At the moment, everyone I happen to know is discussing the democratic candidates, in person and all over social media. This is the first time we’ve had multiple women running in the primaries, which is exciting to many of us, but it boggles the mind if we are calling ourselves a modern country. How have women been kept out of that job for so long? “The Patriarchy” is the usual response to that question. That enemy.. “The patriarchy’” is familiar. We know we have to struggle against male power to have our voices heard, or to maintain our rights. But what about the women who join the men to oppress other women? Why do they do that, and how do we make them understand that they have the power to help us change things to benefit all of us, including them?
From what I understand, 47% of white women voted for Donald Trump. This was after he made fun of handicapped people, talked about ‘grabbing pussies ‘and was accused of sexual assault. Not to mention all the times he was hateful, racist or downright stupid on twitter or in a comment he made about something. Yet, multiple times this week, I have seen women saying they agree with Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s policies, but they won’t vote for her because she is too ‘aggressive’ or ‘brash’. I’ve heard similar statements about Kamala Harris.
Wait.. isn’t being assertive and strong kind of a requirement for leading a country? All of the assertive and confident men who have been president were chosen partly because they possess those qualities, but when the same tone is coming from a woman, it is ‘brash’. Would they seem like good leaders if they came across soft spoken and submissive? I feel like they would simply be dismissed, as we have seen happen to others before them. This discussion is not limited to my social media pages. A New York Times article just last was focused on the question, “Do you really think a woman could be elected president?”
How is this still a question in this country? Why are we not ready for this when all across Europe, women have been leaders for decades? Even countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia and many other parts of the world reached this milestone long ago. What is our problem with this, and why do even women join in keeping this progress from happening?
I don’t think the negative responses to female candidates is always a conscious one. I think this is deeply imbedded, learned thinking, trained into us since childhood to keep women in their place as second class citizens.
When I was seven, a boy pushed me down on the playground because I wouldn’t let him kiss me. I got up and pushed him back and a female teacher saw the exchange and instead of asking what happened, she scolded me for fighting, because girls are not supposed to fight. I then got a number of disapproving looks from other girls, who seemed to already know this rule. I don’t remember if the teacher said anything to the boy, but I do remember feeling very ashamed and betrayed, and learning at that moment that I had to control myself more than a boy did. This was often reinforced in my own house when it came to myself and my brother, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that it applied elsewhere, as well.
In fifth grade, two kids in my class both acted up in the same week. One was a boy named Moses, who was always acting up, and the other was a girl named Loretta. Time and time again, the female teacher mildly scolded Moses for his constant antics, but when Loretta acted up one time, she was spanked with a paddle in front of the class. We all learned that acting out was not tolerated when a girl did it the same as when a boy did. By age 11, other women had firmly taught me that girls were held to a different standard than boys.
There are all kinds of ways society’s expectations divide women from other women. Recently, I decided to chime in on a conversation about a Netflix show that people were talking about called ‘Insatiable’, in which an overweight girl’s life changes when an accident forces her on a liquid diet, and she ends up a skinny beauty queen. The discussion was mostly about whether it was politically correct to make it clear that the girl’s life is better after she loses weight, instead of just accepting herself as she is. I didn’t chime in until the quality of the work was being discussed, and then I said ‘I watched it, and I thought the writing was over the top and a little ridiculous.” I was immediately shut down by a woman acquaintance who said ‘your opinion isn’t really relevant. You’ve never had a weight problem.” She was supported almost immediately by another woman.
There were men involved in that conversation, and nobody shut them down. They were allowed to have all kinds of opinions on women and their body acceptance, as well as on the quality of the show, but I was the enemy when I spoke, because I was perceived as a woman who didn’t understand being in that particular group of marginalized women, and therefore, I had to be shut down. This kind of micro-aggression from women to other women happens all the time in everyday life. It is just one more division we’ve created ourselves by our society’s expectations of us.
As I pondered of these women who shut down other women, I was reminded of Jocelyn, who briefly dated a friend of mine when I was in my 20’s. She was new to our area and didn’t know anyone, and came into our group of friends because she was dating one of the guys that hung out with us. She wore a lot of makeup and sexy clothes all the time, even when we went for picnics in the park. She obviously spent a lot of time and money on her looks. She would literally ignore the other girls when we all hung out together. I actually saw her turn her head away and pretend she didn’t hear when another young woman asked her a question in an attempt to include her in a conversation. She only talked to the men, and hung on their every word. We all figured out quickly what she was about, and we just stopped trying. We didn’t invite her to ‘ladies only’ events, but bashed her whenever we got together. When the guy broke up with her, she had nobody. I felt a little bad for her, because that is a time when you rely on your girlfriends for emotional support, and none of us wanted anything to do with her. One of the other men might have slept with her once, but the rest of them forgot about her the minute their friend tossed her aside, and I don’t even know what happened to her. At the next girl’s night, we all collectively decided she got what she deserved . I do wonder if she learned from it, or if she spent her life feeling like she was only valued for what men saw in her. I hope she learned.
Now, I see her kind everywhere I look, and I think I understand that deep down, they are just afraid of not being on the winning side. Aligning themselves with men is safe. Fighting against the patriarchy by supporting other women is risky. Dismissing them and writing them off like my friends and I did to that sexpot years ago is not going to fix anything. We have to show them how to empower and value themselves first, and then they will have the confidence to empower other women.
We have been divided by our patriarchal society. In the NY Times article, people were worried mostly about whether a woman ‘could win’ and they didn’t want to waste their votes. The people I see on social media seem to be afraid of voting for a woman who doesn’t follow the rules of how a woman should come across personally. That insecurity is further dividing us. Nobody is asking you to invite Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris to dinner at your house or to your girls’ night happy hour, although I totally would invite them myself. We have to think about whether those ‘aggressive’ and ‘outspoken’ qualities that we might shy away from in a friend are strong qualities for a leader. If you really disagree with their politics, then don’t vote for them. All I’m saying is, judge them as leaders with the same gauge as you would judge a man, and maybe one of them can have a chance to answer that question, ‘“Do you really think a woman could be elected president?”
— Jennifer Decker