Have you ever wondered why “cow” is such a scathing insult when directed at a woman? Why would being called the name of the most maternal, inoffensive, nurturing creature on earth be taken for such an insult? We adore and pedestalize mothers; why is “cow” such an insult?
Have you ever wondered why the terms “girl” and “woman” are used to interchangeably in everyday speech?
Have you ever wondered why there is no female equivalent of “man up”?
Have you ever wondered why women so much more than men seem to be sensitive about age, and why talking about a woman’s age is so radioactive? Have you ever wondered at the plethora of skin-care products, and the hideous prices they seem to be able to get women to pay, and why all those products promise you ever-youthful skin?
Have you ever wondered why grown women aren’t affronted to be told you can’t tell them from their daughters?
Have you ever wondered at why articles on masculinity and manhood by feminists, especially female feminists, tend to sound like they are missing the point when they seem to conflate the two?
Genderitis – My definition of genderitis is the tendency to see and try to analyze everything solely in terms of gender. It’s a mistake. A lot of things we talk about as part of the “patriarchal” female role don’t really have to do with gender so much as they has to do with age, and in particular with youth being imputed to the female role.
I think this answers every question above. I think it is the principle that underlies every one of those examples. Womanhood is conflated with and indistinguishable from girlhood in this culture. “Man up” means “stop acting like a weak little boy” but “woman up” can never mean that because it refers to a distinction that doesn’t exist in the culture.
And this is also an example of how “gender is constructed.” This is a trend, not a permanent feature of Anglo femininity, and certainly not a feature of femininity in humans across all cultures and times. I have watched since the early 60s how youth has been emphasized more and more, to the exclusion of almost everything else, as the measure of femininity, so much so that any expression of adulthood – intelligence, physical strength, personal responsibility for harms that befall you, emotional continence – are disparaged in some way or other as “unfeminine” or “unwomanly”.
There really was a time when younger women tried to imitate the sophistication and worldiness of older women. There really was a time when grown women were ashamed to cry except maybe when a kid had died. Or at the opera. That was allowed. There really was a time when women didn’t chatter and giggle in public like high school girls. There really was a time when young American didn’t chirp when they talked. And somehow all that got cut out of femininity in our culture, the female gender role evolved away from adulthood.
Nowadays we associated stoicism with masculinity and theatrical emotionalism with femininity. That is an example of how gender roles are constructed rather than determined by biology.
2nd Wave feminism pushed back hard against this infantilization of women, but it failed for two reasons. One was that every other force in the culture was ranged against feminists. The youth culture of the 50s and 60s exalted eternal childishness (the Me Generation) and before that Romanticism had exalted spontaneity and authenticity and natural emotionality, with women as the purest expression of that. (This was the old misogynist trope of women as emotional rather than rational.) But in the 70s rationality was retrgrade anyway.
The second reason was an internal contradiction in 2nd Wave feminism. As much as feminists denounced chivalry, most of their demands relied on men’s chivalry towards women in general, and favoritism towards daughters in particular, to be achieved. Just as in the struggle for voting rights, no shots were fired, now heaps of bodies piled up in the streets, no artillery was used. The “fight” to get women into corporate life, to give them educational preferences and a whole assortment of other helping hands, was all very peaceful and bloodless. It was chivalry in action. 2nd Wave feminism failed and became 3rd wave feminism because in the end it refused to reject the patriarchy thoroughly enough.
Some things this proposal predicts:
Damseling – At bottom damseling is a claim to on someone else to protection as a right, as an entitlement. Insisting on a woman’s victimhood in every situation, or her greater victimhood in her situation vis-à-vis someone else’s victimhood, is going to be crucial.
Devaluing women’s responsibility – If women are regarded as eternal girls, then they are going to get the same leniency for misdeeds we show children. So we can expect to see women sentenced more leniently for the same crimes as men, we can expect to see them charged and prosecuted less often and we can expect to see their sexual violence explained away or ignored. When a woman rapes a boy, she’s not a rapist, no, no – he just got lucky!We can expect to see their domestic violence and child abused excused on the flimsiest and most transparent and formulaic, or even unproven of excuses. (See also Andrea Yates and a host of others, and Lorena Bobbit and another host of others.) It really comes down to designating women as powerless, regardless of whatever actual power they may really have.
Spontaneity and emotionalism and all those childlike things are going to be in the female sphere.
Physical smallness and frailty are going to be considered feminine virtues. Weakness in general becomes a feminine virtue: finickiness about eating, inability to do this or that physical task, emotional touchiness about criticism, always feeling under threat and a general learned (and effectual) helplessness are some examples of this. Fat is going to stigmatized, basically as defeminizing.
Manhood defined in opposition to femininity instead of boyhood – How often do we hear that gay-bashing comes out of misogyny? All the time. It’s doctrine. What if instead that explanation is itself misogynistic, what if the real energy behind gay-bashing was the failure to get the girl, the failure to go beyond boyhood, a disgust with weakness and powerless. How misogynist is it to equate weakness and powerless with femininity?
Granting of “rights” to women without expecting commensurate responsibility – The scare quotes are around rights because rights that someone else grants you are not rights, they are privileges dependent on someone else’s favor, and they keep you in a state of dependency. This may sound paradoxical but it isn’t; this is an indulgence of a parent to a child he is busy spoiling. So it should be no surprise that when (white, rich) men gave women given the vote without the commensurate draft, they were careful to give it to rich white women and deny it to black men – oh, the law gave black men the vote, but Jim Crow and the KKK took it back. Nothing like that was allowed when women got the vote. The men who mattered saw to that.
ADDITION: This all amounts to a structure that incentivizes and enforces hypoagency on women. Women do in fact operate with full agency in a lot of domains, but this designation of both forces them or at times others to cover up and deny that agency.
The misandry of this arrangement should be obvious – it puts men into the role of eternal servant-parent to an entitled class of perma-children, Tinkerbells who don’t ever have to grow up, but I want to focus on the misogyny of the arrangement here. I hope the misogyny of a gender system in which women are expected to be permanent moral minors is obvious too.
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