February 4, 2012 14 Comments
A few weeks ago a female acquaintance Sandra (not her real name) blurted out, “I just don’t get along with women very well.” She proceeded to tell me how she always hated the cheerleaders in high school who allegedly pretended to be dumb to get attention, and how women are difficult to work with because they are competitive and catty.
This friend is obviously unaware of a feminist analysis that provides context for these women-hating sentiments. As you all know, when we hold misogynistic viewpoints of other women, we often hold ourselves up as the exceptional woman, who is not like “all those other terrible women out there”. As Ariel Levy says,
It can be fun to feel exceptional – to be the loophole woman, to have a whole power thing, to be an honorary man. But,” she warns, “if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven’t made any progress.
My conversation with Sandra came at an interesting time, since I was reading A Passion for Friends* by Janice Raymond. The book was recommended by blogger Radfem Crafts, and she did a lovely series (starting here) analyzing it.
Raymond discusses the reasons why some females hold anti-woman sentiments, (p 151)
A chorus of male voices throughout the centuries has echoed Jonathan Swift’s words, “I never knew a tolerable woman to be fond of her own sex.”.. So women disidentify with other women in order to make themselves “tolerable” to men.
In other words, perhaps women hate women because male culture hates women.
To return to Sandra’s original examples. She remembers women in high school as playing dumb and actively conforming to beauty mandates, but she does not analyze the fact that patriarchal culture tells us that women are dumb and are only worthy as beautiful objects. Or to turn to another example, she believes women are difficult to work with because they are competitive and catty, but she does not see that our culture defines aggressive behavior in women as b*tchy, and does not note such behavior in men. In other words, she sees women through the male lens of hatred and disdain.
But Raymond does not believe that we can attribute all women-hating-women behavior and words to cultural brainwashing. As she says,
It would be easy to ignore these voices by saying that women internalize men’s attitudes about them and about their relationships with other women. The problem is that, although this may account in one way for the cause of women’s antifeminist behavior, it does not assuage the awful reality of women-hating-women conduct when it happens in our own and in other women’s lives.
To return to the above examples, Sandra may have hated the young women at her high school because she was jealous of the attention they received from men (due to the fact that they conformed to the f’kability mandate, and performed femininity in male-approved way). Since male-derived power is one of the only ways women can receive power, Sandra may have resented these women for receiving crumbs of attention she would have preferred to parlay into power herself. Or, perhaps the women at Sandra’s work really were catty and competitive with other women because they believed that women are easier targets then men, and that if only so many women were going to be able to succeed, they’d like to be one of them. In other words, perhaps the patriarchal culture that hates women creates women-hating words and behaviors in women.
Sandra was not open to my feminist analysis of her feelings, and she can hardly be blamed. After all, it is easier to see oneself as exceptional than to confront the realities of male power.
The above examples are just a few of the many obstacles to women-centered reality. However, Raymond believes that these obstacles must be overcome if women are going to become Gyn/affective. As she says (p 7-8),
Gyn/affection can be defined as woman-to-woman attraction, influence, and movement.. In many ways, Gyn/affection is a synonym for female friendship.. Gyn/affection connotes the passion that women feel for women, that is, the expression of profound attraction for the original vital Self and the movement towards other vital women.. The basic meaning of Gyn/affection is that women affect, move, stir, and arouse each other to full power.
Raymond believes that a Gyn/affective life is an important step towards women’s liberation, and I agree with her (p 241). When women step beyond the lies told about themselves and each other, we can begin to see ourselves and each other as we really are, and also create a vision of life beyond the current state of atrocity (p 23).
How do women live in the world as men have defined it while creating the world as women imagine it to be? p 205
Raymond suggests that we use dual vision to keep one eye on the horrific and unacceptable material realities of women’s lives (she calls this nearsightedness), while at the same time recognizing “the possibilities of being for each other” now and in the future (farsightedness) (p 207).
As Raymond says,
Dual vision poses a tension but not a contradiction. Realism about the conditions of man-made existence must be illuminated by a vision of feminist imagination that acts. And the feminist visionary task must root itself in the real world or else, as Pat Hynes has remarked, like an electrical charge that has no ground, its unguided energy will disperse in all directions. Virgina Woolf phrased it this way, “Energy has been liberated, but into what form is it to flow?” (p 207-208)
By grounding our vision in our material world, as well as in our Gyn/affection for each other, we can begin to move forward towards wherever our vision takes us. This movement towards women’s freedom, despite the real realities of our material circumstances, has already begun.