Montag, 9. Juli 2012

The Strong Woman Fallacy

By now many people have handed Paula Kirby her ass wrapped and with ribbons over her "open letter" that it's really not necessary to do so again.
But there's a point that comes up in her letter and in many comments, by both men and women that go along these arguments from Paula:
I simply do not accept that any reasonably mature, rational adult does not know exactly how to avoid getting into this kind of situation [she talks about being propositioned at bars after conferences] if he or she would prefer not to,or how to deal with it if it occurs...
So there is an alternative, and it is this alternative that I would urge women to seize with both hands – whether we’re talking about how we interact in our jobs, in our social lives or in the atheist movement. And that alternative is to take responsibility for ourselves and our own success. To view ourselves as mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride, and can speak up appropriately. To really start believing that we can do whatever men can do. To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, silliest of all, “privilege”, and start simply practising being more assertive....
In almost any fieldyou care to consider, the women who have made it to the topare generally not sympathetic to the view that men or the system were desperately trying to hold them back. They havesimply adopted the tactics I am describing here, and have refused to let anything stop them.

I'll call it the Strong Woman Fallacy: Strong women deal with things. Strong women don't need silly harassment policies. Strong women kick ass without any help. It's infantilizing to suggest that women need protection. It's a particularly attractive and dangerous fallacy for many reasons:

1) It pushes people under the bus. Actually not all women are able to deal with harrassment. Because some women have been through extreme shit, have been hurt, raped, beaten, broken. But Paula, and many others, dismiss them as hysterical, immature, unreasonable, irrational. It's like telling somebody in a wheelchair that they should get the fuck up and climb the stairs instead of telling people to build ramps so they can participate in life.

2) It completely dismisses the fact that women have to deal with a shitload of things men usually never face. There's an old saying that homophobia is the fear of gay men treating a guy the way he treats women and there's more than a grain of truth to this. It's not about women being not as good as men, it's about the fact that women have to run an additional 100m to make it to the starting line.

3) It leaves the women who buy into this very vulnerable. It's attractive at first sight. It gives a sense of empowerment. I don't need help, no training wheels. I kick ass, I won't be held back, I can deal with all the jerks all by myself. And it leaves them completely without any protection or mechanisms come the day they can't do it alone anymore. By internalizing everything and denying external factors, all failing becomes their personal failing (and before that they're simply assholes because they'll tell everybody else that their failing is just their own fault) and since their sense of self and their self-worth is so closely tied to being "the strong one", they fall deep and they hit hard.

4) They dismiss the fact that it's simply wearing people out and, let's say it frankly, spoils their fun. Sure, most of us are able to tell the occasional asshole off (but, see point #1, there are those who can't even deal with that and it's not because they're immature or weak), but to put it bluntly: I refuse to spend my money on having my evening ruined (probably I'm not cheerful enough. Cheerful people don't let assholes spoil their fun). For many women, the way to deal with it is to stay at home. People like Paula will then tell us that we're hitting ourselves. Well, better me than you.

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