. I am.
I don’t need it defined for me. And I definitely don’t need the t-shirt.
I know what I’m about, son.
In black author Samantha Irby’s book Meaty, she writes,
“Dear black people… I love you because black people who are uncomfortable in their own skin and with their identities often try to control and demean other black people by challenging their ‘blackness.’ It’s an age-old trick. Maybe you won’t notice that I’m wrong and an idiot if I deflect and put you on the defensive about your heritage. Because there is no right answer to the question of who’s blacker than whom; it’s an ideological pissing contest.”
In the margins of this passage, I wrote “women too.”
A lot of women do things that challenge the idea of “being a woman” on both sides of the fence — on the one hand, we may not play nice and participate as a “conventional woman.” But on the other hand, we may not play nice and participate in all these “Important Women’s Conversations.” This “gender role” fluidity is apparently quite confusing and uncomfortable for people, who suggest that if such a woman is not actively appeasing one group, then she must be sleeping with “the enemy.” (One totally woke woman once accused me of being “red-pill” because I refuse to fight about stupid shit.)
And maybe we are — I don’t know — but that’s just, like, your opinion, man. And either way, why do we care so much about other women’s lives? Isn’t that the exact shit we’re fighting against?
In the words of Brenda from Juno,
“I think we both ought to just stick to what we know.”
You do you, boo boo. And I’ll do me.
Our definition of “women” is sexist
And doesn’t represent my experience, life, or pain points. So pardon me while I slip out the back door, because even though I recognize and identify with this word you’re using, everything after that is alien to me.
It’s not ALL women and it’s not ONLY women
I don’t want to use “women” as synonymous with “parents” (especially since I’m not one!) I don’t want “women” to be synonymous with “sexual harassment victim.”
I know that, statistically, the latter is true. That’s one thing.
But it breaks my heart a little that we keep framing up things like “parenthood” and “birth control” as a “woman’s problem.” I know, socially, it still is, but the more we talk about it like this, the more we solidify that and box ourselves into it.
Choose the right words. Anything else is more hurt than help.
Framing everything up with gender is harmful
Every time you do that, you’re only solidifying them as “other.”
Many female comedians are very outspoken about the fact that they want to be seen as “top comedians,” not “top female comedians.”
Similarly, Morgan Freeman hates the “black” conversation as well. In an interview with Mike Wallace, he said:
Freeman: “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”
Wallace: “How are we gonna get rid of racism and — ”
Freeman: “Stop talking about it! I’m gonna stop calling you ‘a white man’ and I’m gonna ask you to stop calling me ‘a black man’…I know you as Mike Wallace; you know me as Morgan Freeman.”
That’s exactly how I feel about gender.
When I was running my business, I would occasionally get contacted for interviews by various publications — and 99% of the time, they were “women’s” ones (written by women, about women, talking about the “woman’s experience,” for women.)
They’d frame up leading questions like,
“How’s your experience of running a business, as a woman?”
And I’d answer,
“I don’t think of my experience of running a business in terms of being ‘a woman.’”
And then they’d run the piece and add “as a woman…” to the beginning of my quote anyway, like I’d actually said that shit — even though I hadn’t and had explicitly said I don’t.
So I don’t have conversations about it anymore.
Which, for those following along at home, is a real hilariously-ironic shame, because it means I feel uncomfortable sharing my own experience.
That is not my life, nor is it my view of myself. I am first a writer, a person, a human being. And only in passing, as a footnote, am I a woman.
We can only talk about one thing at a time
And when we’re talking about doing anything “as a woman,” it’s not the same as just talking about the thing — and neither are the same as just doing it.
I absolutely refuse to go to “women in tech” groups — because instead of talking about the thing (technology, software, startups, etc.) among women, they’d instead just talk about being women, who happen to be in those things.
I’ve even been to public tech/startup events in SoMa, heart of startups in San Francisco, where they actively, formally silenced the men, announcing at the beginning “men are not permitted to talk” and actually following through by cutting men off if they speak.
Ladies. What the actual fuck.
I got up and left these events. Because I have zero interest in being a part of your Harrison Bergeron “girl tribe.”
Secure People Don’t Shout About Being Secure
If I haven’t offended you by now, this is the section that might.
Happy people don’t need to talk about being happy. Sincerely strong people don’t need to go around talking about how “strong” they are.
The dirty little secret about self-help is that it doesn’t improve most people’s lives. In fact, studies show that many people are worse off than before.
And as Mark Manson wrote, “self-help reinforces perceptions of inferiority and shame.”
And a lot “women’s” movements are at this same risk.
Too many “women’s” groups just want to circle jerk and share star stickers about not only being “women,” but strong women, powerful women, women who can do anything they put their mind to.
And I’m just standing over here like, “if that’s true, then why aren’t you?” Why are we all jerking each other off instead?
Here’s the thing: truly strong people don’t need to talk about being strong. And they definitely don’t need others to remind them of it.
Think I’m a dick for saying that? Fine. But someone secure wouldn’t be butt-hurt about it. So pick a side, Sandra.
And maybe you want to argue that the women’s movement isn’t primarily about being “strong,” but rather all the injustices. Okay — cool.
Let’s tackle that, then.
Okay, two problems here.
a.) The more you focus on a thing, the more you cement it. Because that’s the way the brain works. So the more we focus on the negative, the less we’re focusing on the positive. (And the positive is not chanting “we’re strong!”, see above.)
b.) We don’t control other people’s behavior. We only control our own. A lot of people (myself included) “find themselves” in emotionally toxic relationships, and a lot of them (myself included) waste time trying to negotiate with our partner, hanging around for years “waiting for them to improve” and telling ourselves things like “everything would be so wonderful if only they would change” and yelling, crying, cajoling when they don’t. That’s not the solution.
The only people we control is ourselves, so rather than focusing on what we wish everyone else would do differently, we’d see a lot more — like 10x or 100x more — headway if we instead direct that energy at shit in our control, i.e., ourselves.
As Nathaniel Branden, author and Ph. D. in psychology, wrote,
“Self-responsibility, independence, and autonomy are words to which some people respond with antagonism.”
(I’m sure some people already have, reading this…)
“Many people and groups today embrace the psychology of helplessness and victimhood and prefer to explain all their difficulties and struggles in terms of the actions of others. Given the amount of cruelty and injustice in the world, this preference is easy enough to rationalize. But there is also in our culture a countervailing tendency — a growing appreciation of the importance of self-reliance and of the need to take our destiny into our own hands.”
If you’re reading this and reeling, “gasp! Is she victim-blaming me?!”
The answer is: babe, no. I’m not saying it’s your fault. (ffs.) I’m saying you have more in your arsenal as a solution. (And I’m also saying that a solution’s more important than figuring out “who’s to blame,” which is a waste of time that detracts from resolution and forward progress.)
If you’re reading this and thinking, “this isn’t one person! This is the patriarch!” My answer is: *sigh.* True dat, sister. But one might argue that this is even more to the point then. But if you want to take it on, go for it. Nobody is stopping you. All I’m asking is just please don’t assign other women roles in the matter and getting pissed when we don’t play them out.
We each have our own path.
“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”
And not all of them are “women’s” just because our gender fits the bill.
You don’t want to be imposed on, as a woman, by others? Yeah, girl — I hear you. Me neither. It’s not anyone’s place to get pushy or defensive because other people with whom we identify aren’t enraged about the same things, especially if they define those identities differently.
Let others be
Nobody is indebted to anyone just by merit of being alive.
Sometimes people come at each other with shit like, “you wouldn’t even have that job if it weren’t for women before you.” And like, Great. (Thanks, history! I appreciate it.) But that doesn’t make us beholden to them.
There have also been women who have contributed remarkable things to humanity outside of the political sphere — through science, just for example. Or law. Or literature. Business. Fashion. Champagne.
Are we expected to carry the torch for all their efforts as well, just because they made headway and blazed the path for us to do so? Of course not.
I was a talented visual artist as a kid, and growing up everyone in my life was 100% convinced I’d become an artist of some kind — “everyone,” that is, except me. Because I didn’t want to.
I don’t owe the world art just because I can draw. And I don’t owe the world (or any group, female or otherwise) my allegiance on basis of being a woman, especially if their definition doesn’t honor my own.
As Roxane Gay said:
“There is no real wrong way to ‘do feminism,’ so long as you’re coming to it with an open mind.”
Thanks, boss. I think we could all stand to take a note of that.
Have feedback? I’m not surprised! Hit me up in the comments. I am open to dialogue and standing corrected.
“As a woman” or nah.