May 2013/First Year of College
Despite the Movement’s attempt to spread gender equality and women’s rights, present ideas of misogyny are disturbingly spread by women themselves. Not only do women spread misogynist values and ideas, but many women can been seen evoking patriarchal tactics of control by “using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house” (Hooks, 1986). This paper is meant to investigate and evaluate relationships between women and answer the question of women-based misogyny. It will also analyze the functions of political solidarity, or unity, between women.
Why Beating Each Other with the Master’s Tools Definitely Won’t Dismantle His House
It began with the Steubenville trial—maybe before that. It began in my senior year of high school with the required reading of Half the Sky. It changed my life: women crying, women dying—women dying; humans killing, humans raping, humans hurting. So I wrote the first paper, the one about rape as a weapon of war in Sub-Saharan Africa. I gave the speech: Rape as it pertains to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I swore I’d never touch the topic again. It became exhausting. I was immersed in piles of research about brutality toward women all over the world. I let myself think that the world would continue to turn—women may continue to die—but my voice was one in seven billion. I am a woman, but I am not that kind of woman. My gradual indifference to the plight of women is a hidden, driving force behind much of the misogyny that takes place in the present. When the Steubenville rape trial was broadcasted to the nation this past March, it consumed me. The lack of political solidarity that women encompass today literally broke me. I had an urge to find the reasons that women aren’t united on solid ground and why we are the most influential critics of one another. I was made exposed to all kinds of propaganda against women by women in the media: I became interested in pursuing the topic after watching the media coverage between the endless slew of biased news stations. CNN reports that two of the victim’s best friends testified for the defense instead of for the prosecution (Simmons, 2013). Later, CNN itself came under fire for lamenting the loss of the boys’ futures and disregarding the pain of the victim (Makarechi, 2013). Surprisingly, the commentators at fault were both women themselves. A national debate was sparked—but the internal conflict rooted in my gut, ravishing my mind, my spine, and my heart was only beginning.
As usual, the polarity of the debate kept any constructive rhetoric from taking place. One side demands more responsibility and discretion from women in order to prevent rape from occurring, based on behaviors and dress codes that perceivably invoke negative attention. All the while, this side argues that the girl is also to blame—as if men are equated with animals, unable to contain their beastly desires. The other side speaks out against discretion and argues in favor of topless women and provocative ideas as a human right, deflecting any threats or prevention for rape. Both ideas are arbitrarily polarized in nature. This black and white stance that our society so often takes puts issues—and femininity such as this—in danger of losing advancement.
This brings me to my next point, and what I believe to be the cause of continued gender inequality. Feminists too often make the argument that men wage the war on women, but I have found through experience and research that women themselves are the main persecutors of other women. I broke out my old books, searched my Facebook history for previously posted links, and re-read my research paper on rape. I found that women emit misogynistic values time and time again. Past and presently, “it is women who routinely manage brothels in poor countries, who ensure that their daughters’ genitals are cut, who feed sons before daughters, who take their sons but not their daughters to clinics for vaccination” (Kristof & WuDunn, 2009). Kristof and WuDunn argue that although it’s easy to fall for the belief that men are always the villains, women are equally as capable of absorbing and transmitting misogynistic values. “This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike” (Kristof & WuDunn, 2009). After a women’s studies class lecture on female advancement, I became interested in an article written about Sheryl Sandberg, the co-pilot of Facebook alongside Mark Zuckerberg. When Sandberg wrote her latest book, Lean In, she received a staggering amount of criticism. Although the book targeted feminism and broadening the horizons for many women in the present day, Sandberg received the largest proportion of criticism from women themselves—lending to the idea that some people, including said feminists, continue to have a problem with female power. “Women, much more than men, are statistically more likely to sabotage and terrorize other women socially and in the workplace than men are. Women are far more likely to ‘freeze out’, gossip about, and undermine the work of other women than men are” (Zink, 2012). It’s also reported that a male entrepreneur is more likeable than his female counterpart (Luscombe, 2013). This not only applies to the business world, because attendance for women’s athletics and women’s comedy events is significantly lower overall than that of men’s. Hooks declares, “we are taught that women are ‘natural’ enemies, that solidarity will never exist between us because we cannot, should not, and do not bond with one another. We have learned these lessons well” (Hooks, 1986).
These findings on women—especially in the career world—brought me to my next realization. I thought about the workplace in which I work. Although I have male-peers, I am most often consumed with the judgment I receive from my female-peers, despite their lower position within the workplace. Additionally, I often make more assumptions about the women callers than the men. I work in an answering service and many of the calls I receive are not positive ones. However, despite the usually equal battering I receive on the phones from both genders, I’ve observed that more attention and criticism is pushed on the female callers than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, I have found myself pre-judging a situation based on the gender of the caller. When a woman calls in for a broken furnace, I judge in her inept. I determine that she is not capable of a man’s baseline ability simply because she is a woman. When a mother calls in for a sick child, I judge her choice of a different last name parallel to her ability as a mother. When a nurse calls to rip me apart for human error, I don’t hesitate in calling her a bitch; in contrast, when a doctor does the same, I chalk it up to his having a bad day. The ways in which I’ve observed my own words and actions in addition to those of my co-workers has opened my eyes to the common—and frankly accepted—debasement of women, by women.
So why do we refuse to unite on a basis of shared victimization in order to combat sexism on such a wide scale? This is exactly the type of thought that Hooks argues is at the core of the issue regarding political solidarity between women. It’s this idea that women are individuals on basis of oppression and differences that wedges a divide between women today. It started during the Movement, when women were taught that oppression and stories of oppression were more powerful forces for change that assertive ideas and confidence in change. The women promoting the latter were cast off from society, from the movement that “rather than repudiating [victimization]…embraced it…[which] created a situation in which assertive, self-affirming women were often seen as having no place in the feminist movement” (Hooks, 1986). Freeman’s argument reflects some of the same: “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” (Freeman, 1976). Freeman continues on to argue that women are mainly criticized for two different reasons. In the first, achievers are attacked because they represent perceived failings of their female peers. If they are assertive, they are no longer “feminine” and can even be accused of anti-feminism. In the other, if they are opportunists, they are relying too heavily on the oppression of others as a catalyst for their own success (Freeman, 1976).
I believe that the emphasis placed on individualism versus collaboration is responsible for the divisions that exist, even today. “From an early age we are taught to compete against each other. We are told that we should all be vying for male attention throughout our lives. We’re taught to break each other down, and talk about each other’s’ FUPAS and booty-dos” (Sanchez, 2012). Just as Hooks argues that victimization and oppression sets levels and creates barriers for unity among women, women compete and pit themselves against other women in order to reign as “most oppressed” or “most deserving” from or for equality. And although it’s not to be argued that human competition and motivation should not exist, the level of judgment and hatred we emit toward one another should be evaluated. It’s understandable that in a world where less career positions, social ranks, and human opportunities are available to women, women must fight to sit at the top. However, in order to break through the glass ceiling of opportunities that women gaze toward, we need to unite on grounds of sisterhood and political solidarity that separates us from our male counterparts. If more energy was placed toward unity and solidarity, women could collectively reign in positions that we are currently fighting one another in order to achieve. Immersed in this society that values individual achievement over solidarity, and in response to Sandberg’s notion of “Leaning In,” Grant wrote that there is “simply no way for women to lean in without leaning on the backs of other women” (Ginkgo, 2013).
This idea that a woman betters herself before seeking the betterment of the masses lead me to search for understanding from my experience in an all-girl’s boarding school. Society warned me, before entrance into the school, that women could not be allies. I mistakenly believed them. Through my experience, however, I’ve found that an all-girl’s education taught me personal and collaborative achievement and the impact of bettering yourself for the collective. When the competition that so throroughly destroys unity is stripped away, what remains is an understanding and acceptance of the woman’s condition. These “competition” factors included the most obvious aspect—male presence—along with the need to excel over one another in order to reach the top. Because the positions at the top were not limited like they are in the real world, the women strived for personal achievement while spreading the ambition that fueled confidence in the masses. This progress was most often broken down when the competition was re-introduced in the form of co-ed socials and events. Hair and fists were literally thrown when the number of “top spots” was reduced.
Misogyny by women is a devastating problem within the gender. “By misogyny, I mean judging women by harsher standards than those used for judging men” (Jean, 2010). These points are argued in many texts, from Shopenhauer, who argues that both men and women are the spectators of women—meaning men watch women, and women watch women (Shopenhauer, 1851). Blogger Jean echoes this sentiment when she says that there are some women who don’t think women have the same baseline ability as men (Jean, 2010). What places women at the forefront of observation, like an actress on a stage or a gladiator in a coliseum? I want to know what it is that sets the standard higher for women, in relation to men—and why women themselves are often setting this trend of misogyny in society. One answer, suggested by Booth, points to “prejudice and the cultural baggage that we each carry around. Individuals are strongly affected by social custom and conditioning, and many of us never question the tenets that have guided us from infancy…and yes, misogyny” (Booth, 2013). In The Master’s Tools, Audre Lourde (1983) describes these standards and prejudices along with means to overcome differences in order to achieve unity:
As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression…. Survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower. (p. 112)
The ways in which this society and women as one entity are devastating gender equality and advancement is unimaginable. I can’t help feeling like the feminist movement has taken many steps back since the Movement began in the 20th century…but then I wonder whether or not progress was really achieved in the first place. If the price to pay for voting and reproductive rights was a loss of solidarity from woman to woman, I’m not sure that the progress we have made as a whole is positively correlated. One day, I hope to live in a world where women’s basketball has legitimate brackets, female comedians get applause, female CEO’s have women under them AND looking up to them, and women unite for collaboration and not competition. I hope to live in a world where a 16 year-old girl isn’t maimed for being too drunk, too easy—where her friends stand up for her honor before standing in a court of law against her integrity—and where more stigma surrounds actions of violence than the results of it. I hope to never again become indifferent to the plight of women globally—for I am a woman, and I demand change.
This is where the paper has led me to at this point. Echoed in my introduction, I know that my voice is not as impactful as I’d like it to be. I know that competition and severing differences will continue to occur between women because the cultural ideas and prejudices that fill our minds and blind our sight are too deeply ingrained in our collective that change is nearly impossible. Although informational, the paper did not provide many answers to the “how” questions I posed. However, through the information I attained while researching, I now know the significance of words, as well as actions. Slut-shaming and derogatory terms used commonly to describe women (e.g. Bitch, Whore, Cunt) must be eliminated from our daily vocabulary—especially in regard to usage by another woman. These words need to be stigmatized in order to eliminate the character degradation that runs rampant in our society. Women need to question their motivations for hatred instead of ignorantly embracing their feelings. I hope to ask myself why I don’t care for another woman—and evaluate whether or not the dislike stems from feelings of personal envy or inadequacy. In order to combat misogyny, I hope to challenge my own ideas of “women-hating” in order to be accountable for my thoughts and words. Instead of spreading competition and individualism, I hope to embrace the successes and achievements of others in order to lift them to a level representative of all women, not just that woman. I know these efforts are small. I do not want to stand back and watch my gender pick each other off—survival is only evident collectively within our numbers. Thanks to Lourde (1983), I now know what it means to dismantle the master’s house using tools modeled after liberation, unity and strength in numbers—in spite of the master’s tools resting within arm’s reach (1983).
Associated Press. (2013, March 16). Steubenville rape case: Friend testifies about accuser’s behavior the night of the alleged attack. Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/girl-tells-accuser-behavior-ohio-rape-case-article-1.1290613
Booth, A. (2013, March 26.). Misogyny and powerful women. Al Jazeera English. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com
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Jean. (2010, February 3). Misogynists are women, too. Message posted to http://jxyzabc.blogspot.com/2010/02/misogynists-are-women-too.html
Kristof, N., & WuDunn, S. (2009). Half The Sky. New York City, New York: Vintage Books.
Lewis, L.E. (2012). Rape As a Weapon of War. Unpublished Manuscript, College of Communications, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania.
Lorde. A. (1983). The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle tbe Master’s House. Retrieved from http://lists.econ.utah.edu/pipermail/margins-to-centre/2006-March/000794.html
Luscombe, B. (2013, March 7). Confidence Woman. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://ideas.time.com/2013/03/07/confidence-woman/
Makarechi, K. (2013, March 17). CNN’s Steubenville Coverage Focuses On Effect Rape Trial Will Have On Rapists, Not Victim. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kia-makarechi/cnn-steubenville-coverage_b_2896948.html
Rich, A. (1972). When We Dead Awaken. College English, 34(1), 18-30. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/375215
Sanchez, E. (2012, July 18). When Women Hate Women. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Schopenhauer, A. (1851). On Women. Retrieved from http://www.theabsolute.net/misogyny/onwomen.html
Simmons, R. (2013, March 21). In Steubenville, why didn’t other girls help? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/20/opinion/simmons-steubenville-girls
Zerlina. (2013, April 2). Melissa Harris-Perry teaches us how to be a good ally. Message posted to http://feministing.com/2013/04/02/howtobeagoodally/
Zink, S. (2012, June 18). Why Do Women Hate Women. Message posted to https://www.plaidforwomen.com/audio-post/why-do-women-hate-women/