Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?

Growing up Mormon, it seemed women fought against their own interests all the time. In the 70’s my Mormon piano teacher spent an hour post-lesson talking to my mom about stopping feminists from setting up battered women’s shelters!

Other Mormon women followed orders to pack a lunch, get on a bus, and vote everything down at women’s conferences, hoping to keep the Equal Rights Amendment from passing.

Today women are still not allowed priesthood, but few seem disturbed.

And it’s not just Mormons.

Over a century ago some women ridiculed and ostracized suffragettes who sought the vote.

Even today sororities receive invitations addressed to “bitches and sluts” and accept
the invite – and the degradation.

Outside the U.S., Egyptian women defend men who murder their lovers because the women “must have done something to deserve it.”

Until recently, Saudi women couldn’t vote. They still can’t drive a car. Some have said they like it that way.

In North Africa and parts of the Middle East women cut girls’ genitals to preserve virginity until marriage. The girls may end up crippled or living in pain. Many die.

Women aren’t the only ones who accept second-class status. “Uncle Tom” brands African-Americans who accept threads of racist society. “Untouchables” accept their lot within the Hindu caste system. And Karl Marx coined the term “false consciousness” to describe workers who accept low wages and poor working conditions.

Why do underprivileged people so often accept limitations?

In a nut shell, it’s all they know, and as such, the world’s ways seem natural, normal and “right.”

Basically, society ends up in our own minds through a little process called internalization.

We are born without many thoughts in our heads. The world seems chaotic. But we must cope. So unconsciously we notice patterns and start classifying things. Reducing a complex world to simple categories leads to oversimplification and stereotyping. “Men are leaders in business, politics, and priesthood. Women stay home with kids or work outside the home as nurses, teachers, and secretaries.”

The stronger the pattern, the stronger the stereotype. Few thought to think outside the box in 1950’s America. Diversity (e.g., coming into contact with other cultures) can offer expanded vision.

Some do move out of “normal” ways of seeing: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem, for instance. These leaders have often had unusual lives that help to remove the blinders.

But if people believe God wants things “the old way,” minds quickly close. Yes, add God to the brew (our ways are God’s ways) and you’ve got a strong tonic.

Other processes specific to sexism add to women’s acceptance of inferior status, like eroticized male dominance and women’s close relationships to men, but I’ll save that discussion for a later post.

So women acquiesce.

Some will call this victim-blaming: blaming the oppressed for their compliance. But you can’t blame someone for doing something that’s unconscious. It all becomes so taken-for-granted that few realize there are other ways of seeing and being.

In the Mormon church I see some improvement. When visiting my mom’s congregation the bishop said they were raising money for a battered women’s shelter. I have also heard “unequal relationships” cited as a primary cause of family disintegration. Though, the “Proclamation on the Family” diminishes that sentiment. “Men and women are equal, but men are the head”? I guess some are still more equal than others.

Change will only come when we take off our taken-for-granted blinders to see the light.

I originally wrote this piece for Feminist Mormon Housewives

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on October 21, 2011, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I found this article to be very interesting and it seems like Mr. Turner has good understanding of what possible positives steps humans can make to better the lives of women. This article is not that related to the topic but I thought I’d share it with you prof. Platts and maybe this could spur good class discussion.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/31/opinion/turner-7-billion/index.html

  2. This article reminds me of so many examples in the world. One that struck me deeply is the nation of North Korea. These people are living in poor conditions, controlled and manipulated by what they think is a “great leader” and yet they are living happily in their country, not knowing how disadvantaged and mistreated they are. They are in this state because simply, they do not know. There is no way for them to make a comparison.

    Same as what was mentioned in the article, Mormons are taught from a young age that this is the way that they should behave. Saudi women think that it is in their culture for women to be subservient to men. What we think is underprivileged for some women, is what they think is normal to them. It is all about perspective and unless freedom, equality and liberation is something they have experienced before and really want, there is no way we can force such thoughts into them. Only through slow education and experience can we slowly achieve equality for women and even then, we have to stop and think if it is what they really want.

  3. Though it’s a much smaller situation compared to other examples of women fighting against their own interests, I’m glad you included “Even today sororities receive invitations addressed to “bitches and sluts” and accept the invite – and the degradation.” It angers me that females are constantly accepting this kind of degradation, but it’s even worse when females use these kinds of words amongst themselves, sometimes even as a way to address their closest friends. I’ve never called a friend a “bitch” in a joking manner because I find nothing funny or endearing about that word, but it’s something that I hear often. And it definitely doesn’t help that the music industry makes these words normal and okay to be used when addressing women.

    I also feel that this idea of women fighting against themselves is also a common element of the way in which women handle relationships and failed relationships with males. All too often have I had a conversation with a friend about how her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend is mistreating her/acting and how she’s trying to be understanding about it and keeps giving him chances to change even though he continues to do the same things. All too often do I see women bending backwards for men only to stay in a relationship that isn’t even making them happy anyway. Why do women do this and why do so many find that it is their responsibility to be the caring and understanding one? I found myself in a situation like this and finally realized that I was standing in the way of my happiness by supporting the norms that society expects from a female in a heterosexual relationship.

  4. This topic just shows you how women can be so controlled and gullible. Why would any woman decide against rights that would eventually help them? Why would you vote against things like having a battered women shelter? If anything these women should find some courage and fight for what they believe is right. If they think being thought of less than a person is okay they are probably miserable with themselves.

  5. I think there is a problem with the generalization you use. I am fairly certain that the women who fight against their own interests are the minority. Even if they are not,they are raised in a male-dominated society where they are taught that women are inferior to men. When a woman grows up being told that women do not deserve the same rights that men do, the idea does not easily go away. Indoctrination can be permanent, and I feel that that is likely the case with these women who are against their own rights. The future looks bleak if future daughters are raised by mothers who are indoctrinated. Fortunately, in spite of this, women are making great strides toward equality. We can only hope that this trend continues until women and men have equal rights, and those who believe in inequality between the sexes no longer are prevalent.

    • True, I didn’t mean to say that every single woman fights against her interests. The fact that it ever happens can be puzzling — and my students ask me about it constantly — until you see how internalization works.

      But we still live in a sexist society and many of us don’t realize it and still go with the flow. After taking one of my classes students are amazed at how much “invisible” sexism is still out there that we all go along with.

  6. I actually think differently about the phenomenon that female acquiesce their unfair status. If it is because we try to simplify rules and it has been done unconsciously, why are we not a matriarch society? We could find many reason to support the statement such as we cannot reproduce without women’s pregnancy; women can actually be more prudent and thrive on pressure more than men, etc. In olden times, males were regarded as the stronger group because they mostly only need physical strength to be successful. However, things changed a lot over time. Now we care more about culture, intelligence and emotional quotient which gives women a proper stage to present their abilities other than just babysitting and cleaning. Rules need to be changed over time, which did not “upgrade” completely right now. It is a good sign that people already have the conscious to argue and disagree rules that need to be change, especially in a enlightened way. However, the reason that parts of female are still suffering is that they don’t have their own conscious to think about the meaning of the existence of themselves such as why am I born? Who am I, and what kind of person I want to be? What can I do? They just live in a general way which is made by those blinders. Further, we all have servility in our bone, we can easily follow the general trend if we do not have strong will.

    From the above, I think that “second status” females or colored people are making conscious decisions to be that way and they are partially responsible for letting this status exist.

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