Why Do Women Fight Their Interests
Growing up Mormon, it seemed like the women around me 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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Posted on January 1, 2016, in feminism, psychology, sexism, women and tagged feminism, internalization, psychology, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.
I’ve wondered the same thought so many times. Your article suggests that we create categories or heuristics to make sense of the world in which we live – and then unconsciously act in a manner that may not serve our best interests – including feminist interests. I would be inclined to agree, except when “one knows better, one must do better”. I have no fault with those who act without conscience and do not know … but many of us know better, do nothing, or even worse — vigorously act in opposition.
We’ve all suspected for some time that scores of women fought their interests, but the era of Trump has made that incongruence all the more glaring. Women support politicians who take away their rights and freedoms. Women support politicians who demean, denigrate and sexually harass women. Women support politicians whose records are injurious to women.
Women have a duty to defend ourselves as adamantly as we defend “our men”. Women are obligated to protect ourselves as fiercely as we protect our children. It is 2018 and in the age of the “Me Too” movement, the “Women’s March” and nearly 100 years of women’s suffrage – it is time for women to be as good to ourselves as we are to everyone else.
It was interesting because I told my 82 year old grandmother ( who is a very proud Italian Roman Catholic) I was taking a women’s studies class and wanted to know what she thought about feminism. She told me that she believed that women and men should have equal rights but she did not like feminists or the word “feminism”. She said that she didn’t like the way the feminists put down housewives for staying at home and raising kids. She herself was one and raised 5 kids. I tried to explain that they probably weren’t critizising house wives but arguing that women were not reaching their full potential by staying at home and should be given the same opportunities as men. She disagreed. Oh well. It’s crazy how when you have internalized being second to men for so long and have been brainwashed to think “feminism” is a dirty word how hard it is to change someone’s mind.
You can let your grandma know that feminists have no problem with stay at home moms. One of my friends is a feminist activist stay-at-home mom.
I definitely agree that the cultures that people have been exposed to and grew up in definitely affect how they perceive changes in how society treats men and women. I’ve actually witnessed the differences between cultures at home because my grandma is from Japan. In Japan, there is a lot of pressure on women to cook, clean, and pretty much look after every need of the men. And she has trouble wrapping her head around the fact that men and women are treated more equally in America. And this can also be a problem because she doesn’t just see women as having certain responsibilities. She expects men to always hold open doors, pay for dates, and do other “traditional” things. A lot of the time that feminism topics are brought up she becomes confused. And I don’t think it stems from her believing that women don’t deserve the same rights, it’s more along the lines of she doesn’t know what will happen. It’s definitely not easy to accept change, but it’s also important to recognize that everything doesn’t always have to stay the same just because that was what is considered comfortable.
Even today in America a lot of women think that we don’t have sexism anymore. Things seem so natural and normal that they don’t even notice it. It can be hard to imagine change. Hard to get outside the box.
The concept of internalization definitely helps to make sense of the disinterest of some women to their personal rights and value in society. However, I still don’t find this idea to be all that explanatory towards the notion that some women go so far as to be aggressively anti-equality. In my opinion, many of these women especially in third-world countries and traditional settings i.e. the church may be expressing these positions out of fear. Fear of loosing security, acceptance, or even fear of violence towards them from extreme male authorities. I think where this topic becomes a strange enough debate (it always baffles me that women’s rights is a political topic to discuss at all – why wouldn’t all people want all people to be protected and valued in society?) is because people are so undereducated on what the word feminism entails. Feminism, as many commenters mentioned is not a male vs. female mentality. Women and men are different – there’s no denying that. To me, feminism means the protection of opportunities – giving everyone the opportunity to go to school, be in the military, be a pastor, make a full dollar, etc. Whether or not people take those opportunities is completely up to them; and even then, that doesn’t elevate some people over others. I found it interesting that teaching or being a stay at home mother is some how connoted with a “lesser” importance and traditional stance. I think teachers are of some of the most worthy employees in the world – their job is extremely challenging and highly important to the overall well being of our world. And stay at home mothers, or fathers, is a full time job that not everyone is cut out for. Raising a child is extremely respectable, and wanting to be there consistently should never be looked down upon. On the contrary, a woman who wants to be a mother and have a career at the same time should also not be scrutinized.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
” women go so far as to be aggressively anti-equality.”
Yes, fear of God:
“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.”
And also gaining peer approval is an additional factor — but one that likely wouldn’t be in effect without internalization.
I agree with this post. When I first started college their was this sorority party called “freaks and geeks” guys dress like nerds and girls dress like freaks ( girls who like to have sex) . And girls were actually excited about this party. They were being degraded and didn’t care ! I feel as if women are okay with this because nobody says anything . And they feel like because no other women are speaking up openly about this oppression that they might be overreacting or thinking something that’s not happening. Women have oppressed and degraded women for so long it’s like we’ve become robots .
Both sad and fascinating, isn’t it?
I have always wondered why there would be a fight against the continued advancement of women in society, when for so long, women have been undervalued in the majority of aspects of society. This was an interesting read, and it got me to reflect on a conversation I had with another female. She said she wanted to be a politician, and I asked her about what her platform would be and the important issues she wanted to tackle, and none of them were about women’s rights at all. I asked her why this was the case, and she explained that women’s rights weren’t all that important to her because she was raised in a family with many strong women, so she didn’t see the absence of rights and power for women, so there were other major issues instead. Of course trying to delve more into the absence of women in her believed future campaigns, she asked me in return if I was a “hardcore feminist.”
It’s interesting even more because for me, the advancement and rights of women in society is more important to me because I had strong women around me growing up and influence the person I have become today. So I’m the opposite of the person in the conversation above, because I care so much about more rights for women, because of how important the women in my life have been. I would hope that more women who aren’t looking out for the best interest of women overall would change their view and understand the importance of this fight for them now, and future generations to come.
“women’s rights weren’t all that important to her”: We often internalize that women, and their issues, are less important.
Professor Platts, I truly love what you have written. I find it absolutely baffling why some women try to fight against women’s rights and equality. I really can’t understand why any women would not want to be a feminist. I myself have been criticized by my female peers for voicing my standing as a feminist. In my opinion, women try to fight feminism for two reasons: ignorance or societal brainwashing. Often times, people think feminism is the belief that women are greater than men – which is simply not true. This false understanding of feminism leads to a lot of ignorant people fighting against it. Another reason why women might fight against feminism is because they are brainwashed by society to believe that women are less than men. Either way, it is still incredibly shocking to run into women in the 21st century who fight against their own rights and equal standing.
Yeah, I was baffled for a long time until I started learning how internalization works. Thanks for commenting on this!
from a guy: eye-opening. And I hope I continue to be open, and open-minded. The stereotypical male I was when my wife began to work after the kids were going to school. And then she “dared” to make a larger salary than mine. It took a while to break out–and realize she was a great worker and manager. And I got over it. Phew!
I’m glad you got over it. Men increasingly seem to be getting over it, So that’s good news!
Ah, Georgia, who knows why we do it? It reminds me when I was reading about the archetype of Hera, and hoe her archetype is that of the divine wife. Hera came fully formed out of Zeus’s head, so the story goes. Women with a strong Hera archetype will tend to support the patriarchy and the status quo, because that’s where they are comfortable and safe. The system works well for them, so why fix it? I remember my mother eyeing A Woman Who Runs With the Wolves that my father bought me when I was 17, with distrust, hoping that I wasn’t going to become a feminist! Oh mum, too late! Lol 😊 I am sure she would be horrified if I told her that story now 🙂
To some extent it is internalized. And some women can also gain some reward, even as they are hurt in other ways. The church women who fight or were fighting against battered women’s shelters, priesthood for women, keeping women from driving or voting… Believed that they were doing what God wanted — and saw that as a reward. Some of the women were afraid of being ostracized and so simply didn’t speak up. Reward, punishment, internalization: they all play a role.
Definitely and eye opener. Thanks for sharing.
You’re welcome. Learning how people internalize a culture helps to explain a lot!
We had to find a middle ground to change and discuss widely with this disastrous situation … but then while there is so much violence against women is not very fit patience or even the balance of decisions. Because that dont exist in such level and those who suffer these abuses do not have time to wait .. So there has to be a great fight for basic rights of women. Those who violate our rights have to be fought … Every day for each one of us….
Thanks for your thoughts.
When I was growing up I had a hard time understanding why so many women I knew fought against their interests. Plus, people of lower classes who fight in the interest of the upper class. I was very happy to discover that sociology helps to answer these questions.
I think this macho culture is very powerful … Mothers raise their children to this view, women are boycotting the other women forgetting who they are … It’s not a class struggle that we have here but a fight for rights as women and human beings . But women themselves passively, accept this condition … I do not understand this .
We are having a struggle between the dominator culture and a partnership culture, which fits with various issues including gender, ethnicity, and class. On teen partnership you have polling data which indicates that most people, worldwide, believe in gender equality, increasing numbers of feminist celebrities, decreases in violence against women in the more feminist western world… On team dominator you have groups like ISIL, MRAs, an increase in the use of words like bitch and slut, and many eroticized images of violence against women. Gender is key because it involves all of us. I’ll be writing more on this later.
I will wait for that… 🙂 🙂