Although the cautionary "Don’t blame the victim" is important in the context of assault— especially sexual assault—especially in a sexist society in which women are typically blamed more than men, I think we have overgeneralized.
And although I would certainly put more blame on men than on women for our sexist society, because it is men who are in a position of dominance (with greater power comes greater responsibility), I do think women are often to blame.
We have agency.
We are not idiots.
And often we are not coerced.
And yet, often, we are complicit in our own subordination.
We speak in a higher register than is actually necessary and thus come across as child-like.
We smile more often than we need to and thus cancel the importance of our words.
We endorse the importance of our appearance by wearing make-up to cover blemishes and wrinkles and by constantly dieting.
Worse, we emphasize the sexuality of our appearance—by reddening our lips, emphasizing our breasts, exposing our legs—as a matter of daily routine. (A plunging neckline points like an arrow to breasts that are likely padded and pushed up — is it any wonder you find yourself saying “My eyes are up here”? Talk about a mixed message.)
No one coerces us to do any of that. Coercion is implicated when you allow yourself to be assaulted by your live-in partner because that’s the only way to feed your kids, when you do not refuse because someone has drugged you, and when you shut the fuck up because otherwise he’ll kill you. Coercion is not implicated when you wear make-up, high heels, and a dress.
Cultural conditioning, social expectation, peer pressure—why go along with it all? Why not think for yourself? Consider the meanings, the implications, of what you do. For yourself. For others.
And have the courage to refuse, to reject, whatever makes you into something you don’t want to be.
I’m suspect of claims that one would be fired if one stopped performing femininity. (Try doing so in small increments. Try suing.)
I imagine that yes, one might not be hired for some jobs if one doesn’t perform femininity, but if possible, apply for a job somewhere else.
But yes, since Hooters pays more than Walmart, I may be asking you to make a sacrifice—for the greater good.
Because only when men don’t see us as Hooters will the female sales associate at Walmart be considered for a managerial position. It seems to be all or nothing: if men see us as sexual, they see us as only sexual; if we have sexual power, we won’t have any other kind of power—political, economic, social. It’s understandable to think otherwise, but most women realize, once they hit forty and whatever sexual attractiveness they had wanes, that any power they had to that point was in fact merely due to their sex, their sexuality. Not their knowledge, their ability, their competence.
So please, don’t use your sex, or your sexuality, to get what you want. It just makes it harder for the rest of us to be considered persons, with interests and abilities other than having sex and having kids.*
Yes, I know you can use your sexuality to get what you want. Men are idiot children when it comes to breasts, butts, and legs.
But make no mistake. They are in power. Over us. They own most of the property, they hold most of the managerial positions, they hold most of the political positions, they make more money than we do… And they typically don’t concern themselves with ethics (speaking up about doing the right thing gets them accused of being a Boy Scout, of going soft...), and that adds to their power: they will not hesitate to hurt us. Just take a look at contemporary porn, which is, thanks to the internet, viewed by most men, many of whom started when they were still kids. (You are and you become what you expose yourself to.)
So please, just don’t do it.
Don’t speak in your little girl voice. Don’t smile at everything and everyone. Don’t wear make-up and heels. Don’t even expose your legs. Unless you’re sure you’re not being sexual about it (which means you don’t shave). Present yourself as a person, not specifically a female person.
And don’t expect a man to pay your way for anything. Only invalids and children need to have someone else pay their way.
Don’t even accept it because you think he’s just being nice. He’s not paying your way to be nice. He’s paying your way to express his superiority (just watch how angry he gets when you insist on paying his way) and to underscore your need for him, your dependence on him.
Don’t get married for the badge of maturity. It makes it that much harder for those of us who see marriage as the sexist trap it is – the unmarried are treated like children, perpetual teenagers who haven’t yet grown up.
And unless you really like kids (did you want to become a nursery school teacher?), don’t have them. It, too, is a badge of maturity and your endorsement of that irrationality makes it that much harder for those of us who choose to be child-free to be seen as adults. It, too, is a trap. In fact, in our society, there is no stronger, no more complete, trap into subordination. Because then you will need him. Then you will become dependent on him. Which will triple his power over you. (Because look, you can’t take your infant to work with you, so you will need someone to look after it while you’re out earning rent, and that will cost, probably as much, or almost as much, as you make, so you still won’t have rent…) (Better to form an alliance with another mother; you can work eight hours at your job while she looks after yours and hers, then she can work eight hours at her job while you look after hers and yours.) And kids make you vulnerable. Oh so vulnerable to threat, to blackmail, in all its subtle forms.
So just don’t. Don’t be complicit in your own subordination.
* I’ll respond in advance to everyone who’s thinking that I’m a prude, that I’m anti-sex, that I don’t like sex. You know what? You’re right. I am anti-sex. I don’t like sex. Not as it typically occurs today. Which is primarily for men’s pleasure, often via women’s pain (physical and psychological – anal penetration, vaginal penetration without sufficient lubrication, often accompanied by humiliation, degradation, insult…). Sex for women’s pleasure wouldn’t even involve the penis! The clitoris (which is not in the vagina or the rectum) best responds to fingers.
While I’m at it, I’ll also respond in advance to those women who reprimand me for abandoning the sisterhood. Excuse me? You are not my sister. We are accidentally the same sex. You have embraced the gender that society aligns with your sex. I have not. You’re a woman. I am not. (And that you wonder, mocking, laughing, ‘Well what are you?’ indicates the depth of your internalization of the importance of sex. To everything.)
Peg Tittle's novella What Happened to Tom is about to be published by Inanna Publications (book launch May 25 at The Supermarket in Kensington Market, Toronto!). Previous publications include Sexist Shit that Pisses Me Off (Magenta, 2014) and What If? Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy (Taylor and Francis, 2003). She blogs (sporadically) at pegtittle.com and hellyeahimafeminist.com.
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