Because of our socialised belief that it is women’s responsibility to put our own needs behind those of others, women in the feminist movement also often expect its other members to deprioritise the cause and their own needs, in order to provide for theirs.
This common expectation on the part of feminist women that we should be ‘agreeable’ and ‘caring’ (at least in a performative sense, by ensuring that those around us perceive us as such) has wide-ranging ramifications, such as women desiring the cessation of both political debate and even criticism of individuals, because such criticism interferes with one’s personal and social comfort levels.
These expectations tend to work ‘down’ social hierarchies, in that more bourgeois ‘feminists’ are less accustomed to prioritising others and less accustomed to the pressure to agree with what other women say, although they may expect more proletarianised women to agree with them.
These norms are self-reinforcing, since the less we experience disagreement, the harsher it appears when it comes.
Since capitalist education and other teaching are hierarchical, we are also prone to conflating analysis with power-over-us, and to assume that a woman disagreeing with us is ‘telling us what to do’ or ‘making us discard our opinion’. We may respond by accusing her of attempting to silence us, a response which is quite likely to discourage disagreement.
Given that the women who have already spoken (and must not be disagreed with) are more likely to have voiced ideas based on what bourgeois society teaches us – in that proletarian-supporting ideas are held by a minority – this entrenches bourgeois ideas within feminism.
It also means that many feminists who officially/consciously reject feminist trends such as ‘cultural feminism’ will nonetheless prioritise approaches which strongly resemble that.
[The practice of divining a woman’s politics by how she identifies, or is identified by others, continues to have hugely limited usefulness, which is not to say it is nil.
Marxist feminists will continue to prioritise the activist efforts of women whose politics are proletarian-aligned and scientific, regardless of how they ‘identify’.]
We must be more active in recognising the pressures on women to deprioritise our own needs in favour of ‘the cause’, and reject them. Of course, capitalism also socialises us to believe we ‘need’ to focus on individual advancement only. (Which will certainly see us reaching planetary levels of increased misery so much faster.) That we ‘need’ to boost ourselves at the expense of others, and to believe we need to have our activism agreed with. This is, of course, not a real need. We are not owed agreement.
This social/emotional pressure to suppress disagreement is often boosted by a self-indulgent socialisation on the part of both men and women to believe that a woman speaking unpalatable truths is ’emotional’ or ’emotive’, and to declare her opinion or analysis a ‘rant’ without properly rebutting it. This emotional self-indulgence is enabled by an implicit understanding that the automatic attribution of illogic to women has society’s endorsement. And via the bourgeois myth that a woman with feelings cannot simultaneously manage logic. Indeed, women are so accustomed to the illogic of our social situation that we may frequently be exasperated when pointing it out.
Collectively enabling the pressure on women to agree with one another is by no means the only form which this pressure to prioritise others over one’s own needs can assume. A woman who disagrees with others with ease may also expect other women to cater to her own needs above theirs, and provide little corresponding support, via means including manipulation, abuse and taking advantage of the prevailing gendered expectations.
Let us recognise and discard these hierarchical and anti-woman responses, as much as we can. Ultimately they see us deprioritising women’s needs and engaging in very little kind of real ‘care’.
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