As we get closer to election day, Facebook has been a conflagration of political posts, and I have not been above throwing a few pieces of kindling on the fire myself. I’m not sure about other people, but I have very few Republican friends, (so most of it is preaching to the choir anyway). I actually have 3, and mostly I follow a policy of “I won’t start a flame war on your wall when you post something I find abhorrent if you’ll do me the same courtesy, because otherwise, we have a very nice friendship I’d like to keep.” For the most part, this has worked out pretty well.
The last few days, however, as a result of the latest Republican mistakenly speaking his truth about his (and it’s always “his”) feelings regarding 51% of the population in front of a hot microphone, there have been more posts shouting at the ladies who are inclined to be conservative, and to vote for these dudes, to wake the fuck up and see that to vote for Romney and his party is to vote against their own interests and that of their sisters.
On the one hand, I agree with that. If you are committed to the idea that women are full-fledged human beings, entirely capable of making appropriate decisions for themselves and dealing with the consequences thereof, without requiring a committee of strangers to sign off on their decisions for their own good, then the Republican party, as it currently shows itself, is probably not the party for you. (Then again, the GOP seems to have some special voodoo that regularly manages to entice people from all walks of life to vote against their interests; I find it astonishing on a regular basis.)
On the other hand, I have some issue with getting angry at women perceived as unliberated for their lack of liberation in a society that does its level best to make sure they remain unliberated. I would argue that it is not entirely their fault; they have 5,000 years of patriarchal culture, actively and emphatically reinforced to this day by men and women, working against them. It takes a strong constitution to overcome that. It takes acute awareness to even realize there is something to overcome.
It is a well-known survival tactic among persecuted or oppressed persons to do whatever they can to make themselves less of a target in a hostile society. Immigrants insist that their children speak English so they fit in more quickly than their parents can. Speakers of various dialects code-switch depending on social context. Bullied kids pick on someone lower than themselves in the pecking order to take the target off their own backs. Tall girls slouch. And many women have no doubt found it easier to go along to get along than to fight against a systemically and systematically sexist society every damn day. Their grandmothers did it; their mothers did it; for many of them, it has never occurred to them to do otherwise. They have not been raised to realize they have a choice, or that they have the right to exercise it. Or they may personally have enough in the way of privilege, in beauty or social status, that the existing system, problematic as it is for others, actually seems to work just fine for them, and they see no need for change.
A woman grows up in a world dedicated to keeping her in her (submissive) place, in myriad ways subtle and overt. And the lessons have been learned so well by every last one of us, it is practically self-enforcing at this time. I’ve known quite a few liberated, theoretically sex-positive women who think nothing of calling another woman a “slut” based on her clothing choices, or the fact that she’s suspected to be non-monogamous. I know self-described feminist men who cannot seem to describe an obnoxious female politician without using some misogynist term or commenting on her appearance. I recently hung out with women who were judging another woman because she was wearing an outfit that was evidently deemed unflattering and she “shouldn’t be wearing that,” because everyone knows that women are supposed to conform to strict standards of appropriate clothing and body shape; wearing whatever the hell you want on whatever body you happen to have shows a dangerous uppityness that is intolerable.
Just today, I read an article calling out Sarah Palin as a racist that quoted a woman who referred to Palin as “sarah the dumb twat palin.” (sic) There’s no question that Sarah Palin is a dangerous idiot. But insulting her by calling her a derogatory term for the female genitals makes you sexist, and pretty much obviates your intended role as a promoter of social justice. I’m unconvinced that sexism is somehow more okay than racism. I’m also certain that none of these people think of themselves as sexist; that’s how ingrained the sexism is in our society. Unless you actively make yourself aware of it, you are highly likely to be totally unaware of it; fish do not understand the concept of water until they’ve had the opportunity to be out of it for awhile. If people who pride themselves on being aware of oppression, discrimination, and social injustice, and who work toward eradicating those things, are sexist without even realizing it, what hope does the average woman have of being totally free of that misogynist baggage?
People who have liberated themselves from various kinds of oppression often find it difficult to understand how others cannot see as clearly as they do the problems of the culture of oppression and discrimination. It’s a frustration I often feel myself, but I understand that I once was equally unenlightened; it took a fair amount of study, work, and life experience to open my eyes (and the work is ongoing), and once I took the red pill, I became aware that fighting the machine was a tough gig, and very often discouraging. Life in reality is a lot of bad haircuts, a steady diet of stuff that will keep you alive (but won’t necessarily keep you full and content), constant vigilance, and being braced for an attack that can come at any time, and probably will.
Also, there’s a lot of privilege wrapped up in even being able to choose the blue pill, and to do so selectively. There are all kinds of fights for justice, for civil rights, for body sovereignty, that we each have options whether or not to engage in. A man has to choose to care about sexism. A straight person has to choose to care about LGBT issues. A wealthy person has to choose to care about people who are poor. A childless person has to choose to care about the quality of the schools in their city. An American has to choose to worry about people suffering overseas. It takes consciousness and compassion to choose to ally yourself with a fight you don’t necessarily have a dog in, beyond some abstract notion of justice and rectitude. Some people don’t have that. Others do, but are so busy fighting their own daily fight that they just can’t open up another front on someone else’s behalf. And finally, others have been so brainwashed by the dominant paradigm that they are not even aware there’s a war on: This is how things have always been; this is how they’re likely to stay; what’s all the fuss?
This is not mere thoughtlessness or ignorance in many cases; maybe not even in most. This is the intended result of a concerted campaign of propaganda and tradition all calculated to produce this outcome. This is the spectacular success of the extremely conservative agenda through the ages, live and in person. If you take a girl child, and you fill her, and everyone around her, with all kinds of relentless messages about how she is lesser, how she is incapable, how she is not smart enough, strong enough, wise enough, godly enough, to be trusted to live her life without outside, and preferably male, guidance, who should be surprised when she arrives at voting age believing it?
It is bad enough that extremely conservative Republicans can be counted on daily to blame the victims of rape, of patriarchy, of a system that seeks to punish women on multiple fronts because the luck of the evolutionary draw selected them to bear the children. But it is worse when liberal Democrats blame them as well for being the victims of the very forces we claim to have arrayed ourselves against, because we profess some awareness of precisely how damaging they are. We recognize these forces as damaging, but have no sympathy for those who have been damaged by them and are operating in the world the best they can under the circumstances. I do not judge women who get breast implants negatively; I judge the society negatively that has taught them that this is what they’re supposed to have, or get at all costs, to succeed at femininity (whatever the hell that is). None of us grows up, or exists, in a cultural or societal vacuum, and to judge a person’s perception of the world without seriously considering the world that formed and influenced that perception is to miss most of the iceberg we’re set to wreck ourselves upon.
I suspect the answer here is not to tell others to wake up, necessarily. It’s to examine ourselves and make sure WE are fully awake, that we are fully cognizant of the messages we are putting out into the world (or repeating internally), and that we are not letting bad, soul-damaging messages get past us without comment or critique. If you want to teach, you don’t say, “Hey, you’re ignorant…do something about that!” You explain. You show. You demonstrate. In all my years as a teacher, I never saw yelling patronizingly at someone result in an epiphany. And when equality-loving men and women are patronizing to women about women’s issues, we are contributing to the very problem we despise.