Michelle Goldberg has a good article up at CNN that discusses a common form of women-on-women misogyny, the tendency to slam women who stand out. Although she appears at times to veer into “blaming men for the shit women do” territory, that appearance is more an artifact of the cultural vocabulary available to her than anything she is actually saying.
In fact she is quite explicit that she is not blaming men here:
“Not all the critiques of “Lean In” have been unfair or unduly personal, but there has been enough viciousness directed toward Sandberg to indicate that a lot of women, some self-described feminists among them, still have a problem with female power.”
She points out that this is not a new thing or just newly noticed:
“In 1976, Jo Freeman published an essay in Ms. Magazine titled, “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood,” which described how groups of women within the feminist movement attacked and ostracized those seen as too visible or ambitious.
“To do something significant, to be recognized, to achieve, is to imply that one is ‘making it off other women’s oppression’ or that one thinks oneself better than other women,” she wrote. The piece struck a chord, receiving more letters in response than anything else the magazine had printed.”
This is not specifically a gendered thing. You see this same kind of norming in any group that values solidarity over individual achievement.
“Unconsciously echoing Freeman’s essay, Grant wrote that there is “simply no way for women to lean in without leaning on the backs of other women.”
Well yes. It’s called apexuality. Remember apexuality, otherwise known as “male privilege” eg. “The majority of legislators are men” or “Men control most of the world’s resources” etc. climbing the ladder implies that other people are the rungs. That’s how societies work. This only comes as a surprise to those whose privilege has sheltered them from this reality.
“Why are women so much harder on other women than they are on men? Part of it seems to be because they expect so much more.”
Yes. And perhaps if Goldberg were a man, she would see the other side of this that men are likewise much harder on other men than on women. In fact the evidence is all around her if she were too look – this male leniency on women is the core of everything the MRM is complaining about – male disposability, female sentencing discount, all sorts of inequalities in the justice and family court systems…. Including the resistance of male bosses to extend the same support to male employees who are parents as to female employers, the life-work balance issue that is at the bottom of this current discussion about Sandberg’s book.
“When women have the temerity to marshal power on their own behalf, the response is much more negative, and one can’t always tell the difference between those who resent women and those who resent power.”
Women report this over and over, and it is unfair. I wonder though if they are also reporting whether they simultaneously try to retain their gender-specific model of interaction, the more conciliatory, manipulative model – in other words, if they are trying to have it both ways and this is what is provoking the negative reaction.
This kind of downward norming is an interesting puzzle. My sense is that it occurs in groups that feel subordinated, subordinated and disempowered to the point that solidarity and the feeble protection it can provide is valued higher than the freedom to achieve.
I can understand this mentality in groups that are truly held down, by either law or custom. How does that apply to women, especially white women, in the US? Are they actually being held down, or do they just believe that they are? And if in fact they are being held down, what is doing that? Their own enforcement of solidarity? But then how long would that last before opportunity called more loudly than security and the appeal of solidarity and downward norming faded? Can it be that being subordinate is just part of an overall gender role that some, most perhaps, are too identified with to reject?
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