Delaware National

Why We Can’t Have This Conversation

Over at Delaware Liberal, Evey put up a very familiar post called A Well-Regulated Uterus. It’s a great post. She truly has a talent for writing. Go read it!

What jumps out at me is the disclaimers that women writers (myself included) always feel the need to include.

As disturbing as those issues are to me, I want to focus on an important, but unspoken part of the pro-choice/pro-life dialogue.  That is, women bear the overwhelming brunt of the condemnation when it comes to abortion and bear the most responsibility for birth control in general.  And before you get your sensitive male panties twisted, yes—not all men are asswipes, and, yes, some women are. Can we just trust that I’m not talking about YOU as in you personally (unless you’re feeling guilty, then I definitely mean you), but the universal “you” meant as a broad social construct.

Notice how she first states her focus, and then goes on to give the standard #notallmen disclaimer. Which shouldn’t even be necessary for self-proclaimed liberal/progressive men. Oh, but it is – which is a big problem. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the comments. Remember, Evey has already stated what she wants to focus on.

puck says:

“Women are at the center of these laws. Not men. I know it’s hard when things aren’t about you, but in this case, punitive abortion laws aren’t targeting men.”

On the contrary, in America, punitive abortion laws tend to exempt the pregnant woman from punishment and punish the physician or other providers, which includes many if not mostly men.

I heard recently 7 out of 10 Americans don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned. The problem isn’t “men,” it’s the men elected by both men and women voters.

See? It’s not women being punished, it’s male doctors. The problem isn’t men – it’s men and women who elect “pro-life” politicians. Puck’s comment brushes past every point Evey made and actually turns male doctors into the victims. Which they are, but his comment erases women and turns a post about women’s issues into, yet again, men’s concerns.

Alby points out that these “pro-lifers” are really about forced birth and controlling women sexually. I 100% agree. But… he then goes on to ask, “And, sadly, a lot of these forced-birthers are women. Evey, maybe you can explain the psychology there, because it eludes me.”

Nemski counters with: “@alby, I’m not speaking for Evey here, but your comment that “a lot of these forced-birthers are women” may be true but neglects that a lot of these forced-birthers are men as well. That said, we do live in a patriarchal society.”

Go read the comments. We’ve been down this road before. Puck blames abortion laws on Dems abandoning the economic interests of the working class. He’s nothing if not consistent.

Nemski scores again: “I love how this thread has devolved into blaming women for a patriarchal society. Seriously, what the fuck guys. This is embarrassing.”

These threads have always taken this path. Always. (BTW, thanks, nemski!)

Then the questions about how the patriarchy could be part of this begin. It’s like we’ve never answered this question before. So, here it is. One more time.

The patriarchy affects the behavior of both men and women. It starts with socialization.

Internalized misogyny is the “involuntary internalization by women of the sexist messages that are present in their societies and culture.”

Basically, that means that we hold misogynistic ideas ourselves, even though we are women. It’s involuntary because the sexism that is present in our culture is taught to us through socialization (the process of learning culture through social interaction), a process we don’t have much say in.

We aren’t born sexist.

It’s not like you pop out of the womb already thinking that women are inferior beings. It’s through observing, learning, and understanding society that you come to hold common attitudes and beliefs, including misogynistic ones.

Socialization is part of personality formation, meaning that it shapes the ways in which you think about yourself and others, relate to the world around you, form attitudes, and behave. That’s why people of certain identities and people from the same culture will often exuberate similar personality traits and engage in similar behaviors.

This is because of how the socialization process works – because its purpose is to shape one’s personality to fit that of the others in their identity group and culture.

The larger goal of socialization is uniformity.

Look at this example:

Sure, I can choose to not shave my legs. There is no law requiring me to do so, and I am able to make the decision not to without facing legal consequences for it.

But I will face social consequences.

I’ll probably be stared at. I might receive disapproving glances from strangers. I might have potential dating prospects choose not to approach me. People may make rude comments. I could be turned down for jobs or friendships. I might even be harassed.

So shaving my legs is not entirely something I choose to do by my own accord or because making micro cuts into my leg sounds like my idea of a fun Thursday night.

I shave my legs because of body policing.

I shave because not doing so means I’ll be shunned and doing so means I can go out into the world and increase the likelihood that I will be accepted by society.

But it’s not just the misogyny of society at work in this decision. It’s also my own internalized misogyny.

I shave my legs because I like how they look and feel when they are shaved. When I look at the hair on my legs, it makes me feel gross and dirty. I feel more feminine when my legs are hairless.

This is an example of my own internalized misogyny at work.

The patriarchy controls women through internalized misogyny, based on a reward/punishment system. Madonnas/good girls are rewarded for compliance with the rules, while whores/bad girls are punished. The patriarchy lays out the rules, and yes, women can willingly follow them. We are socialized to do so.

The patriarchy rewards (quite generously in some instances) established gender norms. If a woman “acts like a lady”, defers to men opinions, watches her tone, dresses femininely, embraces motherhood (especially if she decides to be a stay-at-home mom), etc. she will receive positive, and, in some instances, financial, benefits. She becomes the Madonna, not the whore.

It also punishes women who don’t follow them. We see this when a woman is questioned on what she was wearing, if she’s labeled “hot” or a dog, how much she had to drink, if she isn’t feminine enough, if she wears too much make-up – or not enough, it she interrupts, and on and on. All of these “bad” behaviors (and they can run the spectrum depending on what a particular person decides) lead directly to victim blaming – women who behave according to patriarchal rules don’t get raped, harassed, cheated on, fired, have an accidental pregnancy (and if they do, then good girls have the baby), are on government assistance, eat too much, drink too much, etc..

Which brings us back to how women can be pro-life. First, now brace yourselves, women are individuals. They are not a monolith. So, some women support the “pro-life” agenda due to their religion/beliefs; some support it due to carrying a pregnancy to term they didn’t want, and use their lack of choice (for whatever reason) to hold other women to their standards; some support it because they never had an accidental pregnancy and can’t empathize; some are influenced by their husband’s or family’s opinion on what “good” women do; some believe only bad girls get punished with pregnancy. We are socialized into these beliefs. That pretty much explains why women, like men, vote the way they do.

Speak with women. There are a ton of reasons why women would support “pro-life” laws. Just like with every other issue.

When I read through threads like this – and this thread is nothing new, it’s the same old thing – what I walk away with is this: Turning women’s issues into men’s concerns is standard operating procedure and avoiding discussion on the patriarchy and gender socialization is alive and well. I’d like to think I’ll never have to write a post like this again, but I know I will.

19 comments on “Why We Can’t Have This Conversation

  1. Since you wouldn’t answer this where it was asked, I’ll have to ask again here.

    You misunderstand my question. I do talk to women, and they have given me the same kind of answers. But it’s not the laws I’m asking about. Supporting a law is easy when it simply involves voting for a particular candidate. I’m asking about the underlying attitudes, and “I’m a Catholic” does not answer the question. When that’s the answer I get, I respond, “No, you’re a robot,” and end the discussion there. They are only following orders.

    What I don’t understand is the internal decision-making, no matter what the surface excuse is. These women are saying that not only do they reject the tenets of feminism — that women have as much agency as men — but that they do not want other women to have access to them, either.

    The feminist project is 50 years on from wide access to dependable birth control. If it’s really the case that only half the women want their agency, I’m flabbergasted. How do you get these women to stop sabotaging themselves and, more importantly, their sisters?

    • It’s socialization – socialization in a patriarchal society. I don’t want to rewrite what I wrote above, but it’s quite common to find women (and other minorities) buying into – and sometimes embracing – social dictates (stereotypes).

      These women that you cite are probably benefiting from their positions. Many of them may think that they’ve done it the “right” way and those other women wouldn’t be in their predicament if they had only done (behaved) the way they did. White women, especially benefit.

  2. “Turning women’s issues into men’s concerns is standard operating procedure and avoiding discussion on the patriarchy and gender socialization is alive and well.” You see this dynamic with respect to race issues as well. Some white people couldn’t handle “Black Lives Matter” and demanded that White Lives Matter too, hence the creation of All Lives Matter. The reason for this is a lack of, or an either intentional or unintentional inability to employ, empathy. They can’t handle discussion of things that they do not have experience with themselves. They cannot place themselves in the shoes of another person. Or they don’t want to. They can’t imagine being black, or don’t want to identify or discuss the issues with being black, so they zoom out and discuss white lives too. And some men don’t want to discuss the issues with being a woman, so they zoom out and discuss men’s issues as well when discussing women’s issues.

  3. Didn’t realize there was no edit function here. On rereading, not only would I spell my name correctly, I would point out that talking about the patriarchy is not going to bear political fruit for many years. I’m looking for how to break the hold on the women who are voting now.

  4. I have no problem with empathy, even if I only understand it as a concept. Do I get this dismissive response because I don’t express empathy with the points, even though I agree with all of them?

  5. Here, let me try it this way:

    I know all that stuff about the socialization of gender, I’m not some moron. I understand the concept. But to blame social conditions simply punts the question. OK, that’s the background. Now how do we change voters’ minds?

    What I don’t see is any progress being made on this politically to counter patriarchal attitudes among those women, and I don’t know how to do it. I don’t have any understanding of the reasoning process being used, and how it could be countered. I know more than a couple of staunchly anti-abortion women who got their 13- and 14-year-old daughters abortions and never wavered in their opposition to abortion — even the “wait until it happens to you” scenario didn’t change them. So I view this as not your normal political situation.

    I’m not criticizing the article or your viewpoint. I’m trying to start a brainstorming session.

    • Did the women who took their daughters for an abortion tell their husbands? In my experience (with the exact situation you cite) the husbands were kept in the dark.

      • Varied. But then we’re into the entire question of how much agency teenagers should have vs. parental control, which is where I think much of the primitive-brain decision making on this issue is going on. This is women as property, especially girls. What gives me the pukes are jokes about being the father of a teenage girl.

        This society, especially some of its more primitive elements, is not as far above honor killings as we would like to believe.

        • Move past the parental control debate and to the wife keeping things from her husband. We see women (myself included) do this all the time. Cutting the actual amount we spent on holiday gifts seems almost universal. When women do this two things are happening 1) we are socialized to being told we love shopping and buy useless things, and 2) that our husbands have veto power over household spending. It’s classic – “Don’t tell your father.” stuff.

          Now, Mr. Pandora doesn’t care what I spend, so why do I do this? What am I internalizing that says don’t tell him you spent 100.00, tell him you spent 80.00 – and be sure to tell him how good the deals were. Why do I do that when I don’t have to?

        • This society, especially some of its more primitive elements, is not as far above honor killings as we would like to believe.


          But there are things other than honor killing (shudder) like shunning or no longer being daddy’s little girl or sly comments – all designed to alter the existing relationship and turn it into a punishment – sometimes a physical punishment. There’s a reason many women keep things from the men in their lives.

          And yes, I’m sure men keep things from the women in their lives – however, society tends to come down on the side of men. Thinking out loud here – it’s sorta like, women lie while men withhold – for protection? It’s how alcohol condemns her actions while it excuses his.

          • I hear you, but any response I’d give would be too personal.

            I think the fear surrounding a child’s sexuality plays a not insubstantial role in some of this. It’s similar to drugs that way. I always ask anti-drug people, “Would you take heroin or cocaine if it were legal?” About 99% say no. So why do they oppose it? Because of the kids. Similarly, anti-abortion Catholics I know won’t condone birth control to avoid abortion because they’re actually trying to control the girl’s sexual agency.

  6. One thing I’ve noticed over the years… a conservative woman’s views tend to change if her marital situation changes through divorce. It’s like… if you remove the protection (emotional and financial) that comes with the patriarchy, there’s a good chance you’ll find a changed opinion.

    Alby, you seem to think there’s a way to reach a large percentage of these women. I’d ask, how do you reach a large percentage of white men who voted for Trump? It’s the same question.

    • I have done it by talking to them about honor. I ask them if they consider themselves honorable. Then I ask if they consider Trump honorable. Does he run his business in an honorable way? People in the conservative media bubble have heard very little of the truth about Trump, but the facts won’t sway them much. They explain away his behavior to me by saying it’s just business. Then I ask them if they do business that way — and if they do, shame on them.

      It doesn’t “change their minds.” It plants seeds of doubt. I don’t have time to test if the soil is fertile.

  7. Alby says: “I think the fear surrounding a child’s sexuality plays a not insubstantial role in some of this.”

    And a patriarchal society views women as children. It’s why there are waiting periods and ultrasounds with abortions – it says that the woman doesn’t know (or understand) her own mind. So… there’s not really a leap between a girl’s sexuality and a woman’s.

  8. My only disagreement with you pandora is that we need to have this conversation again and again.

    • I hear ya! Sometimes it’s just exhausting at how quickly the conversation gets derailed.

      Altho… this thread has been pretty productive.

  9. The patriarchy is toxic to just about everybody in it, not just women. I might lack empathy, but this story just about broke my heart:

    • Of course the patriarchy hurts men – from child custody (which is usually deemed women’s work) to toxic masculinity to being ridiculed for showing emotion, not earning enough, etc.. I’ve always pointed this out. Feminism addresses these issues as well. It fights the patriarchy at all levels and for all genders.

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