I have heard so many times, from both feminist and non-feminist women and men, “Women should have gotten behind [insert name of candidate/issue/cause here].” Or “I was so disappointed that a woman would say something like that. I expected better from a woman.” Why do we expect better from women? And what planet do people live on that they unconsciously think all women would be all anything or believe the same things? Welcome to Planet Implausible!
As a “baby” feminist in my early days, I hunted for examples where women were better than men or excelled in heretofore male-dominated fields. That’s useful information for many reasons, mostly as evidence that women and men aren’t inherently one way or another. Today, as our society is finally exploring gender as being flexible and fluid, many of us are floundering when it comes to what gender even means. Rigid gender roles crumble daily. And, just as I collected stories of so-called “superior” women, detractors collected stories of the “downfallen,” to prove that women are not superior. We are not, even though we are constantly having to be better to prove that we’re just as good. So let’s look at the TRIPLE standards women face:
First standard: Perfection. (I have a right to be a fallible human being.)
Second standard: Unrealistic standards. (I deserve to be judged by human standards, no better, no worse than other women or men.)
Third standard: Above and beyond expectations. (I did not sign up to be a perfect person when I said I’d fight for gender justice.)
This triple standard is at play constantly in our daily lives, and puts unrealistic pressure on women who fight for justice, women in the work place and government, or in any pursuit at all. This pressure comes not only from detractors but from allies.
Then there’s the tired canard, “Hey! I don’t vote for people just because they have a vagina!” No, neither do I. And to suggest that people who voted for Hillary only did so because of shared anatomical traits is beyond insulting. Come to think of it, I expected better from women who said they didn’t vote for people with shared private parts. Kidding.
The “How could she?” concept was recently brought home thanks to white women being an essential component of Trump’s victory. Am I disgusted? Yes. Do I think all white women represent all white women? No! Do white, female Trump-ettes represent me? No. White women have as much a right to be idiots as other groups. I can assure you that Karen Handel, winner of the recent Georgia Special Election, does not represent other women like me!
The Goddess of Idiots is non-discriminatory; she bestows idiocy on everyone: all colors, all genders, all religions, all ethnicities. Goodness knows, I have been idiotic about plenty of things and judged harshly for being so. And men? I cringe when I think of Karl Rove. He “should know better” because he’s a Norwegian-American for Freya’s sakes! By the way, that’s a very high and little known “Norwegian-American” standard you may not have known.
A few reminders:
1. There is no Pope of All Women. No encyclicals. No edicts. No pointy hats
2. There isn’t a central handbook on how to be a woman, just as there isn’t one for men
3. Women — just like men — are people first; their gender second
There are many women who have internalized misogyny and vote against their own interests, just as men do. There are many women who conform their lives around a male-dominated religion, which comes first and everything else is, er, trumped. There are many women who grow up within a system where they are trained not to trust women, including themselves.
So many women and men expect women to be “better” than they are. Based on what exactly? Cis-hetero white men have the luxury of mostly not having to represent their entire group. The rest of us? “Hey brother, you’re going to make other white straight men look bad and set us back for decades!” Said. No. One. EVER! Is Trump ruining the future for all straight white men? Hardly.
News flash: Women are not better than men, and to base a social justice movement based on “better than” will backfire because, as soon as one of “us” screws up, the screw-up is held up as a warning. “See! You people aren’t BETTER!” In fact, we end up looking worse because we weren’t able to live up to an expectation that was impossible in the first place.
If we base rights on anything other than being human, we stand to fail, over and over. Our failures then get used against us, which results in people distancing themselves while making excuses for me or whomever else has failed at being a woman (or any other out of power group) rather than simply being a fallible human.
Suffrage hero Susan B. Anthony said, “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we the whole people, who formed the Union… Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”
If you base rights on merit, someone then has to judge whether that person deserves rights or not. Who’s going to judge that? One does not earn human rights. We gain them, and then fight to maintain them, at least here on Planet Possible.
NOTE: This article is an revised and expanded version of my column in the Pasadena Weekly that originally ran on June 29, 2017