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.

******************************************************************

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.

22 comments

  1. There is nothing wrong, and many things right, with leading. When we introduce ideas, action and people to the struggle that are beneficial to it, we lead.

    And if we don’t dissect and debate ideas, we do tend to do those things to women instead (obviously responsibility and accountability are important, but they don’t really work if the focus isn’t on the ideas).

    Thanks for your post Cathy.

    1. Thank you for your friendship and leadership, liberationislife.

  2. this is wonderful, and something I’ve been thinking about too. How we are the walking wounded, and how no matter how much we try to walk in integrity and honesty, the deck is stacked against us. And we hurt each other. And we break each other’s trust. And I Trust Women. and I also know women are wounded. and I try to just hold compassion in my heart for that fact, even when other women hurt me, wound me, or I hurt or wound other women.

    I keep trusting women, even if it is impossible. even if they are not trustworthy. even when i surprise myself by being untrustworthy. we are all imperfect, wounded and in recovery from patriarchy. it’s like being sober but the only place to be is in a bar. sux.

    1. Thanks graceaware. Compassion. We have lots of compassion for lots of things, but very little for each other.

  3. ethicalequinox · ·

    I don’t understand why so many people have a problem with your pointing this out, that women are damaged by patriarchy. Isn’t that the entire premise of patriarchal values, to damage women’s lives and make it difficult for us to unite against it (that is, we can end up being two-faced at times in order to protect ourselves in a system designed to work to our disadvantage)? I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with so much shit regarding this simple observation on tumblr, and goddess forbid any of your critics get ahold of anything written by Raymond or Dworkin – you know, those evil nasty misogynists who say point out how women are OMG damaged by patriarchy…

    1. Yes, I was also confused. Thanks for commenting.

    2. I completely agree with this comment, and have nothing useful to add🙂
      Great post, Cathy.

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

    Totally agree with this.

    Sometimes I despair when I realise that some things haven’t changed in 30+ years. As feminists, we still feel compelled to attack/trash each other without even pausing to ask, “who does this behaviour serve most?” Certainly not women.

    I am appalled by the apparent knee-jerk reactions that take place in social media within feminist (or radfem) space. It seems as if any form of critique is immediately shot down in flames, especially if it is deemed “negative”. What ever happened to treating each other with respect? Too many of us take FB or Twitter commentary as personal, when there is no real way of identifying tone or context. I am not talking about the shit that is obviously abusive or threatening – nuance never exists there.

    In spite of the socialisation and damage caused to all of us by patriarchy – let us not forget who the *real enemy* is here – we need to do everything within our power to ensure that we are *thrivers* and not merely survivors of the abuse/harm visited upon us since birth. I feel it is the only way to take back the power that has been stripped from us.

    Disagreement is good. It allows for a much broader range of views and gives us all an opportunity to learn from each other. All of us, to a greater or lesser degree, are egocentric. That is the human condition I feel. Particularly if the individual has been hurt, which is true of every single woman on the planet, since the dawn of time.

    Bottom line for me is: I trust you as a woman to treat me as you would yourself.

    Thank you Cathy, for your courage and insights in the face of great difficulty.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Your point about tone/context is a good one. Giving women the benefit of the doubt seems a good idea.

  5. I was trashed by another woman today. It came out of the blue. It hurt. This woman is a member of a church characterized by rigid authoritarian male dominance. She joined as an adult. I don’t understand. But the discussion was nothing about that. I’d never mentioned her church. It was about a matter of concern for several people.

    Her attack on me seemed quite divorced from reality. Paranoid. I was stunned by the unreality of it. But it still hurt. I felt sad for her, and concern for her. For us all, really.

    How to trust someone like this? I can only imagine that she felt I was a threat to her survival. The attack was personal and vicious. I did tell her what she said hurt. Maybe that’s trust, a bit. I couldn’t bear to counter attack. I don’t know any ways to further engage a woman like this, either. I can only handle so much.

    Thank you for this post about women’s lives. These words you wrote were especially meaningful:

    “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.”

    I cried when I read those words. That’s how I felt. I’m not sure our damage is fixable. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Be well.

  6. hearthrising · ·

    I’ve been wondering if the nonstop attacks of feminists from the alternative-left communities over pornography, women-only space, etc., has left radfems hypersensitive, unable to handle informed, thoughtful critique of ideology without over-the-top reactions that become personal. But then I wonder if maybe I’m just excusing other people’s poor behavior, which is another thing women do.

  7. I totally agree with this. It’s relevant to incidents that i’ve witnessed both online and in real life. I agree that we are all damaged by the patriarchy.

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

    So often i’ve seen this happen. Where it becomes not a woman’s ideas which are debated, or even specific instances of her behaviour which are critiqued, but everything about her is dissected. i think also that too often women aren’t given the benefit of the doubt to explain their position, clarify their words. Too often we don’t listen to each other enough to find out why a woman holds a particular opinion even if we don’t agree with 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.”

    This. To trust each other, and to try to understand the damage, is all we can do.
    Thanks for writing this, and thanks for keeping on trusting women. Keep yourself well.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You take good care.

  8. Robin Artemis · ·

    Sonia Johnson once said that the most radical thing we can do is to LOVE ALL WOMEN. We don’t have to like each other, or let anyone hurt us, but if we want to live in a better world, a place to start is to learn to LOVE ALL WOMEN. By that, I think, she means to come from a place of basic compassion and expectation of good will.

    An analogy I’ve come up with is that if you are on a crowded bus and someone suddenly lurches into you and steps on your toe, you might be angry at them. Your toe hurts and their actions caused it to hurt, and you’re not having the best of days, so you might lash out at them. You want them to take responsibility for the pain they caused you. But what if you had seen that someone shoved them into you? What if, instead of the person who stepped on your toe willfully abusing you, you saw that they were rudely shoved into you by someone else? Who would you be mad at now the person on your toe or the jerk who shoved them?

    In my view, patriarchy is that jerk shoving all of us into each other, especially all women. When a woman, in her pain from all the shoves she’s received in her life, lashes out at me, I don’t get mad at her I GET MAD AT PATRIARCHY. Patriarchy makes us ALL hurt, in pain, angry. Sometimes we even think we are angry at each other. Sometimes you even find yourself angry at me. And I do stumble. We all do. We let each other down and that hurts the most because we expect better from each other. We open up and trust each other the way we’d never trust some jerk on the bus. But when we fail each other–when I fail you–it’s never just we who fail. Always remember there’s a jerk behind us pushing us around. Always remember that we were pushed. Patriarchy is always there, inside each of us, pushing us to hate ourselves and each other.

    Another analogy. Bulls don’t naturally fight in bull rings. Picadors repeatedly stab them with swords to goad them into fighting with the matadors. This bull refused to fight, even though his back is bloody from the many painful swords still hanging from it. When the matador realized the bull was refusing to fight him, it changed the matador’s life. This picture was taken as the matador was experiencing this profound transformation. Look at the compassion in the bull’s face. That former matador now fights to end the practice of bull fighting.

    And so, I pledge to you, my sisters, that even when you cause me pain, I will try to see through your actions to the real cause of both our pain: patriarchy. I will try to remember those thousands of wounds patriarchy causes each of us, each day, and to get mad at PATRIARCHY not you. I might say, “ouch! you’re on my toe,” but I will try hard not to express that as anger at you or, if I can help it, to add to the wounding you already carry. I will try to help each of us see that you were shoved into me, even if neither of us can see the jerk who did it. You did not cause me pain.

    And I will fight for all women–women in this group and women not in this group–because no matter what the picadors or matadors of this world want me to feel, I choose to feel compassion for ALL WOMEN. Starting with myself. I will try to forgive myself for the pain I’m in, and through the haze of that pain, I will try to ask, “can I help you?” Because I know there are swords in your back, too.

    So I say to you:
    I WILL NOT FIGHT YOU.

    I WILL fight FOR you.

    1. Amen, sister. Thanks for your comment.

    2. “In my view, patriarchy is that jerk shoving all of us into each other, especially all women. When a woman, in her pain from all the shoves she’s received in her life, lashes out at me, I don’t get mad at her I GET MAD AT PATRIARCHY.” OH, yes… such a perfect analogy. I don’t give a fuck anymore… I do not help men; only women. They get the benefit of my doubt. I’ve helped dudes many times in the past (I swear I am conditioned or something) and they never, ever even said thank you. Never reciprocated, either. Fuck em. Women are number 1 in my book. I blame d00ds and the P.

  9. Regardless of whether we’re damaged, we’re still responsible for what we say and do and how we treat other women. Patriarchy isn’t an excuse to treat women like shit. We can be understanding, even forgiving, but that is not the same as agreeing destructive behaviour is acceptable.

    1. I totally agree. I think, though, that until the “Feminist Community” is willing to name those who treat others like shit, there’s not a whole lot to be done. So, I am minding my own. Thanks for the comment.

  10. […] readers of this blog have already accepted that Patriarchy damages every last one of us, that this damage influences how we act and who we are, and that we should […]

  11. […] You can feel Crazy because you will get attacked from the Right, the Left and the GLBTWTF.  You will also be attacked by other Radical Feminists. Being Attacked constantly makes one feel, well, threatened. It also makes you […]

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