Femininity and Essentialism
September 19, 2012 11 Comments
USian vice presidential candidate and full time misogynist Paul Ryan recently spoke at a GOP event called the Value Voters Summit.
The Family Research Council displayed a pamphlet at the event entitled “Modesty Matters”. It stated, among other things:
“All women, whether married of single, are to model femininity in their various relationships, by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.”
Woman-hating is no surprise coming from Republicans, but this was quite a blatant statement being displayed at a conference where the VP candidate was speaking. This article from RH Reality Check analyzes the code words in the above statement:
Modesty: Hiding yourself and avoiding clothes you find appealing, trying your best to be invisible. Responsiveness: Giving men attention and smiles they demand, no matter how miserable it makes you to do so. Gentleness: Giving up the urge to fight for yourself, instead just giving in and submitting. Women exist, in their eyes, to serve and to be invisible when they can’t be of direct use to men. Reproductive rights and sexual autonomy threaten that view of women, because these things suggest that instead of a servant class, women are people just like men, instead of creatures put on earth to serve men.
Clearly, modeling femininity as prescribed above is about controlling women’s behavior. As Lierre Keith has stated, in most cases the practice of femininity is “a set of behaviors that are in essence ritualized submission.” Nowhere is this made more clear than in this latest Republican offering.
Some postmodernists and genderists have downplayed the harms of femininity. As Julia Serano has said, “The only thing that all feminine traits have in common is that they are typically associated with women in our culture.” Statements like these miss the mark entirely, pretending that the performance of femininity has no historically oppressive context, and ignoring the fact that these traits are associated with women because they have been and are currently used to suppress them.
Most feminine traits are useful to men because they discourage women’s agency, and ascribe value to her only insofar as she pleases them.
Radical feminists know that male supremacists such as the Family Research Council have an agenda of dominating women. But outside of feminism, many people are not familiar with the oppressive nature of the feminine gender role. In fact, it is a common misconception that women are, by nature, more gentle, nurturing, responsive, etc. As many of you know, this position is called essentialism.
In actual fact, it is impossible to determine what characteristics women would exhibit outside of patriarchal socialization, since there is no way to observe that reality. Essentialism takes no account of gender socialization which begins at birth and teaches girls to be quiet princesses, while “boys will be boys” and are encouraged to be aggressive and dominant.
Interestingly, if gentleness, nurturance, and responsiveness were so natural for girls and women, why would socialization require such brutally pervasive influences to make sure girls turn out that way?
Radical feminists wish to free women from this type of feminine socialization. We acknowledge that patriarchy is an oppressive system that molds behavior, and that we cannot gain information about “natural” behavioral tendencies by observing current trends under patriarchy.