To be different from other girls: on misogyny, inside and out

I am not like other girls.

Perhaps you are here because you are not, either.  Some variation on the words “I’m different from normal girls” is one of the top reasons people come to this website from searching online.

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I am different from other girls.  For years, in my teens and early twenties, I said and believed this.  Now that I am older, and have met more people–particularly more people from many ages and walks of life–I realize what was really happening.  Believing myself to be different from other girls was the first step toward internalizing and then externalizing misogyny that took years to purge from my system.

The process by which woman is turned against woman is seductive, elegant.  Would you like to know more?

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I’m not like other women.  You begin by telling this lie that feels like a truth to a thousand people–some women, yes, but mostly men.  Of course, this does not stop people from treating you, frustratingly, “like a woman.”  Men talking over you–bringing up an idea you’d just articulated and crediting it to the man who spoke it second–being relegated to second-class status in relationships–these were the things you wanted desperately to escape.  The pink-patterned walls of femininity, the interests confined to the superficial and the domestic, looked like a prison to you.

Of course, just declaring oneself to be different was not enough.  Even having genuine, longstanding interests dominated by men was not enough.  There was always a new shibboleth, a new way that men could decide you were a garbage person after all.  And “garbage person” meant woman, first and foremost–whether you hung out with the jocks who liked their garbage people on the sidelines at the game, or the nerds who liked their garbage people on the sidelines watching them play video games.

*     *     *

I’m not a typical woman.  I’m more like “one of the boys.”  In fact, other women bore me to death.  If you wanted to hear what was really going on, what was going on in the world of men, not the people forced to their periphery, you had to go undercover.

But men wouldn’t just believe you.  Did you think it would be that easy?  You’re going to have to say something about women when you join in with a group of men.  Something bad.  Something that doesn’t just separate you from them explicitly, but makes it clear that you don’t really think they’re worthy of attention, respect, or possibly full human status.

So you try out a few easy pieces of misogyny.  They don’t have to be sophisticated.  A cruise ship comedian’s material should do the trick.  After a few, something changes in the men’s faces. The relaxation of these groups, all at once, as if a signal has been given, will come to look after a few years like a sign as distinctive as the soft click of a key fitting into a lock.

You are in.

*     *     *

Women are such a pain in the ass.  Men start telling the stories soon after you start hanging out with the group.  Stories of misogyny, usually subtle at first.  You quickly learn that the men react best when you respond with a story about a woman in your own life who is “crazy” or “a bitch.”

You come prepared with these stories.  They are armor, proof that men can say whatever they want around you.  No censorship.  Nothing off-limits.

And as you wait long enough, they’ll start.

*     *     *

No, it’s okay, I can’t stand women, either, and I’m one of them!  It doesn’t take long to realize they don’t just want a place with no censorship.  They want to tell you the stories.

The stories of the worst acts men have done to women will start to come out if you express virulent enough misogyny in front of them.  Amy Schumer has used this phenomenon to great effect in her comedy show.  After this has happened to you several times, in several different groups, you will start to ask yourself why it is happening.  Then you will realize:

The “one of the guys” woman is there for one key purpose: absolving masculinity of its responsibility for misogyny.

They tell you these stories not because you are actually welcomed as equal to men in their group, but because you are a woman, and because they believe on some level that only a woman can tell them that their actions are not so bad after all.

*     *     *

I can’t stand other women.  Catty and superficial, every one.  You start to realize the role you are playing, and you start testing new responses, trying to see if you can undo the damage you now feel you’ve inflicted on yourself and other women.  You start to try rolling your eyes at the most sexist jokes, or clearing your throat and uncomfortably walking away when someone talks about that time they had sex with a developmentally disabled prostitute.

It only takes a few times before you’re called a bitch.  You used to be funny, the men tell you.  You used to be cool.  What’s up?  On your period?  Maybe one of those feminists got to you.  Don’t go all feminist on us.  Promise us you won’t go all feminist.

*     *     *

Bitches, am I right?  After a while, you know they’re misogynists.  You even realize you’re perpetuating it yourself, but you can’t stop.

You see, you’ve discovered something vital: When you act like a misogynist, men will behave at their true, underlying level of misogyny.  You will have, for instance, discovered several men of your acquaintance who have committed rape and justified it, and you will have guarded yourself against being in rooms alone with them afterward.  These are men who, had you only associated with them in groups considered “mixed company,” with girls who weren’t “one of the guys” there, you’d have thought were personable and normal.  Behind the man door, they view women as inhuman.

The information you get behind the scenes becomes important to judging these men as potential dangers.  One of the reasons rape and sexual assault survivors often engage in this kind of misogyny is as a way of filtering out the most dangerous men by allowing them room in which to discuss their actual levels of violence and woman-hatred rather than the level they deem socially appropriate in mixed-sex settings.

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I’m not like most other girls.  But there is a way out.  It has to do with undoing the notion that you, unlike other women, have a full and complete inner life and a rational mind.

It has to do with realizing that every woman in the world is a human being, and that the trappings of femininity aren’t about women wanting to live in the pink prison–they’re about finding yourself in a prison, then told the only thing you’re allowed to do to make your stay more pleasant is decorate the bars.  After time, the decorations would inspire pride in their makers, as they’d spent time and energy on them, but they’d still be only aesthetic improvements on the very structure keeping you incarcerated.  Some might even help to prop up the prison as a structure.

Many–even most–women may be more invested in the trappings of femininity than you are.  But that doesn’t make you any less of a female, or less of a woman.

The way out of the pink prison isn’t to try to plan a solo midnight escape to the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking land of blue that lies beyond.  If you travel that path, you will find yourself again in service to men–to the absolution of their misogyny, to servicing their egos.  Instead, you must try to find the other women who are dying to get out, band together with them, and kick against the prison walls until they fall down.

Keep in mind that the women who’ve devoted their lives to decorating the bars aren’t trying to work against you.  Many just didn’t know that kicking was an option.  Instead of fighting them, help them to find their legs.

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I’m not like other girls.  But I am like other girls.  When it comes to the groups of women you once found alienating and hard to talk to, they may stay alienating and hard to talk to.  But you will find points of commonality, and you will find shared humanity.  The types and groups of women you once thought incomprehensible will begin to make sense to you, and you’ll begin to figure out new ways of identifying dangerous men (to start with, the ones who get angry when you call them out on misogyny).

Take the first step.  You’re like other girls, at least some other girls.  Some other women are like you, even if you’re a six-foot-two, or a heart surgeon, or annoyed as hell by women’s fashion.  Understand that separating yourself from the rest of women isn’t making a wider gender spectrum–it’s narrowing the definition of what “woman” means.

If you’re a female, you are like other women.  And that’s something that’s just fine to be.

Prevalence II: On Prison Placement

One of the issues on which trans activists and feminist activists most vehemently clash is that of transgender and transsexual prisoners.  According to trans activists, these prisoners must be housed according to self-declared gender identity as soon as possible.  In the past, when feminist activists have expressed alarm and outrage that prisoners born with penises would be allowed into spaces containing some of the most vulnerable women in society (2/3 of whom have not committed a crime of violence), they have been told that their alarm is misplaced.

Besides, only .3% of the population is trans, and even if a person occasionally abused the system, they’d be so far removed from one another, very unlikely to even be at the same prison, making any abuses easy to spot and hard to organize a coverup of.  The most powerful prison gangs, which can often shield particular members from scrutiny or serving additional time for jail mishaps, need a population of 3-4% of prisoners (total incarcerated men with gang affiliations are around 16% in prisons, less in jails).

Of course, like with so many arguments from the transgender activist side of the debate, this one is based on feelings, not rigor, logic, or mathematics.  Where are the skeptics?  Well, there is one here, and we will explore the math today together.  You see, the transgender prisoner issue is actually a pretty big one.  Bigger than you probably thought, even if you already knew it was a problem.

Allow me to clarify for a moment here.  All it takes is one raping man to be too many. There are already stories of men who have used self-castration and gender identity as a way to access and then sexually abuse women in the prison system.  What I aim to show, however, is that the problem of simply opening prisons to self-identification is a much bigger problem than it seems at first glance.

In order to quantify the likely number of males who would enter women’s prisons, we must examine two distinct groups: people with genuine histories of gender dysphoric thoughts (who we can assess the number of via transgender prevalence rates), and people with no genuine histories of transgender thoughts who desire to be placed with women (either for sexual access to women or due to safety threats in men’s prison).  We can call the first population A, the second B.

Let’s first take a look at population A.  Given studies that have shown the criminality of MTF individuals remains, on average, the same as males, let’s assume that they are represented proportionally in the prison population.

But wait.  Since 75-80% of transgender people are MTF, not FTM, we can assume the prevalence among males is more like .6%.  Still doesn’t seem like much … until you factor in something huge: the vast differential between the number of male and female prisoners.

Check out these statistics.  What we see is that while there are 1,225,900 male inmates total, there are only 89,000 female inmates–nearly 14 times as many men as women.  That same six-tenths of a percent of the male population that seems relatively insignificant represents a total number of 7,355 inmates.  Yes, that’s right.  Just six-tenths of a percent of male inmates self-identifying as transgender and opting into women’s prisons would represent an increase to the women’s prison population of over eight percent.  About three-quarters of these, assuming the prevalences stayed stable versus the rest of the population, would be male-born people who prefer women sexually.

Eight percent!  At that rate, overcrowding becomes a bigger problem than ever, making conditions cramped for female-born people for the benefit of male-born people.  And that’s, of course, before we consider population B.

Ah, population B.  The terrifying thing about you is that we don’t really know how many of you there are.  But we can take some interesting guesses.

Here are some things we know because of the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  There are nearly twice as many males whose most serious conviction is murder (157,000) and males whose most serious conviction is rape (159,000) in state prison as there are total female prisoners incarcerated for any crime.  Once again, much as with the locker room issue, we must ask ourselves: how likely is it that one rapist in a hundred, one murderer in a hundred, would decide to use this strategy to gain access to women?

If one in a hundred of those rapists utilized this strategy, they’d constitute 1,570 people — or nearly two percent of the total number of female prisoners.  If one in a hundred murderers did the same, they’d constitute another two percent.

It does not take many men–men already proven to be violent, men already proven to have no respect for the boundaries of other human beings–to lie about gender identity to make prison a living hell for women.

Trans activists need to understand that for this to be an issue for women does not require “transphobia.”  This is a legitimate issue.  The class of people born female will experience a material detriment.  Admitting population A into women’s prisons, even if literally zero of those people had bad intentions, would cause significant overcrowding at the expense of female-born people for the comfort and benefit of male-born people.  Admitting population B into women’s prisons is unavoidable if population A is admitted.  Due to the vastly larger starting number of male inmates, population B could create an outsize presence in women’s prisons even if only a relative handful of the worst and most violent inmates used gender identity to leave male prison.

Feminists are often treated like we are being the irrational ones in these debates, like we do not understand science or mathematics.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If trans activists looked at the actual problem of prevalence, they’d understand exactly the issue women have with gender identity classifying prison inmates instead of sex.  Transwomen of my acquaintance (hello there, Aoife!) who do understand these issues and have taken an honest look at them would NEVER subject women prisoners to forced housing with male-born people.

On Footbinding; Or, the Privileges of Womanhood

For a woman in China in most of the second millenium C.E., the bound foot–in several different styles varying with time, but most enduringly the tiniest and most injurious “golden lotus” foot–was the price of entry to upper-class womanhood, and a possible ticket to social mobility for the lower classes.  With the exception of the Manchu, who forbade the practice, the idea spread and became more and more de rigeur for Chinese women to inflict on their daughters, typically in the name of ensuring better marriage matches.

A woman with unbound feet, by the 19th century, was unlikely to thrive in court society, or even to be a successful dancer or performer.  She had greater freedom to walk, yes, but society constrained her role to that of a servant, a laborer.  To leave a daughter’s feet unbound was perceived as an act not of mercy, but of short-sightedness, letting sentimentalism get in the way of practicality.

Half the women in China walked with great pain on lotus feet by 1800.  Thus, there were two groups, of about equal number: women with bound feet, and women with unbound feet.  The prevalence of footbinding among the upper class Han women approached 100 percent.

Because the practice did not die out until the Communist Revolution in China, first-person accounts of what it was like to have one’s toes crushed by the footbinding process are still coming out in interviews today.  In 1995, Pamela Cooper interviewed a Mrs. Huang, who told this story of her own binding:

I remember the day the footbinding began. My mother told me that I could not be beautiful if I did not have bound feet. Ugly girls couldn’t marry. The binding of my feet began when I was five years old. I hated it. I cried. It was so very, very painful. No matter how much I cried or begged, my mother never relented. If I loosened the bandages at night, my mother would beat me in the morning and bind the feet even tighter. So, what could I do? Nothing. So, my feet were bound. I remember the first time my mother unwrapped them. They were rotting. They smelled very bad and were full of pus.

At the same time, the women in Cooper’s first-person accounts are quick to reflect on the fact that in many ways, their status was changed for the better by the destruction and warping of their young metatarsals, the rotted toenails.

It hurt so badly, I cried, and there was nothing to do for the pain. If I didn’t bind my feet, I would have to go to work in the fields, and that would have been hard. So, footbinding was better than that.

Another woman reflects on the same labor bargain:

It was an honor to have bound feet. All you could do was sit all day and make bound feet shoes. Servants did everything for you.

The unbinding of feet in the twentieth century undid the labor bargain:

I was happy to unbind my feet. My husband was happy too because I could work more in the fields. Prior to the unbinding I stayed at home and sewed, cooked, took care of the children and did housework.

One of the things these first-person accounts have in common is that the women involved say very little discussion of the practice of footbinding ever occurred, except between mothers and daughters.  This deeply traumatic event, shared by millions of women, was considered so private that it was rarely, if ever, talked about–even with spouses or the most intimate friends.

But what if the women of China had begun to discuss the practice centuries ago?  Moreover–since we’re already in the land of hypotheticals–what if they had done so through the lens of “privilege” discourse?

Well, it would be easy for the women with unbound feet to conclude, from the narratives above, that women whose feet were bound experienced what could be described as “bound-foot privilege.”  After all, women with lotus feet did significantly less manual labor and were often waited upon by servants.  They secured better marriage matches.  They were elevated above the common woman.

However, the women with bound feet–who had little or no say in whether they were bound, and whose say would have meant nothing anyhow because they were little children when the process began–could as easily have discussed the privilege of being born with unbound feet.  To be able to walk free, to be able to leave one’s home or relationship by simply walking away, was beyond the woman with bound feet.  She was hobbled, forced to inhabit a tiny world close to home.  She was in pain when she walked even a short distance, and prone to all the ailments an enforced lack of exercise can lead to.

Which, then, of these groups could be said to be privileged over the other?

The answer should be immediately obvious, but if it is not:

Neither of them.

These groups of women are divided by a destructive beauty practice that was created to eroticize the female body while hobbling it, for the benefit not of other women, but of men.  Neither side of the divide enjoys privileges, because the divide was created by an outside oppressor group in order to create pressures on women of either footbinding status.

Would it have benefited either group–the bound, or the unbound–to call the other group “privileged” for their footbinding status?  Would fighting each other for who had it worst, whose plight was harder, be likely to improve their conditions?  Or would they have been better off trying to attack the root of the problem: a male culture that eroticized hobbled, deformed women, leaving them a choice between deformity and poverty?

*      *      *

So it goes with motherhood.  In recent weeks, some feminist discourse online has revolved around whether such a thing as “motherhood privilege” exists.  Some say yes, others say no, others say “NO” more vehemently, even claiming that if anything, there is privilege in not being a mother–lower domestic violence victimization rates and higher salaries, for instance.

This is footbinding privilege.  This is a failure to see the overarching system dividing and conquering.

Motherhood’s supposed “privileges,” as well as non-motherhood’s, are determined not by women, but by men.  What woman would devise the system in place now, wherein all the caretaking labor and time required to grow a human being into some semblance of self-sufficiency is considered outside of the economic sphere?  It is not the group of women who bear children who controls the fact that men often won’t consider a childfree partner for dating.  It is not the group of women who do not bear children who controls the fact that men commit more violence against mothers.

These groups of women are both oppressed by a common oppressor.  The “privilege” conferred by motherhood is similar to the “privilege” conferred by beauty: decided at the whim of men and easily taken away to suit other divisive political goals.  Black mothers, for instance, don’t get a lot of the sympathy and apple-pie Americana benefits a lot of feminists in these discussions associated with motherhood.  They often get side-eye and people looking really close at what they’re paying with when they go to the grocery store.  No matter what your race, one day, your features can be considered beautiful, but the next, standards change and your type isn’t “in” any more.  Aging out of the beauty pool is, as many women have noted, a mixed blessing–invisibility has both benefits and drawbacks when visibility is synonymous with harassment.

We did not make the world the way that it is.  But we must see it the way that it is, if we are to take it back.

There is only such a thing as motherhood privilege if there is such a thing as footbinding privilege–or, for that matter, female genital mutilation privilege (also a practice performed to secure economically advantageous marriages).  Women did not create these divides.  Women did not decide that mothers should make less, or that non-mothers should be viewed as less desirable or as “incomplete” women in any way.

This is how patriarchy works: by telling you that you really must do certain things to fit in, to be good enough, to be worthwhile, to gain the best benefits society has to offer.  But in order to do them, you must risk injury or even death.  Whether we’re talking about motherhood, footbinding, maintaining underweight physiques, or plastic surgery, risking lethality seems to be a necessary component for women to reap supposed “benefits” out of patriarchy.  You can have the finest crumbs from the master’s table, but only if you hurt yourself for his amusement first–and do so better than all the other women vying for the same few crumbs.

I implore my feminist friends: Stop fighting for scraps when the whole table stands above you.  Stop wielding privilege rhetoric against other women without asking the question: where is the oppression coming from, and who decided that your group of women should be treated in the way that they are? You’ll be surprised how rarely the answer to these questions is actually “other women in that other group.”

If the answer is “men,” don’t we have better things we could be doing?