Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday: Guest Post - Post Feminism

"I think we have to own the fears that we have of each other, and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to." - Alice Walker

While at a conference hosting 1,000 or so women it was hard to ignore the underlying tones and vibrations. A friend of mine commented that she was "worried about so many vaginas in one room". I initially thought it was funny but after thinking on it later that night I felt saddened by it. Because although we're not supposed to admit that women are often inhumane to one another the fact is glaring us in the face. In the new wave of feminism it was taught that calling women out on such things was playing into the patriarchal goal to divide us and pit us against one another. We were supposed to unite as one and take on the "enemy" which was definitely not each other. By the time my generation came along it was much more common to site these difficulties that exist within the feminist movement as the reason for a fractured community. Or maybe it's just that we were born into a time when women had already accomplished so much that we felt the need to take on humanity as a whole, not just in regard to feminism. Whatever the reason it does not take away from the conflict and dynamics, which still exists between women that tears us apart.

I remember when I was in elementary school there was the Queen Bee, named Jill. She transferred in from another school when I was in 3rd grade. Up until that point our group of friends had not yet discovered the notion of excluding certain girls from our little circle on any given day for any given reason. We were not clued in to indirect aggression and the subtleties that accompany such actions. Jill quickly asserted her dominance and the group became her lemmings. I fell in with the pack as not to stand out. Almost every day it was decided that we should not speak to a certain girl for whatever reason Jill dreamed up in the school yard that morning. Whether it be because someone had the wrong color hair clip or just because the wind changed – we never questioned it. Imagine being 7 or 8 years old and walking up to your group of friends only to have them ignore you. Completely ignore you. You say "Hi!" and smile and are greeted with cold-shouldered silence. Nobody even makes eye contact. And no explanations are offered. You slink off to the corner of the playground and wait for the bell to ring so you can run back to your desk. All of us experienced that at one point or another. And then one day Jill decided to descend upon my best friend. A girl who had lived across the street from me since birth who was in the grade below us. She was adopted. Which was "odd" enough to set her apart and Jill saw her as an easy target. I stood up to her. I was ridiculed. I was tormented and lost every single one of my friends. My mother tried to intervene and speak with the school and Jill's parents. It only made it worse. It got to the point where I was so miserable my parents pulled me out of school and we moved to another district.

I use that one example but the fact is I have a dozen more. And I'd be hard pressed to find a woman who has never experienced similar situations, whether when they were 7, 17, 27 or 57. As we grow older the rules of the games change but underneath it all boils down to the same thing.

My partner often tells me that I'm sexist because I continue to harp on about the dynamics between women and not men. First of all, I'm a woman so I speak about what I know. And second, I have a daughter and I worry about the dynamics that will surround her as she grows older. I will admit that there are dynamics between boys and then men that I'm sure are damaging. Nothing that I say here is meant to take away from that. It's just not part of this discussion right now. And although a fundamental principle of feminism is to state that we want equality it does not mean we don't recognize the differences that exist between the sexes. While aggressiveness between infants and toddlers might look the same to an observing eye, regardless of the gender, it is because they lack the verbal skills to express themselves. Once children reach the age of verbal development it's a completely different scenario. While boys continue to punch, hit and kick one another, girls develop a sense of social intelligence at a very young age and begin to employ their defenses in a different manner. She learns that the safest way to attack is behind someone's back or in a similarly indirect manner. Whether or not this occurs because of what she learns at home or what it taught and expected from society as a whole is a much larger discussion.

My interest in this is not only what I have learned and want to continue to learn about the way women interact with one another but how to raise a girl and then a young woman in a society where such interactions are prevalent. Or is it just not possible? How do we change the way we as women interact with one another and stop the games?

(This post was written by DefiantMuse. She can be found at Musings of a Defiant Mother.)


SUEB0B said...

I went through similar things. At 13, I gave up on girls completely and hung out with only boys for years. In college, I gained a few female friends, but men have always been easier for me.

I think mixed gender groups are an excellent idea. With a mix of boys and girls, the types of aggression are spread - it is more acceptable for boys to be kind and nurturing, and less acceptable for the kind of social hazing that girls put each other through in all-girl groups.

slouching mom said...

i could have written your elementary-school tale. only for me it was fifth grade, and it was sabrina, not jill. sabrina, my once best friend, who engineered things so that my entire class would not talk to me on my birthday. for the whole day.

i refused to go back to school for a week. i lay in bed crying. that was as depressed as i've ever been in my life. don't tell me ten-year-olds can't be depressed. i know different.

i always talk about my sorrow in never having had a daughter. but watching my daughter navigate the complicated and awful social dynamics among little girls would have hurt me deeply, whether she ended up a victim (more likely) or, god forbid, a bully...

i think maybe i'm glad i have only sons.

thank you for writing about this. i have no answers. only a heavy heart. and puzzlement that such behavior continues into adulthood.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I really hoped the feminist movement would end this kind of competitiveness among females of all ages. Whereas those of earlier generations were fighting over men, it seems that now they are simply fighting for power, choosing victims who can't or won't fight back, and it's disgusting behavior.

Until we all understand that we are connected and that what affects one of us affects all of us, this kind of arbitrary meanness will remain a part of our lives with increasingly larger stakes.

thailandchani said...

Now here's a strange feeling: Commenting on my own site. :)

Anyway, I think Susan (hearts) nailed this most closely. As long as we view ourselves and others as survival machines and resources as limited, there will be this kind of competition. The first rule is to become an Alpha Girl - and it starts young.

Someone, a blogger, recently wrote about a series of books that she bought for her daughter, not realizing that those dynamics were embedded in the stories. The author leveled no hidden indictment of the way girls treated each other. Instead, the books taught girls how to navigate it, never challenging the rightness or the wrongness of the behavior.

The writer was disappointed, as I would have been, too.

The conditioning is subtle - and the support of it is tacit.

It has to begin with a cultural shift and a change of worldviews. Teaching your daughter will be difficult if you choose to stay here because everything you tell her will be contradicted in the larger social setting.

How do we stop the games? One by one.


TZT said...

I think that one of the things we have to do to stop perpetuating these behaviors is forgive ourselves for what we've been and learned, whether we were the queens, wannabes, freaks or (name your label/feelings of guilt or painful exile).

I feel like the strongest defense against this is to not participate in it, to live differently and model better behavior. Sometimes I don't do that as well as others - I find I haven't let go of all of these complicated, painful memories - like when former 11-year-old friends return shirts with bitch written in Sharpie underneath the tag.

I wanted to go to BlogHer, but reading all of the different responses to it, I wonder how I might have responded. Not because of the women who were there, but because of the fear-of-rejection crap inside of me that might have surfaced in that environment.

flutter said...

needless to say, I understand this and it kills me. BlogHer was an effort for me. To come out of my comfort zone and be faced with so many women.

In some ways it was wonderful and in some ways it was soul crushing. I find that as a sort of an empath I am very vibrationally aware of people and their intent. The words people say don't always match what is going on under the surface. I find this more true with women than with men. I am rarely bamboozled by a man...I am frequently wrong about women.


STanghkanaurak said...

If a man may speak, the simplest to eliminate this action is to be nice to each other and teach our children to be nice to each other. If this is a rule and custom of society, an expected behavior, it will make a different life.

Defiantmuse said...

Suebob - personally I've had my own issues with men which have prevented me from having many male friends but for my daughter I think it's an excellent idea for her to have a very mixed group of friends.

Sarah - I've heard more than a few with women with only sons express the same thing. That they're glad b/c of the difficulties that face girls in society, etc.

heartinsf - I feel as though we're on the verge of this massive shift in consciousness but I'm not sure what it's going to take to push us over the edge. Maybe a complete upheaval of life as we know it?

Chani - I wonder what culture is really free from rigid roles and gender restrictions though? Even if we took Monkey down to, say, South America....or to SE Asia....or even Africa....girls still have very specific roles in society and though the issues I have with their way may be different I still recognize that it's not perfect. But in regard to this one specific issue I've never been immersed in another culture long enough to know if this is commonplace or not.

tzt - I think you said it very well. It was difficult for me at BlogHer for just what you described. I'm sure a lot of the negative I experienced was that I allowed things to have a hold over me that were really just leftover stuff from ages ago.

flutter - we talked about this before so I know what you're saying and I think you know that not only do I know, I understand as I feel the same.

stanghkanaurak - Although I agree in essence I wonder how we reach society as a whole? There are always people resistant to change or who might not even see that there's a problem with the ways things are.

JBelle said...

I see this very thing in business with younger, better educated women coming into a certain position, inheriting an administrative/support person who has far more experience in the field, although limited education. Nevertheless, the younger woman, because she undoubtedly see herself as a survival machine in an arena where resources are limited, becomes a very difficult, demanding person to work with/for. Also, she just doesn't have the experience like her big sisters do and realy doesn't know how to supervise work FOR peope under her pay grade and it terrified to admit it. It comes down to the very succinct notion of tackling your own players. I watch women take other women down and think Why are they tackling their own players? I do not hesitate to take on my sisters in a gentle, loving way to remind them that it was people like ME who paved the way for THEM and that I was a superior educated woman working elbow to elbow with the big boys before they were out of junior high and that if they respect me, which they profess that they undyingly do, then they will respect the secretaries and the assistants as if they were me. Because, they are. There is no them nor us. They/we. In reading history of the ages, I now understand how people sold each other into slavery. It's fear and it's survival.

thailandchani said...

DefiantMuse, I do see what you're saying and I wasn't meaning to imply that any culture is perfect. None of them are. Not even my beloved choice. :) At the same time, we just have to pick the one that is most closely aligned with our own values and then cooperate with others to make it better.

Wherever there are human beings, there will be imperfection.

The gender roles: There are definite gender roles in the one I chose - but the underlying purpose of that is social harmony - rather than oppression. (Sometimes it results in oppression though. :)


QT said...

I don't want my comment to be taken as minimizing anyone's feelings about this topic, because I think they are all legitimate. I just had a completely different upbringing. My mother grew up in a different country, and would have loved if the only challenge she faced every day at school was that her friends were mean to her.

I went to a very small, private school and this happened on and off to me for YEARS. My parents told me I needed to suck it up, and be confident in myself and my abilities (you are smart, you are beautiful, etc). I was in sports from an early age, so I mixed with other grade levels. When I was shunned, I hung out with girls from another class, or boys. Often, the next one in line to be shunned would then come hang with us. Then all of a sudden, the "queen bee" didn't have enough people left to shun.

I'm not saying my feelings were not hurt. It just happened to me so often I developed my own coping skills. My parents absolutely would not have gotten involved. To them, I was in school to learn and all the social pettiness was something I should be able to screen out.I guess that is mostly an immigrant attitude.

I think the most important thing we can do in raising young women is to teach them to look inward in different ways, to not let them wallow in the hurt that comes from this, but instead look inward and grow stronger, develop resources. It is a whole different level of the self-soothing that infants learn how to do. We've got to stop magnifiying the pettiness by giving it a position of such importance. Because putting it there is what gives it such immense power.

One of the things men do successfully is disagree and move on. It's in the past. Somehow, we need to get better at acknowledging the hurt, but then putting it in perspective and getting past it.

Olivia said...

Whew! I missed the "Guest Post" at the top and was trying to process that Chani had a partner AND a young daughter and that this was the first time she mentioned it! I'm slow, but I got it, thank you defiantmuse!

I had similar experiences growing up and so had male friends primarily, plus one "best friend" I could trust. I carried this into adulthood and have had trust issues with women ranging from trying to seduce my husband to embezzling from our business.

What I chalk it up to is that women are more complex than men. However, they need to be forgiven just as much.

Many, many problems can be solved (including the problem of raising a daughter in an affirming way, IMHO) by (as Chani said) breaking with our culture and raising our children and just living in general in accordance with our values.

In order to break with our culture, we need to stay away from overexposure to media, being influenced by the herd, and hopefully find some type of affirmation and community with like-minded people.

It's hard, I'm sure, and of course we'll be influenced in some ways, but it's still worth it to try.

Thanks for a wonderful guest post!



Defiantmuse said...

Jbelle - I'm glad you said this.

Chani - yes. Choosing one most closely aligned...I'm not sure I've found mine yet. But I know it's out there....somewhere.

Qt - I definitely agree about how men move on. I notice that, even in young boys. They might fight about something, even if it gets physical, and then it's over. Done. Girls? They hold grudges and draw things out and it gets ridiculous. Although I agree that teaching our girls to not give it power is the right way I handle it I worry that it also somehow overlooks the underlying point that it shouldn't exist in the first place. As if we say, well it's just how it is and it won't change. Which may be the case but I guess I have a hard time swallowing that things can't/won't change. Ah, young idealism? lol.

and I also suppose I would worry about allowing my child to self-soothe since I haven't been to keen on letting her do that even as an infant. I definitely think there comes a time when a child needs to learn to soothe themselves but I'm not sure it's at such a young age when they're very vulnerable. What a 9 year old is able to process is obviously much different than a 3 or 4 year old. And the thing is that this stuff begins as soon as they're talking and aware of social dynamics.....

Olivia - thank you! I agree about staying away from media, herd-mentality, etc. I suppose the difficulties come into play concerned family and the friends your child chooses. So much can't be avoided and it's a struggle I often get very worked up over. And then I want to move to a remote jungle and get away from it all.

painted maypole said...

oh, i worry about this with my little girl. a friend just loaned me a couple books that I haven't yet read about helping girls navigate these tricky social waters

Staci said...

Thank you for this thought and heart provoking post.

I was lucky to be raised by feminists surrounded by a strong community of women. Connection and support was the assumption as opposed to fighting for limited resources with competition.

My root assumption grew me a good barometer to notice when I feel safe or not. As a mother to a tweenage girl (and boy) who are growing up with myself and extended family in this way, my hope (and intention!) is that when my kids encounter disrespect it is noticed as an aberration.

That's part of the feminist spirit for me--noticing the inequalities of the world and discussing to bring awareness. My parents certainly grew my critical lens, and I'm passing it on!

womaninawindow said...

I think there's no right way to train our girls to function in society other than the very simple, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." Really, if we could all reduce all of our interactions to this it'd all work out alright, I think.

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

This is a brilliant post and I don't know of a single woman who can't relate to it.

I just have to remind myself that for every Jill (or Tiffany, in my case) there are a hundred anti-Jills and I make it my goal to seek them out. Life is too short to deal with the Jill's.

Anonymous said...

I think parents and schools need to recognize this behavior as the emotional bullying that it is. We tend to focus on physical aggression, which means most bullying focuses on boys.

But this type of behavior is just as damaging and just as wrong.

And we have to be the grown ups. We cannot continue with this type of behavior if we expect our daughters to not do it.