Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On the Perils of Being a Cool Girl

[Content note: Sexual assault, misogyny]

"From father's house to husband's house to a grave that still might not be her own, a woman acquiesces to male authority in order to gain some protection from male violence. She conforms, in order to be as safe as she can be." - Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women (1983)

Dworkin, above, theorized that some women are anti-feminist/conservative because acquiescing to conservatism offers women protection from male violence. Men, this model of conservatism paradoxically teaches, are said to be naturally barbaric except to women with whom they are bonded by a parental or marital relationship. So, under this model, male protection is thought to come from, first, a woman's father and, second, her husband via marriage (once her ownership is transferred from dad to hubby). 

The system is implicitly upheld by conservative men who, purportedly, respect the boundaries of another man's property-female. Not for the woman's sake, mind you, but because to do otherwise would be a grave insult to the male-owner.

This model stands in contrast to, as Dworkin characterized, liberalism's promise of sexual access to all women all the time. To paraphrase, in order to be a cool liberal girl, a woman had to be sexually available at the whim of their enlightened liberal comrades. She further contrasted both models with feminism's constraint that sexual access actually ought to be dependent upon consent and reproductive freedom.

Bringing things to the present, we see that Trump, the nominee of the conservative/anti-feminist party in the US, represents a break in the bargain that some conservative women thought they had made with conservative men. In him, we have a man who on tape admitted to sexually assaulting women, whom women have come forward with allegations that Trump has assaulted them, and is being sued for allegedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl (is it weird that that isn't bigger news?).

And yet, conservative man after man after man has stood by Trump. His campaign appeals to and condones the basest misogynistic impulses of his supporters. And, at least some conservative women are rightly angry, as Amanda Carpenter writes in an oft-cited piece:
"Over the course of the GOP primary, it became clear that too many Republicans felt it was too politically risky to do anything that would offend the types of voters Trump was attracting in droves — the types who showed up at rallies wearing T-shirts that said, 'Trump that b—-' and 'She’s a c—, vote for Trump.'

Somehow, in some amorphous but unambiguous way, it was decided that appealing to those voters was more important than appealing to women.
....But not all men think this way. We’ve heard over and over again how privately anguished GOP leaders were, although not anguished enough to take any concrete steps to stop it."
It can be an odd position to be in, to be a progressive feminist woman who is sympathetic to the way conservative women - women are sometimes anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant - are treated. Like, why didn't they listen to us, feminists, that the men they ally themselves with are clusterfuck catastrophes of misogyny? Why now? Why does the misogyny matter to them now? Is it because they are just now realizing that while it is true that "their" men love chivalry, such men love male power even more?

And, despite our differences, I think many women could agree that when we are mistreated as women, in misogynistic ways, it's not acceptable and it harms all women. And, in such treatment, we have commonality. 

Lastly, I'm reminded of the cost of trying to play the "cool, exceptional girl" game. And by that I mean the girl or woman who's a liberal or conservative and who's also an avowed, loud-and-proud NON-FEMINIST who, you know, doesn't care that the guys in her fantasy football league threaten to "rape" their opponent each week or who take a certain pride in "not being friends with other women."

Such a woman might gain some temporary protection or points with guys, but it usually ends with a huge blow to the dignity. When you surround yourself with men who need you to play the cool girl game  because their masculinity so fragile, they'll eventually retreat to their boys-only locker room and remind you that there's a certain type of male bonding that is predicated on diminishing women and girls.

That will, in turn, remind you that yup, you may be cool, but you are, in fact, still a woman. Just a woman.

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