On how feminism supposedly destroys femininity

Here’s something I’ve heard a lot in my years on the planet:

“Feminism was a nightmare”¦Women lost this feminine side by trying to be feminists. I’m totally against this. I think that we are different genders, so we have to get the best of ourselves.”
–Paul Coelho, via The F-word

This concept has got to be bleary eyed and wrinkly with age and never getting a good night’s rest. Let’s pick it apart almost word by word:

  • I’m not “trying” to be a feminist. I am a feminist by definition because I believe in equal opportunities for people regardless of gender.
  • This “feminine side” you claim I lost is merely a construct: like that girls should like pink and baby dolls while boys should like blue and action figures with guns. The world I live in is a lot more interesting than that.
  • Believing I deserve the same rights and freedoms as men does not prevent me from liking pink or baby dolls. Like most people, I have some traits people like this guy would classify as “feminine” and others that are “masculine”.
  • Believing I deserve the same rights and freedoms as men is the way for me to “get the best of myself”, to paraphrase.

If you’re wondering what this guy is on about, it’s receptivity. When actresses tell us the writers felt their character needed to show a soft side, that never means that she’s going to fall for a guy and go after him. No, it means she’s going to be receptive to a guy’s advances. It can’t even mean she’s going to become crazy about a child that needs her and take on unexpected motherhood, because children by definition can’t be aggressors. You’re not a real woman, according to Coelho and people who think like him, unless you’re receptive to a man. Specifically, a man acting as an aggressor.

Let’s consider precisely why this is so deeply warped it borders on abuse to even entertain the notion.

1 in 8 women are raped in the US, usually by men they know and maybe even trust. The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men. But until we women open ourselves fully and trust a man, we will be stereotyped as failed women: ashamed of our gender, wishing we were men, hating men. Men aren’t required to trust. To be open. Hell, to even communicate with the wives and children they brought into their lives of their own accord – everyone must understand when Daddy is such a hardass he can’t say “I love you”. No, men can be as hard and self-preserving and invulnerable as they feel the need to be (to feel safe), and that’s all fine. Only women (who are, by definition less safe) are required to make this enormous leap of trust in a group of people that has, if we must generalize, worked its ass off to be as untrustworthy as possible.

I’m not arguing men can’t be trusted. Of course there are good men we should trust and be open to. It’s just they don’t wear an identifying tattoo on their forehead, and the criminals look just like them. And people want to lay responsibility for the bulk of human trust on the gender that’s less physically able to defend itself from aggressors?

Rather than tow this rather insane line, wouldn’t it be simpler to accept that there are appropriate situations for both men and women to be receptive, and appropriate situations for both genders to get aggressive? Wouldn’t it be simpler to accept that human beings are not 100% trustworthy, and everyone is entitled – yes, entitled – to be hard and invulnerable until another has proven his or her good intentions?

Comments

  1. SunlessNick says

    …while boys should like blue and action figures with guns.

    And such figures are of course entirely different from dolls, yes, no similarity at all here, nothing to see, move on, shut up! ;)

    I’m not arguing men can’t be trusted. Of course there are good men we should trust and be open to.

    And if a given man is such a one, one aspect of that ought to be a willingness to earn and wait for trust rather than assuming it as his due.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    And such figures are of course entirely different from dolls, yes, no similarity at all here, nothing to see, move on, shut up! ;)

    LOL!

    And if a given man is such a one, one aspect of that ought to be a willingness to earn and wait for trust rather than assuming it as his due.

    Exactly. Looking back, I think I missed an opportunity in this post to point out how what these guys are after is for a woman to make them feel their aggression is okay – natural and welcomed. Well, I hate aggression, if we define it as pushing your agenda on someone else. That’s never okay by me – not from anyone. Assertion - standing up for yourself and pursuing your agenda with concern for not harming others along the way – is healthy, in my book. But not only am I labeled “aggressive” and “not feminine” when I assert myself – I’m also “failing” to comfort men by legitimizing their aggression. There’s nothing legitimate about it. It’s just an overcompensation for weakness.

  3. says

    I’d have to agree with that, Nick. Especially here in the US, where bullying is accepted behavior from the playground to Capitol Hill. There is nothing strong or courageous about being vicious.

  4. Purtek says

    There’s an additional cultural layer here that it’s tough to comment on without coming off as overly culturally arrogant/superior. There is much to admire and appreciate in Brazilian culture, but it is also blatantly, horrifyingly sexist, racist and homophobic.

    So when Coelho is saying that fighting for “the same” rights, he means even some of the very basic rights to education, job opportunities, freedom from harassment etc that most North American women take for granted (while I’ve been bitching about harassment I’ve been facing here lately, the worst examples of that were everyday experiences in Brazil, and no one would even consider them remotely over the line). There’s also a desire to dig one’s heels in further against the influence of American culture, and to focus on the negatives that have come from what’s different here, as part of increasing/developing some sense of cultural pride. The idea that there is any difference between strength and force, between romantic chivalry and condescension, between femininity and weakness–so far off the radar. There’s a reason the one guy I could date because he treated me with some respect ended up coming out as gay a few years later.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    I can help mitigate your concerns about sounding culturally arrogant:

    The idea that there is any difference between strength and force, between romantic chivalry and condescension, between femininity and weakness–so far off the radar.

    Actually, you just described the culture of the southeastern US, and…

    There’s a reason the one guy I could date because he treated me with some respect ended up coming out as gay a few years later.

    …my single dating experience before I managed to escape from there.

    I may have had some rights women in other cultures don’t have, but the very popular attitudes you describe above made me dubious that my rights or redresses would ever be pursued by the law at the expense of one of the town’s men.

  6. Rak Nay says

    Well, I’am a Brazilian too and i need to defend Paul Coelho in his ignorance.

    We have a lot of problem’s because the socialism, that create ignorance, misery and crimes.

    Culturally we dont have segregation, black people don’t have comunities, because don’t have separation, interracial relationship it’s the most comoon thing in the world.
    Gays i don´t talk we are the most advanced contry of the world in this matter.

    To do a example, all the exams in Brazil don’t have gender or race in exams. The examiner never know if the test is taken by a womam or a black people.
    Any kind of discrimination is forbidden by Law and society.
    As a matter of fact, we are a poor contry and all the females need to work in need to help to pay the family bills. ( and females are considered best employees and get jobs more easily)

    The sexism is a cultural problem with some womens that still put themselfs in a 18 century role.
    But we don’t have mobiment’s or politics that support that. ( Only the catholic church )

    We have a legal system that don’t punish withe-collar crimes, but don’t have discrimination.
    Equal rifghts is for everibody.

    The “Feminism” in Brazil don´t fought for equal rights like in america, is a “man-hating” and “anti-femininity”moviment, comndened by the law and society.hat he talking about it´s not the feminists but the called “feminazi.”

    • says

      According to a lot of people, the feminists here in the US are feminazis. Rush Limbaugh, an American radio show host, coined the term. Basically, all your arguments for how sexism/feminism is different in Brazil are anti-feminist arguments I’ve heard right here in the US, so I’m not sure that proves things are any different. I’m not saying they’re not – cultures vary, of course – I’m just saying that alone doesn’t convince me.

      But in either case, is ignorance really a defense for someone who speaks publicly? I mean, no one’s arguing he should be boiled in oil for his statements or anything, we’re just saying the statements were objectionable. If I say something objectionable on this site, people should expect me to take responsibility for it, and I think that’s true with anyone who’s talking to an audience rather than just a few friends.

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