Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dealing with other Women

Often I look at my fellow sisters and I’m a little disgusted. Who does that obnoxious chick in the corner think she is? She’s obviously my intellectual inferior, look at the things she believes! Look at her behavior!

I know my outrage is vague right here, let’s just say that in real life I have a MUCH more focused anger, but I don’t want to point fingers at specific behaviors. Why? Because I’ve just become aware of a problem within myself, well, maybe not a problem, but definitely a concern and I’m not really sure how to deal with it.

How do I, as a feminist and someone who believes in the building up of other women, really treat other women? Especially those that don’t share some of my social and political beliefs? Unfortunately, I think I don’t treat them very well. I deride their decisions, make snarky comments behind their back, and wonder why they can’t think for themselves. Looking at this behavior, I feel that it’s problematic for obvious reasons.
  1. If I truly am a feminist, shouldn’t I support, encourage, and lift up those women? Shouldn’t I love them and treat all of them with respect? I’m opinionated and outgoing, shouldn’t I use those personality traits to build up my fellow sisters, rather than devalue their decisions?
  2. However, some of these women do fight against everything I believe. They actively fight against feminism, believing it’s an organization of “no-bra-wearing-lady-libbers” (to borrow a line from a fabulous movie). If these women so actively engage in what I believe to be the oppression of other women, shouldn’t I fight against them? Aren’t we supposed to stand up for what we believe in? That’s what all those Disney movies taught me and I think it’s a pretty good philosophy. In a sort of sick cycle, should I uphold and support women who are fighting to continue a system of repression that hurts me?
I don’t know anymore. The issue seems complex, obviously we shouldn’t bad mouth other women, but is it inappropriate to speak out against another women’s core belief system or disavow her choices? Especially if she’s engaging in behavior that I feel induces more oppression?

Truly though, I feel that I have no answer for this question. Where is the line between standing up for what you believe in and hurting the people you thought you were helping? While I pose this question to everyone, I feel I should point out that I do want to encourage cooperation and support throughout the ranks of womanhood, but I’m wondering how to do it and I’m not sure there is a right answer.


  1. I definitely struggle with this one. I don't know how to deal with the women who don't seem to see the things that I see without sounding like a condescending asshole. Women who tell me stripping is empowering or there's no such thing as rape culture and I'm "looking for problems." Sigh!

  2. (First, I strongly disagree that one can't be a feminist and believe that stripping is empowering at the same time!)

    I think you raise a good question here. My gut reaction, though, is that generalizing "women" into a group with which we/you interact with as a whole, rather than with individual women, is part of what makes the situation problematic. You and I might share very different views on sex work and its relationship with feminism, but I doubt our conversation would be the same as it would be if you were speaking with Camille Paglia about the same (or, say, if you were speaking with someone who believes that porn and/or sex work is purely a man's problem). For me, I don't think that activism for a better world has to result in the dragging down of all people who disagree, nor that it means we have to (or should!) blindly support all women's views.

    To me, it's a question of human rights. We have the responsibility of giving everyone- male, female, trans, intersesx- the right to their opinions and beliefs, and access to a forum in which to share them. At the same time, we have the right to disagree when the beliefs or opinions we encounter are ignorant or reduce someone's humanity. I'd also argue that we have the responsibility to engage those opinions that are detrimental to the well-being of ourselves or others in a way that can create dialogue and potentially change.

  3. Erica,

    Good point, and I agree that often when you generalize or group women together it makes it difficult to handle/separate out the multitude of beliefs that each woman has.

    This post has arisen out of several specific instances though, so in my mind I have several people, individuals, that I"m thinking about.

    Haha, perhaps this post also has something to do with guilt, I feel bad that I definitely have a bad opinion about these specific women I'm referencing. Does that make sense? I'm not sure that it does, I think in many ways I'm still working through this issue.

  4. Erica, I'm not sure that generalizing all women into a (falsely) homogeneous group is the crux of the problem here. In fact, I think that if a person generalizes all women into one homogeneous group, this issue might never arise in that person's conciousness - it would be too easy to ignore differing opinions (Sarah Palin, anyone?).

    I suppose the issue Rachel is getting at here is the classic conundrum of people who try to accept other viewpoints - we want to empower everyone (including women) to express their true opinions, but ultimately everyone will see some opinions as evidence of unhealthy worldviews. The question isn't if we draw the line, but where. And the question isn't if we discourage those opinions, but how. Heaven knows, we at NAW discourage a lot of opinions we see as damaging, such as the belief that women are defined by their relationships with men. And while we welcome and discuss all viewpoints, discouraging an opinion through discussion is still a form of discouragement.