June 25th, 2017
We held a fabulous meeting to close out our reading of Woman Hating. I brought some banana bread, and we talked about Part 3, Part 4, and a little bit about the afterword (please see the Study Guide here).
We discussed other disfiguring practices that have been done to girls and women. This includes female genital mutilation, lip and ear plating, neck stretching, breast ironing, corseting, underage trans-ing of “butch” girls and teens, high heels, and plastic surgery. Why do women (who, in many cases, have experienced the same cruel treatment) continue the practice on their own daughters? It is because women know that their social capital comes from performing femininity as well as they can in their given time and culture. Social capital helps to marry off their daughters, and being well married ensures that they will have more resources and a life without want.
Within the context of the chapter on witches, we discussed the blame that women bear for men’s thoughts and actions, as well as their sexual urges (and lack thereof). Because of this, women are forced to take care of men’s emotions at all times; men project their own failings on to women and expect us to be their emotional receptacles. We also have dress codes enforced more strictly on women in order to prevent boys and men from getting aroused, and women are also expected to dress a certain way if they are fat, old, ugly, or just don’t fit the standard definition of beauty. In Islamic cultures and families, women are expected to cover most to all of their bodies, sometimes their faces as well. In the same thread, women are accused of constantly tricking men. Makeup, high heels, and bras are “false advertising,” but if we don’t wear them, we have “let ourselves go.” If women change their mind at any point about dating or having sex with a man, we have somehow tricked him, but if we go along with dating/sex, we are “easy.” If women use certain angles or filters on their photos, we are “trying too hard,” or yet again it is “false advertising.” If we don’t use them, we are compared unfavorably to other women who do. Our lives are expected to revolve around being sexually available to men, but not too much.
I think that one of the most important topics we talked about was the question of how we individually or as a group can help other women. Some simple things would be to just listen to other women and their experiences. We can also talk more about radical feminism and get women more interested in it. When we aren’t in a place where it is safe to specifically talk about radical feminism, we can ask questions that might get other women thinking more critically. We need to speak openly about the physical reality of our bodies and reduce stigma of female genitalia and breasts. We can also get the word out about birth control, emergency contraception, abortion, sterilization, and menstrual extraction. We can learn healing natural practices to reduce menstrual and pregnancy pains.
Our society teaches us that patriarchy is the natural order of things and that to fight against it is futile. In reality, it is impossible for us to know what is “natural” when it comes to human relations, since women have been intellectually, emotionally, and physically stunted by our lower social status. In addition, there are plenty of things that humans do that are not “natural,” such as wearing clothing or using combustion engines, so why should we use the “naturalness” of something as the bar by which to measure it, instead of the fairness of it?
We discussed the idea that women are dark and mysterious and the impact that has on women. It gives men the excuse to not try to understand our perspectives and to assume that our inner lives are automatically inconceivable to them. The question of “what do women really want” stems from this, since women can tell men over and over again what we want and need, and they continue to ask “what do they really want?” instead of just listening to us. This also contributes to the belief that women are naturally more emotional instead of logical, which in turn, limits our ability to participate in academic and scientific fields.
Andrea Dworkin also talked about intersexed people and transsexuals in a way that could be quoted out of context in order to obfuscate her message. She describes six different aspects that impact one’s “sex identity” and claims that because some individuals are intersexed, that means that “we are clearly a multi-sexed species which has its sexuality spread along a vast fluid continuum where the elements called male and female are not discrete.” I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with her on several counts. The first being that one’s sex is not an “identity” but a biological fact. The second is that just because some people have both male and female sex characteristics, it does not make them necessarily an in-between sex. Sex is short for “reproductive sex.” Most intersexed individuals are sterile, but they still belong to one of two distinct groups that produce male or female gametes, regardless of how gendered their upbringing may be. Also, intersexed people typically suffer from other illnesses and disabilities that are directly related to that, so you can’t really define that as a separate sex, but more of a physical condition or disorder. Trans-activists frequently coopt intersex narratives in their attempt to chip away at biological facts and be accepted as the opposite sex, which is unfortunate since it is exploitative and fails to address the actual medical needs of people with these conditions.
Regardless of her feelings about intersex conditions or individual trans people, her arguments lead to this very important point: “Community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.”
Andrea, that is very much my hope, too.