3 ways that women can fight internalized misogyny

The United States is an inherently patriarchal society. This means that the power structures in this country are set up to keep men in power and to keep women out of power. Nothing made this more clear then the election last week, when a completely unqualified man beat out an overqualified woman for the most powerful job in the country, maybe even the world. In order to ensure that men stay in power and women stay out of power, patriarchal systems instill a deep sense of misogyny in the people, especially women.

Patriarchal systems used the media to depict women in ways that decreases their value by making their worth tied to their appearance. Double standards in the workplace ensure that when a woman displays what are seen as leadership qualities in men, she is seen as aggressive. These double standards also mean that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man doing the same job and may never see the benefits of that extra work.

This results in few women in leadership roles, which reinforces the idea that men are better in leadership roles. The less we see women in leadership roles, the less likely we are to believe they are competent in leadership roles. The same is true for women in politics. Every action they make is harshly critiqued by their contemporaries and the media, holding them back from achieving leadership positions.

All of this results in a society where we have very few examples of women in leadership roles and women are valued for their appearances and docile personalities rather than their skills and abilities, even if those skills and abilities are equal to or surpass a man’s.

In a society that is so clearly against women, it’s not surprise that women internalize misogyny. Women are indoctrinated to believe that they are worth less than men, so on a subconscious level they begin to believe they are worth less than men. Any intelligent, ass kicking woman knows that this isn’t true, but somehow she can’t shake the lingering feeling that she doesn’t deserve that promotion or that she’s not pretty enough or that no one should take her seriously. This is internalized misogyny.

So how can we ass kicking ladies fight internalized misogyny so we can overthrow the patriarchy? Here are a few of my ideas.

1) Educate yourself about feminism

Oooh, the F word. Feminism has become another dirty F word. How, you may ask? The answer is always the same: patriarchy. The male dominated power systems are, rightfully, threatened by the idea of equality for women, so for years the systems have slandered feminists. Did you know that feminists in the 60’s never actually burned their bras? That story was made up by a male dominated media that wanted to make feminists seem scary and crazy. The media also spends a wild amount of time talking about the ugliness of feminists. In a world where women’s value is linked to their appearance, calling feminists ugly has been a way to discredit feminists and their movement.

In short, the media has made up all sorts of stories about feminists to make them seem like awful people as a way to discourage women from being feminists. Don’t believe the hype. Read some books. Like “The Feminine Mystique“, “The Beauty Myth“, “We Should All be Feminists“, and “The Feminist Utopia Project“. Read articles on sites like Everyday Feminism, Bitch Media, Adios Barbie, and The Body is not an Apology. Listen to podcasts like Call Your Girlfriend, The Guilty Feminist, and The Bodcast. Find out what feminism is really about (hint: it’s just the idea that women are equal to men and should be treated as such). Find out how patriarchal systems have affected your perception of yourself and your daily life.

If you’re not angry enough to shout from the rooftops about the patriarchy after all that, find more resources to educate yourself. Educate yourself until you understand how badly the patriarchy has screwed you and then get ready to fight back.

2) Talk to other feminists on a regular basis

One of the ingenious ways the patriarchy has kept women from overthrowing them is by keeping women apart and at each other’s throats. Women have been taught their whole lives that other women are the competition: for jobs, for success, for men. The patriarchy has taught women to compare themselves to other women constantly and to be jealous of women we judge as better. We’ve also been taught to try to tear down women so that we can succeed as if success is a finite resource that can only be possessed by a few women. Unfortunately, the systems that keep women out of power reinforce the idea that success is finite and only available to certain women. In short, the patriarchy has kept women from connecting in order to ensure we will never band together to overthrow the system.

In the sixties, when the Women’s Liberation Movement really began, women started hosting get togethers at their houses where women got to know each other. These get togethers were also used as a way to educate women about the Movement. Women at these get togethers shared their experiences, which led to the realization that they all faced the same sexism in their homes and offices. When these women realized they were not alone, and became friends, they created a powerful force that allowed the Women’s Liberation Movement to succeed.

So, ladies, you need to get you some awesome girlfriends. I know this can be really uncomfortable at first. Many women, myself included, have been taught to believe that they just can’t be friends with women. Too much cattiness, too much drama, too much trouble. But it’s actually not.

Find a core group of women and start talking to them about the sexism you experience. They’re going to tell you that they’ve experienced the same. Bond over the frustrations of being a woman in this world. Don’t just talk about makeup and clothes and men. Talk about changing the world. Build each other up. Compliment each other on things other than appearance. Tell each other how smart and brave you are. Reflect their value back to them. Start to make them believe that they deserve everything.

3) Work on a self acceptance/self love practice

The words “self acceptance” and “self love” used to make me throw up in my mouth. Every time someone said “love yourself” or “accept yourself exactly the way you are” I wanted to punch them in the mouth.

After entering recovery for an eating disorder and starting to educate myself on feminism, I discovered that my self hatred was a result of internalized misogyny. Women are constantly told by patriarchal systems that they are less than and that they are not worthy or love or acceptance. The media, beauty, and diet industries all profit off telling women that there is something wrong with them and that they need to change. This barrage of negative messaging results in women being literally unable to accept themselves, let alone love themselves.

The patriarchal systems of power are never going to teach women to accept or love themselves, so we have to do it ourselves. How, you ask? Good question. There are plenty of ways to start recognizing your own value and to start working toward self acceptance and self love. You just have to get over the hokeyness of them and do them without judgement. Or with as little judgement as possible.

Try writing affirmations on your mirror like “you are worthy of love” or “this mirror is a lie, your value is not tied to your appearance” or “you are a strong, smart woman”. Whatever it is you want to believe about yourself, write it on your mirror and read it every time you brush your teeth or work on your makeup. While you’re at it, say “I love you just the way you are” to your reflection in the mirror. Start a daily journaling practice and write things that you like about yourself or think that you’re good at. Before bed, write down all the things you did well during the day. Call a friend and ask them to tell you what they love about you.

I know all these things seem stupid and awful, but I’ve done all of them at some point over the past couple of years and my perception of myself has infinitely improved. So suck it up, swallow the mouth vomit, and give these things a try. You won’t be willing to fight for your worth if you don’t believe you have it in the first place.

Women face an uphill battle in patriarchal systems. At every turn they will be pushed back and told to be quiet. Unless women confront their internalized misogyny, they won’t be able to fight back and shout loud for the things they deserve. And trust me, you deserve everything. If no one’s ever told you that before, listen closely: you deserve everything.

Now go forth and educate yourself, find some other bad ass women, and learn to love yourself so we can start another revolution.

 

Advertisements

What Can We do About Unpaid Labor

If you’ve read anything about the wage gap or even browsed a feminist blog, you’re probably familiar with the fact that women perform a lot more unpaid work than men. Usually this unpaid labor is related to housework and child rearing. When we have discussions about inequality and the wage gap, it is important to acknowledge that this unpaid labor is work too. Unfortunately, this work is often ignored because it is consciously or unconsciously seen as part of a woman’s daily life. Most would not even consider this work. I know I didn’t until I read some articles that contextualized housework and child rearing as part of the inequality between men and women.

What I did know was that in all my relationships I had always felt something unfair was going on when it came to housework. The way I saw it, housework was the responsibility of everyone living in the house. When I talked to my partners about this they would also agree that housework should be handled by everyone in the house. But when it came down to actually getting the housework done, it seemed like I was doing a disproportionate amount of the work. When I talked to my partners about this they would always say something about being tired and having worked hard and that they intended to do it at some nebulous “later” time. I always countered with the fact that I was also tired and that I had also worked hard. Though they consciously knew this to be true, their actions seemed to indicate that my hard work and fatigue was less than theirs.

Here’s the weird thing: I wasn’t dating misogynistic guys. Based on their actions you would assume I was, but I wasn’t. If you asked any of them whether they expected a household to be run by traditional gender roles they all would have said no. If you asked them if they believed that women should do all the housework and take care of the kids on top of their jobs, they would all say no. In theory they all believed that housework should be split 50/50 without attention to gender. However, as I already stated, this was not being put in to practice.

So where does this disparity come in? Why do so many men reject traditional gender roles with their words and then accept them with their actions? I believe the answer comes down to unconscious programming. Men are conditioned to believe that their time is very valuable. They may not realize that they believe their time is more valuable than a woman’s time, but this is what they are taught. So, men intend to help with the unpaid labor, but it never seems important enough to take up their time. There is also a lingering bias that housework and child rearing is a woman’s domain and therefore they like to perform these tasks. Let me be clear: I hate cleaning the bathroom just as much as any man. I don’t have kids yet, but I know that as much as new moms love their babies, getting up in the middle of the night gets just as exhausting and annoying for moms as it does for dads. Though there are certain exceptions, my guess is that most women do not like household tasks as their male partners believe they do.

The problem of unpaid labor is being talked about a lot more and men are stepping up in a lot of cases, especially child rearing. Luckily the Internet seems to be perpetuating the idea that it’s cool to be a dad these days and men are accepting that role more generously. However, there’s still a lot to be done to truly even up the unpaid labor that goes on at home. Men need to change diapers just a frequently as their partners. Men need to take the kids out for the day while their partner goes to the spa. Men need to pitch in with the housework, and I’m not talking about cleaning the bathroom once. You don’t deserve a medal for cleaning the bathroom one or two times in the span of your marriage. When you’ve cleaned the bathroom twice a month for six months maybe we’ll talk.

My husband and I got to the point where dividing the housework was a real thorn in our relationship. I’m not proud to admit it, but we’ve had many shouting matches over who has to clean the bathroom before company comes. It got so bad that we sat down and brainstormed ways to make the division of labor more fair, especially since we both hate housework. It sounds juvenile, but we actually made a chores list.

We alternate weeks for the responsibility of doing the dishes. This week is my week, so all dishes in the house are my responsibility through Saturday. On Sunday he gets dishes for the week. Theoretically, twice a month we alternate who cleans the upstairs and who cleans the downstairs. We’re each responsible for one floor of the house and we alternate so the same person doesn’t have to clean the big bathroom each time. I say theoretically because we haven’t made a single month where we’ve cleaned twice yet, but the division of labor is set for when we do. We are both responsible for picking up our own dishes and bringing them to the sink as well as picking up any clutter we’ve created. Like I said, it sounds super basic and juvenile, but it has actually helped our relationship a lot. I don’t feel like I’m stuck doing everything anymore. I feel like we’re finally one of those progressive couples who truly shares the work. And we have the skills to have another conversation about division of labor when we have a kiddo.

In order to solve the problem of unpaid labor everyone needs to step up, not just men. Men have to be willing to do more to make the division of labor fair, but women have to be willing to advocate for themselves. I bet your partner isn’t even aware that the division of labor bothers you or that he isn’t doing as much as you. Without conversations, in each household and nationally, the problem will never be solved. Take responsibility and have a conversation ASAP.

Fight the Patriarchy, Literally

One of the main control mechanisms of oppressive systems is fear. A key example of this is rape culture. The patriarchy oppresses women by making them fear violence and victimization. When women find ways to eliminate the fear created by rape culture, they weaken the patriarchy. This is why I believe it’s crucial for women to train in martial arts, or at least take a self defense class once.

In addition to training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I have trained in Boxing, Muay Thai, and combined them all for MMA training. At one time I was training for fights in all three of these disciplines. Yes, the featured image is me, a year and a half ago. I was punching, kicking, and getting punched and kicked at least five times per week. I am lucky that I never had the occasion to use these skills outside of the gym. Many women are not so lucky.

Learning how to properly punch, kick, take someone down to the ground, disarm them, and maybe break their arm, was an incredibly powerful experience. I don’t just mean that it was a profound experience, which is was, I also mean that it made me feel literally full of power. Knowing I had this skillset made me less afraid of being attacked.

I want to take a minute here to acknowledge my privilege. I am a white woman from the suburbs of Connecticut. I live in Vermont, in a city, but not a “real city”, a Vermont city. The likelihood of me being attacked is much lower than it is for some women. Walking home from the club in the middle of the night is not nearly as dangerous for me as it is for some other women. Unfortunately violence against women is so widespread that no women, no matter how privileged, can really feel like she’ll never be the victim of violence, but I do feel the need to acknowledge the fact that my circumstances make me much less likely to be attacked and that is a form of privilege.

That being said, I did have a healthy fear of being the victim of violence. I knew that statistics dictated that is was more likely for me to be a victim than not to be a victim. I also watched far too much Law and Order: SVU. I didn’t start training to fight with self defense in mind. I started training at a very angry time in my life where I felt like the only answer to my feelings was hitting things or being hit (don’t worry, I’ve discussed it with my therapist). The unintended result was that I began to fear violence less and less. I began to be more confident that I would know what to do in a violent situation. Of course, I acknowledge the possibility that in an actual violent I would forget everything I know and freeze, but just knowing that I had some training made me less scared.

Being less scared has allowed me to stand up for myself in unexpected and seemingly unrelated ways. I used to be the kind of girl who just let guys touch me without my permission when dancing because I was too scared to start something. Now I assertively say no without fear. I used to walk home at night with my keys in my hand to use as a weapon in case someone tried to grab me. I used to insist upon being walked to my car if it was past midnight, even if my car was a block away and the whole path was well lit. Now I walk casually to my car alone, no matter what the time of night, and my keys stay in my purse. If I’m out with the guys I trained with they don’t insist on walking me to my car because they know I can handle myself. If those sentences just made you nervous it’s because you’re a victim of the fear created by rape culture. Your fear allows the patriarchy to control you. Training in martial arts allowed me to be free of this day to day fear. I suggest martial arts or self defense classes to any woman who is looking to make herself a little more free of the control of the patriarchy.

Of course, women training in self defense or martial arts does not address the core issue: rape culture itself. The fashionable thing to say today is don’t teach women self defense, teach men not to assault women. I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, but I find it naive and shortsighted. Of course changing the way men think about women and violence is key to dismantling rape culture, but this takes time. Like generations worth of time. Today’s parents need to teach their sons differently than this generation and generations before were taught. Those sons need to grow up and put their different viewpoints in to action in the world. Those sons need to have sons and teach them their different viewpoints. Whether we like it or not, violence against women is here to stay for quite some time because rape culture is here to stay until we can change a whole generation of men.

So, in the meantime women need martial arts and self defense. Women need to know that their bodies can be powerful weapons if they need to be. Women need to know that they can stand up for themselves and protect themselves if they are ever threatened. Women need to know how to react if they are ever faced with violence. And more importantly, women need the confidence that comes from knowing that they can literally kick ass.

Reflections on Rape Culture: It Hurts Everyone

For my second blog reflecting on my experience at the Dismantling Rape Culture Conference  I want to discuss how rape culture hurts everyone, not just women. When discussing rape culture it is pretty clear how it affects women. If it’s not, please read what I wrote yesterday to get some examples. I do not want to diminish the effects of rape culture on women. They are clearly the most impacted group and the impacts are devastating. However, if we want to work to dismantle rape culture we must also understand how others are hurt. Specifically I want to talk about how rape culture hurts men, a topic not often addressed.

As a feminist I often rant about the negative programming women are raised with, but when discussing rape culture it becomes equally important to discuss the negative programming men are raised with. Men are raised to view women and sex in very specific ways, which are products of rape culture. First, men are raised to believe that they are supposed to be the pursuers of women. The implication here is that women are objects to be obtained. Then they are told that their masculinity will be judged by how many women they obtain. The way to truly obtain a woman is to have sex with her. So, men are raised to believe that they are supposed to collect women by having sex with them in order to prove their masculinity. Of course, this is an oversimplified explanation and not all men adhere to this programming. I get that. Please don’t start a #notallmen rally.

Even if not all men follow this programming the programming exists and it is perpetuated by the media. Think about how many movies you’ve seen where the male lead relentlessly pursues the woman who has shot him down until she gives in and says yes. I used to think that this was romantic; a guy who was willing to go to any lengths to impress me. However, viewed through the lens of rape culture this scenario becomes creepy. The woman has made it clear that she is not interested in the guy, but he won’t take no for an answer. I wonder how far he would go not accepting no; all the way to the bedroom? He plots with her friends about how to win her affections, he buys her things, he shows up on her lawn at night with a boom box. Again, I used to think it’d be great for John Cusack to show up on my lawn and play “In Your Eyes”, but viewed through the lens of rape culture it becomes rather stalker-ish. The movie screen idea of romance actually amounts to harassment, but this is what guys have to work with when learning how to woo a woman.

The other scary example of how to obtain women in pop culture comes from music, particularly rap or hip hop, where the frequent narrative is that women are “bitches and hoes” whose only purpose is gratifying men’s sexual needs. These women are easily obtained and just as easily discarded. Music enforces the “conquest culture” of sex where a man is expected to sleep with as many women as possible and never get suckered in to being tied down by just one woman. All vestiges of romance are removed from rap and hip hop songs, leaving the idea that women are to be used.

Lastly men are programmed with very confusing ideas around consent. They are taught to believe that their sexual needs are primary and women’s are secondary, so it follows that they should be able to do what they need to do in order to meet their sexual needs. Men are taught that women are inherently “teases” who will deprive them of sexual pleasure. Men are taught that women who tease owe them sex because they “started something”. Actually, men are taught that they are owed sex in general, which leads to many situations where consent is bullied instead of given. Men are taught that it’s perfectly acceptable to pressure a woman in to sex. They are taught to believe that an answer of “no” can be changed with enough coaxing.

Men are not taught that an enthusiastic yes after much coaxing is not the same as affirmative consent. They are not taught that a drunken yes is not affirmative consent. They are not taught that a yes that turns in to a no at any point in the sexual situation is not affirmative consent. Until recently men were not taught about affirmative consent at all. Even now, much of the framing around receiving affirmative consent points to the fact that men should get consent so they don’t get in trouble, not so that they know their partner actually wants to participate in a sexual act.

All of this programming , reinforced by the media, sets up a lose lose situation for men. They go in to the world confused about how to interact with women. They go in to the world scared that their masculinity will be threatened if they do not engage in the aggressive pursuit of women. They go in to the world scared that their masculinity will suffer if they don’t feed in to the “conquest culture” of sex. In order to obtain women and protect their masculinity men follow their programming and engage in aggressive sexual behavior toward women. This is not inherently their fault. Just like women are responding to rape culture when they say “any man could be a rapist”, men are responding to rape culture when they engage in aggressive sexual behavior.

If we want to dismantle rape culture it is crucial to address the messages society is sending men about women and sex. We have to fight against conquest culture. We have to change the way romance is portrayed in movies and on television. We have to teach men about consent. We have to normalize respectful sexual behavior rather than aggressive sexual behavior. We have to heal our men just like we have to heal our women.

I’m a Geek Girl Because I Say So

In the past five years or so it’s become cool to be a geek, or at least a certain kind of geek. Marvel movies have made it cool to like comics. The Big Bang Theory has brought nerds and their strategy games to the forefront. The rising popularity of RPG style video games like Dragon Age and Skyrim has made it cool to play nerdier games than Call of Duty. The rise of barcades (bars that also have video games or pinball machines) have brought nostalgia video games in to mainstream recreation. It’s a good time to be a geek. Unless, of course, you’re a female geek.

Geekdom has historically been the territory of men. In the old days of geekdom (Gen X and before) women were few and far between and they had to be very brave to penetrate the male sanctum of gaming. They had to be willing to endure hours of mansplaining, even if they’d read the rulebook a hundred times in preparation for their first session. They had to be prepared for numerous pathetic pick up lines. They had to endure borderline if not full on sexual harassment from male gamers and shop owners. It was pretty much guaranteed to be an uncomfortable experience. Before you start hashtagging everything NotAllMen, I know that not every guy was like this, but I also know that many of my female gamer friends described these experiences in their early days of gaming.

In fact, even in the early 2000’s this was my experience as a fledgling gamer. Being a fledgling gamer actually highly contributed to my transformation in to a “cool girl” because I felt that I just needed to “play along” with the harassment if I was going to be accepted. Plus, I didn’t want the guys to think I was too sensitive and alienate me from their gaming sessions. I hate to say it, but in order to be included in typically all male gaming sessions I also did my fair amount of baking and cleaning up after messy boys. In my first tabletop RPG, where my fiance was the GM (game master) I was the quintessential “healer girlfriend” who made my heal rolls on the kitchen counter because I was making muffins. I wanted to be in with them, so I gave in to and reinforced the misogynistic culture. Let me be clear that the guys I started gaming with were not bad guys and I don’t believe they intended to be misogynistic. It was more about the fact that I believed I needed to endure the mansplaining, pick up lines, and bawdy jokes in order to be included. Had I been more vocal about my discomfort I’m sure they would have stopped. It doesn’t change the fact that this kind of misogyny was embedded in gaming culture.

Today female gamers are more prevalent and more widely accepted in the gaming community. In many gaming circles women are treated respectfully and as equals to their male counterparts. This is great progress, but in some circles the misogyny hasn’t really changed, it’s simply taken on a different form. The Internet in all it’s glory has now chosen to sexualize the “geek girl”. If the male dominated gaming community was going to be forced to accept women, they would accept them on their own damn terms.

The Internet’s version of the “geek girl” is much like the “cool girl”, only she’s more in to comics and video games than sports. She’s physically attractive, very intelligent, and very witty. Extra points if she’s super sarcastic. She can beat you at your favorite video game, but not enough to embarrass you. If she’s your girlfriend she doesn’t get mad if you just want to play video games all night instead of paying attention to her. Instead she grabs controller and gladly plays Player 2. “Geek Girl” is cool with spending hours at a time eating Doritos, drinking Mountain Dew, and playing Dungeons and Dragons, and yes, she is usually the group’s healer because she doesn’t mind that all the combat classes are played by men. She’ll marathon all the Star Wars movies with you before the new ones come out or she’ll spend the whole weekend watching Star Trek TNG with you, and she definitely knows the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. She doesn’t mind that the whole group hits on her all the time and she flirts right back without missing a beat. She is the ideal other half to your geekiness.

From this Internet ideal of the “geek girl” spawned the idea that she actually does not exist, for it is impossible for any girl to be that cool! So the “geek girl” is painted as the mythic unicorn. In response to this, women all over the world started showing their geek credentials. They posted pictures of themselves, listed the games they played and the levels of their video game characters. These female gamers wanted the gaming world to know that they existed and that their skills matched if not exceeded those of male gamers. Some of the male gaming community was impressed to see that these unicorns truly existed and welcomed them with open arms. Unfortunately, the rest of the gaming community, who were still trapped in the embedded misogyny, responded by saying that these were not true “geek girls” these were “fake geek girls”. They had seen the sexualization of the “geek girl” and they were responding by pretending to be “geek girls” in order to get boyfriends or sex partners. The Internet was flooded with male outrage over women pretending to like their hobbies in order to “manipulate men”. Understandably, the Internet also exploded with female outrage at having their identities called in to question. The battle still rages today.

As a female gamer, I am obviously outraged to be called a fake. I am amazed at the arrogance and entitlement of the men who think it’s their right to tell me what I like and don’t like and whether or not I am good enough to be included in a community. I should be allowed to identify as a geek simply because I want to identify as a geek. I should not have to prove my credentials to anyone, especially some random man who has decided that I can’t possibly know anything because of my gender. I shouldn’t be required to fit some picture of what a female gamer should be and I shouldn’t be confined to certain roles or characters in games because I’m “the only girl”. Y’all can play healers, I play fighters now. Most importantly I should not have a part of my identity erased because it does not compute in the male brain. I am a female and I am a geek. Because I say so.

On Being a “Cool Girl”

What is a “cool girl”? The “cool girl” is the new ideal female personality from the male perspective. First, let’s acknowledge that the “cool girl” is constructed from the male perspective. When we define the “cool girl” it’s from how the male sees her. The “cool girl” can be described from the female perspective, but this description is inextricably linked to how males see the “cool girl”. The female description of the “cool girl” is a reaction to the male definition of the “cool girl”.

From the male perspective the “cool girl” is beautiful, but not high maintenance. She can talk about sports, but she doesn’t make you look dumb by knowing more than you. She likes video games, specifically first person shooters. The “cool girl” drinks cheap beer, likes pizza and chips, and will play wingman when you’re at the bar. She’s easy to talk to and isn’t easily offended. If you don’t want to date her you definitely want to sleep with her and if she’s really a “cool girl” she’ll probably let you with no strings attached. From the female perspective the “cool girl” is your boyfriend’s best girl friend who makes you really nervous, or she’s a “slut” who’s “faking it” to get male attention.

Just like I used to be “one of the guys”, I also used to be a “cool girl”. I didn’t used to think that they were different things, but as I have read more about the “cool girl” construct I’ve realized that I engaged in certain behaviors that I thought made me “one of the guys” in order to get male attention or draw male gaze. Things that I thought were legitimate parts of my personality were actually a show for the males in my life. This is a tough realization. I never would have guessed that I was putting on a show for attention or to get guys to like me. I remember reading an article a couple years ago about Jennifer Lawrence and the cool girl construct that asserted that the “cool girl” was a persona women wear for men. At the time, I disagreed with and hated the article. I resented being called “fake” for being a “cool girl”. I thought “this is just my personality? Who are you to call it fake?” At the time I didn’t realize the extent to which I was putting on a show when I played the “cool girl”. In hindsight, I can see exactly how much time I have spent in this performance.

I surrounded myself with male friends because I felt more comfortable with them and soon began to understand that they would like me better if I was “in to” the same things as them. I started playing video games, reading comics, playing card and board games, watching sports, laughing at misogynistic jokes, behaving raunchily, and pretending that I was never offended by anything they said. The result, of course, was that they did like me more. Gratified, I continued to build up the “cool girl” persona. I began to openly and casually talk about my sex life just to watch them blush or gaze at me hungrily as the words left my lips. I started to pretend that I liked video games I didn’t like, had read comics I hadn’t read, or that I liked football even though I didn’t.

Now let me pause here for a minute and dispel an argument that may be forming in your brain. There’s a huge movement on the Internet trying to prove the existence of “fake geek girls”. I plan to write an entire other post about this because, frankly, it’s bullshit. For now, I will briefly say that my experience sounds like a “fake geek girl”: a girl who only pretends to like geek things because of her boyfriend or to get a boyfriend or to steal your boyfriend. I am not a fake geek girl. I will admit to pretending, at times, to like geeky things to engender the favor of men, but I like geek things all on my own. My comic book collection is respectable and I have read most of them. I play Magic the Gathering and World of Warcraft because they are enjoyable. I play board games because they are fun. I have been a Trekkie since I was three. Not kidding, ask my mom. Though I did a fair amount of pretending about my geek interests, I found that I legitimately loved geek things in my own right. So I don’t want to hear about how I’m just another “fake geek girl”.

Back to my descent in to “cool girl”. I won’t lie, I loved the attention I got being a “cool girl”. It worked, so I continued. I played the “cool girl” so effectively that I integrated it in to my personality and no longer realized that I was playing a part for the benefit of my male friends. I didn’t know what I really liked or fake liked anymore. I really thought that I just was a “cool girl”. I thought “other girls may pretend to be ‘cool girls’, but I’m the real deal.” But I wasn’t. I was trapped in performing my gender in a way that benefitted men. This has been true for women throughout all of history. We have always been expected to perform gender in a way that is appealing to men. Being a “cool girl” is the same thing as being a “fifties housewife”. It’s a gender performance to please males based on what males believe is cool at the time.

Realizing that my “cool girl” behavior was a persona was a long process. I slowly started to notice where my behavior didn’t fit with my beliefs or where I behaved a certain way just to get male attention. I started to notice how uncomfortable I was when my male friends told a misogynistic joke. Eventually I started to speak up and say I thought the joke was inappropriate, even though it meant losing some “cool girl” status. I started to notice that I would say bawdy things just for male reactions and I stopped doing this, even though it meant I had a lot less to say in all male situations. I admitted that I hated football and baseball and stopped watching. I admitted that I hated FPS’s and stopped suffering through Call of Duty sessions. I was honest when I hadn’t read a comic book, even though it lost me cred. I was honest about the video games I did like and advocated to play them. I was honest about the comics I did like and spoke about them without looking for validation from my male friends. I stopped performing the “cool girl” and just became a real female friend.

The best thing is I discovered that I didn’t need to be a “cool girl”. My friends, male and female, like me for my real personality and interests. It’s freeing to be authentic.

An Open Letter to Women, Especially on the Internet

Dear Women Everywhere,

It’s time to stop talking about each other. I know, this is a bold statement. Some of you are probably scoffing and saying “I don’t talk about other women”, while trying to mask the guilty look on your face. Others may be thinking “What’s the harm as long as she doesn’t hear about it?” Others may be saying “I’m just bashing some female celebrity who’s acting like a (fill in the blank). It’s not like I’m gossiping about my friends.” Stop. Just stop. Be honest. We all talk about each other. We talk about our girlfriends with our boyfriends. We talk about our girlfriends with our other girlfriends. We talk about female celebrities to anyone who will listen. We say mean things under the illusion that it won’t hurt anyone because they’ll never find out. I’m here to tell you that even if they don’t find out, talking about other women is still harmful, and it’s time for it to stop.

We’re raised to distrust and compete with each other. I don’t think anyone can deny that. When we see other women we’re much more likely to think of them as an enemy than a friend. Or worse, a frenemy. We’re raised to tear each other down instead of build each other up. We’re raised to take power away from other women rather than empowering them. This serves a purpose in a patriarchal society. It keeps us apart. It keeps us from gathering together and finding out how intelligent and powerful we are as a group. It keeps us from upsetting the status quo.

This is even true when you’re judging female celebrities on the Internet. When you slut shame Kim Kardashian for her nude selfie you’re telling other women that you don’t believe our bodies are beautiful or worth flaunting. You’re telling other women that being empowered by their bodies or their sexuality is wrong. You’re telling other women how to live their lives. I don’t care if you “have more self respect than to post a nude selfie online”. Keep that shit to yourself and stop telling others how to live their lives. Every time you slam Kelly Clarkson for gaining weight you’re telling other women that only skinny bodies are valuable. You’re telling other women that their bodies are shameful. You’re telling other women that the natural size of their body is wrong. I don’t care if you “think she’s really let herself go and she used to be so much prettier”. Keep that shit to yourself and stop trying to tell women what bodies are acceptable.

Every time you say a critical, judgemental, or unkind thing about a woman you do or do not know you are contributing to systemic misogyny. More importantly, you’re teaching women younger than you that this is how they should treat women. You are indoctrinating the next generation with the same misogyny you were raised with.

Be a part of the solution, not the problem. The next time you want to comment on another woman’s body, sex life, career choice, parenting choice, or pretty much anything, just keep it to yourself.

Sincerely,

Feminism