Tag Archives: women’s lib

Mean Girls

“Women are such catty bitches!” I said to my friend, completely exasperated. She laughed and I laughed, and we both understood — there is no animosity between you and I, but get a group of females together in any greater number, and shit just hits the fan.

Why can’t we all just get along?

I am not, nor have I ever been, especially popular. I don’t have a raving social life. I am very good at maintaining close friendships, but awkward when in a group. I’ve never been a member of a clique, though it wasn’t for lack of trying in my adolescent years. There was a time when I so desperately wanted to fit in. Typically, people join groups that align with their personal interests, finding kindred spirits among the other members, but I’ve never had success in that way. Maybe I was an ASL student, a writer, a pagan — but whenever I tried to assimilate into an established group of those individuals, I still found myself feeling like an outsider.

Instead, I excelled at close, personal ties with other outsiders. Maybe we’re weird, but at least we can be weird together, we would say. I felt I had my niche. If I couldn’t be popular, at least I knew who my real friends were. I waited patiently for college and for my grown-up life to start. Adulthood, they promised, would be different.

They lied.

It has been ten years since high school, but I still feel like I’m surrounded by mean girls. Girls who view each other as competition, rather than colleagues; potential threats rather than potential sisters. Contrary to what our Mommas told us, it doesn’t always get better — bullying and social aggression is still prevalent throughout adulthood. To add insult to injury, bullying in adulthood is most commonly seen in females against other females. WAY TO GO GIRLS! While we were talking about women’s rights and equal treatment, we forgot to confront the idea that internalized hatred influences how we treat each other.

One might think that those same mean girls from school just grew up and continued to be mean, but studies suggest that this isn’t necessarily the case. Often times, it is the former victim of the schoolyard bully who grows up to utilize relational aggression in order to exert power over her peers. Prolonged feelings of powerlessness awaken the primal need to establish one’s self as an aggressor in order to regain power and control. Perhaps this is one of the underlying reasons that adult women are observed to indulge in more bullying behavior than men. (Because if anybody knows what prolonged loss of self-agency feels like, it us. Right ladies?)

It is discouraging to find that childhood torment can follow you into adulthood. After all, shouldn’t we have grown out of this juvenile behavior? Perhaps not, as evolutionary psychologists have long since established that bullying behaviors can be biologically advantageous, despite the fact that they are also socially damaging to the community. We know that bullying is ubiquitous among all cultures on earth, and while the behaviors of our ancestors are shrouded by the passing of time, we can easily observe bullying behaviors in other non-human primates. It seems that we are hard-wired to be suspicious and untrustworthy of any perceived threats to our resources, and unfortunately, our primal instincts aren’t equipped to differentiate between friend or foe. It’s just part of the human condition.

Our drive to dominate one another is inborn and subconscious, but from a moral standpoint, our society has pretty much unanimously agreed that bullying, ostracism, and engaging in social hierarchies is wrong. Then why do we continue to engage in these behaviors? In some cases, it is because the group dynamic favors the action. In having developed a sense of morality, human beings as individuals are able to justify their most primal behaviors as necessary to ensure the safety or success of the group as a whole. As psychologist Christoper Boehm points out, “we learned to gang up not just against our superiors but against individuals who we feel are so deviant that they deserve to be treated as outsiders.” Even though we know that different isn’t bad, our minds trick us into rationalizing our prejudices so we can act on them, guilt free.

It’s awful, though, isn’t it? All right, so bullying goes way back, and it once paid off in former contexts, and it is a self-propagating social disease, causing it’s victims to become aggressors themselves — but, really, can’t we just agree to stamp out that impulsive lizard-brain bullshit and be good? Perhaps, but it will take more than an after-school special to drive this one home. In media, the female aggressor, or the Iron Lady, is a trope that is highly celebrated and played out in film, television, and books. Movies like the Devil Wears Prada indicate that in order to be a successful business woman, one must be manipulative and conniving, ready to sacrifice relationships toward the end goal of dominating the workplace hierarchy. Does this mean that sisterhood is dead? Not necessarily. But the misconception of “assertiveness” being achieved through “bitchyness” ought to be shown the door.

All signs point toward mindfulness as the key to solving unnecessary aggression. We must all rely on our higher functioning minds to lead us with compassion and morality when the primal need to aggressively assert oneself arises. We must also, as a society, come to the agreement that bullying behavior isn’t acceptable, neither in childhood nor in adulthood. The current movement toward making our schools and other learning institutions “Bully-Free Zones” is a start, but we also need to face the truth about adult aggressors. Bullying is not a uniquely adolescent problem and it needs to be addressed accordingly. According to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, thirty-five percent of adults report being bullied in the workplace. Such a hostile environment increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and is naturally counterproductive to the success of the group. And yet it continues, ultimately because we allow it to.

I’m one of those idealistic freaks who would like to remake the world in her image (perhaps this is another reason why I’ve always been a bit unpopular…). For as long as I can remember, my relationships with people have been contingent on the “you either really like me, or you really don’t” principle, but I, just like most people, would prefer to be taken as I am and judged on my merits rather than my faults. (Or better yet, not judged at all.) In aiming to treat other people how I want to be treated (your Momma really did have that right), I have a fairly laissez faire attitude with people — you are what you are, and that’s fine by me. I will take you as you come.

Granted, you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. You aren’t going to be friends with everyone you meet, but you can sure as hell make up your mind to be civil. And if you’re one of those people who have engaged in divisive, bullying behavior — particularly if you’re a women waging social war on other women — it needs to stop. See the bigger picture: how can we change the things that are wrong with the world, if we continue to be a part of the problem?

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Undoing women’s lib? (OP from The Gamer Widows)

Allow me to personally set the women’s liberation movement back 60 years: I totally want to be a stay-at-home mom. Call me the anti-feminist, say I’m being prosaic, whatever. Because if I had said “I want to be a career woman and never have children” I’d receive the same amount of criticism. Not that much has changed since women came out of the kitchen, it just that now we have more than one unfair archetype to compete with. I had this thought at our recent holiday party. Nicole was so excited to receive a Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas (And why shouldn’t she be? That thing is the kitchen gadget to end all gadgets.) but upon expressing her elation, she immediately became apologetic: “I know that sounds very un-feminist of me.” But why should she, or anyone else for that matter, feel ashamed of being “un-feminist”?

Women’s lib has done a great deal for the fairer sex, and I’m grateful. I like that I get to vote and have (ostensibly) the same earning and career potential as a man, but in the last fifty years since societal expectations for women shifted away from the home, a new prejudice has taken root. Now, it’s not only career women who are criticized for their ambition, but home makers, too. A woman with a family who holds down a full-time job is just as likely to have her motivations questioned as the woman who chooses to stay home with her children. Not to mention the side-long glances that women get if they decide not to have a family at all.

In my experience, having gone to college, gotten married, and started a career before starting a family (cheekily termed the “right way” of doing things), I’ve run into every passive judgment out there: “Oh, so, you’re not going to graduate school right after you get your BA?” “Wow, you got married young.” “You better hurry up and make some babies!” Oy vey. This is, in fact, a very popular trope in movies, TV, and books: the working mother, the stay at home mother, and the I-don’t-want-to-be-a-mother. The maiden, mother, and crone of our generation. In the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It”, the class lines are fairly well drawn: you are a working parent struggling to keep up or you are career mommy, spending your days either at the gym or barefoot in the kitchen. As Sarah Jessica Parker’s character tries with dubious success to be everything for everyone, the viewer realizes that this is what society wants — a successful career person, who never misses a play date or soccer game. She keeps a functional and beautiful home, and makes sure her man is satisfied, all the while mastering the art of French cooking. But, no pressure.

We also laughed lovingly as Sex and the City’s Miranda made the awkward transition from career powerhouse to fumbling single parent. The coworkers at her firm sneered when she made her son a priority, while her housekeeper shook her head in disappointment when Miranda had to tend to work obligations. Moms just can’t win.

I still remember the look of utter disdain my senior advisor gave me after I told her I was getting married after graduation, a look that clearly said, “another smart woman lost to girlhood fantasy.” She actually seemed a little offended that I had decided to put graduate school on the back burner (a decision that had nothing to do with getting married and everything to do with a serious case of senioritis), as if it were her potential I was wasting and not my own. In telling her the truth about my decision, I hadn’t given her an answer that she wanted nor one that she respected. Neither did I answer satisfactorily when asked by my family how I feel about going back to work now that my daughter is 7 weeks old. I was honest: “It sucks, and I’m depressed about it because I already know that I’m going to miss her. I wish I were able to stay home with her full time.” The sort of half-smiles and indulgent glances I got after that admission made me feel like I was lacking the proper enthusiasm. Might they have been happier with “No, no, I’m not sad to leave my child in the care of others! I am thrilled to go back into the work force and make lots and lots of sweet, sweet money! Pass the seared baby seal.” Because it is, for many, about money — if women want equal treatment, they should be equally financially responsible, not dependent on their husbands to pay all the bills. For me, if the world was perfect, I’d go back to work part-time — you see, wanting more time with my child is not a ploy to avoid the work force or shirk my financial responsibility. Yeah, I’d love to be a stay-at-home mom, but the pay is terrible.

My husband is sympathetic to my plight, but alas, doesn’t really understand. (He, after all, didn’t become a mother when our child was born: see this blog post.) When I first admitted how increasingly despondent I was feeling as the date of my return to work loomed, he chuckled, “Yeah, if I had had two months off of work, I wouldn’t want to go back either.” But that really isn’t it. This isn’t like the kicking-and-screaming tantrum you once had as summer vacation ran out and you were once again relegated to the toiling primary school masses. Becoming a child’s primary caregiver is not an easy occupation. We all know there’s a great deal of work involved — unpleasant, dirty, smelly, frustrating, back-breaking work — so clearly, it’s not a lack of work ethic that I’m talking about here. It is a change in attitude, a shift in my passions, a new calling. Some where along the way, I woke up and I was Moira’s mom, and no one is going to do that job better than me.

I made this perfect little person, carried her in my womb for nine months, gave birth to her, and have spent the last eight weeks devoted to her every need and desire. And now I’m expected to just hand her off to someone else and trust that they will do as good a job as I would do. And I’m one of the lucky ones — I am blessed to not be a single parent, as many working parents are, and my daughter isn’t going to day care with a stranger, she’s going to be either with her father or with a family friend while I’m working. This ought to alleviate some of my anxiety, but it doesn’t. There are 168 hours in a week and I will be away from my child for nearly a third of that time. That’s not a vacation from parenthood, as some may suggest. That’s torture.

Very few people understand why a successful, educated person would want to stay home to raise their children. Won’t you miss adult conversations? Don’t you want to do more in life? You mean, more than nurture and educate my kids? I achieved a lot in my early twenties and I’m proud of those accomplishments. But there is more pride in seeing my baby girl smile up at me in joy than in any academic commendation or career accolade.

Admittedly, this isn’t the case for all mothers. Among the Widows, there’s a pretty even divide amongst the moms that work in the work place and the moms that work in the home. And as is often the case, we sometimes want what the other has. Lady M, for instance, had her first baby in the middle of her college career, and now with number two on the way, sometimes wishes she could focus on her education and her career rather than mommyhood. Still others have confided in me that they were relieved to get back to work after their babies were born, as the din of the office became a haven for some much needed quiet. To each their own — I’m not here to judge. I wish we could all say that, but as I mentioned before, when it comes to the motherhood versus career-woman dichotomy, everybody has an opinion, even if they’re not aware of it. From my professor who wrote me off after I married, to the kept women that sneer at a mom trying to balance home and work obligations, we all seem to lack insight.

As I type this one-handed on my iPad with my daughter asleep on my chest, I am dreadfully aware of how many moments like this one will soon slip from my grasp. Some women struggle because they want to discover who they are outside of motherhood. I am struggling because I want the opportunity to discover who I am within it. And in the end, whatever you choose, or whatever you have to do, we should respect each other for the obstacles inherent to the path we have chosen. Mothers can only overcome the Good Mother, Better Woman archetype if we support each other. (Except those mean, holier-than-thou types. They just suck.)