Feminism 101

For the longest time I didn’t understand why I was so angry.

I didn’t understand what the root of all my fury was, and sometimes I still don’t know how to put it in words.

I once knew someone who was convinced I had some sort of trauma in my past I wouldn’t admit to.  He was convinced that was the only possible explanation for all my fury with the world.

I don’t have some “trauma” as most would define the word.  I’m a fortunate woman, who grew up in a middle class community, I’m white, I’m privileged.

So why was I always so angry?  For the same reason all women should be angry.  For the same reason many women feel indescribably sad, because they’ve been taught never to raise their voice.  For the same reason many women feel hopeless because they’ve been taught to believe they’ll never be good enough.  For the same reason many women feel helpless because they are taught they are weak.

I feel angry for the same reason women many engage in self-destructive behaviors, they drink, do drugs, have eating disorders, stay in bad relationships.

I feel angry because I live in a patriarchal society.  Now, apparently this is an unpopular opinion these days.  Apparently, saying this makes me a radical.  But this is the thing.  This opinion is not radical.  It is a well established fact in the intellectual community.  Unless, of course, you’re some sort of crazy far right misogynyst, then I suppose you would label me a radical, and also an idiot for even expressing these opinions.  In that case…screw you.

Continuing, let me say it again.  I live in a patriarchal society.  What does this mean? It means that I live in a society not only where men are in power, but that they have BEEN in power for years and years and years and years, which means that THEY have defined all of the norms that people take for granted.  Men wrote the majority of religious texts which defined norms for years, men were the vast majority of leaders throughout history who led the way societies worldwide developed.

Now, let me move on to something a little more radical, and this is the thing that really gets me angry if I’m not careful.

The patriarchy, like all forms of power, has a vested interest in maintaining its own existence.  Translation: the patriarchy wants to stay a patriarchy.  It wants men to stay in power.  Most fundamentally this keeps competition for power at a minimum and ensures a form of “second class” citizens who are guaranteed to perform the necessary but less glorious tasks of society (see also capitalism and racism, but those are whole other stories).

So what norms guarantee that women don’t take too much power?  Well lets start with this one.  Women are taught to believe that their power lies primarily in their bodies and their sexuality.  Not in their brains, not in their physical force.  But they are also taught to feel shame and hatred towards these same things which supposedly give them power.  And when women are sexually assaulted they are blamed for playing up these very characteristics.  Seems pretty unfair to me.

Women are derided for gaining too much physical strength.  An ideal “beautiful” woman should be small.  Thin.  Not muscular.  So our power can’t lie in physical strength if we want to find a mate.  Gain too many muscles and you start getting comments from men.  Funny story, women seem to think other women with muscles are awesome.  Guys on the other hand, are quick to display their discomfort.  This is the way society perpetuates its norms.  When someone starts breaking them they are shamed into stepping back in line.  This is much more effective than any other punishment for breaking the rules could ever be.

The ideal woman should also be docile, obedient, quiet.  So if you know what you’re talking about and you dare to say it too loudly…be prepared for the slue of rotten comments that surely will be coming your way.  You might be told that you’re arrogant, obnoxious, or the easiest and favorite of all insecure men…a bitch.  What does that mean?  Oh wait, a woman who dares to express herself just a little too loudly.  Shame her enough times and eventually she won’t dare to step out of line again.

Some days I see these things played out in too many ways.  I hear women called sluts because their skirts are too short by the very guys who are eyeballing them like pieces of meat.  I hear men calling women bitches because they couldn’t hold their own when she started to speak.

The saddest thing is realizing the truth.  The insecurities of men lead them to lash out at women.  Do I think these guys are all bad people? No.  Ignorant? Yes.

And that’s almost worse than being able to call them bad people and get it over with.

The one thing that gets me through the day is the knowledge that there are enlightened men.  There are strong men who love strong women.  There are strong women who don’t care what men want.  And there are strong women who love strong women.  And this is the most important thing.

Despite my long-time relationship with anger, I’ve learned to let it go.  As comforting as it can sometimes be, all it does is burn you up inside.  I wish I could, but I can’t change the world.  The only thing I can do is choose to live a life surrounded by positive people and positive stimuli and work for change for myself and for other women.  I can enlighten men who are willing to listen and I can ignore those who aren’t.

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