'You women are just your own worst enemies'

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There are few things more frustrating than unfounded nuggets of biological determinism being presented as fact. You know the kind. The ones that posit ridiculously broad gender stereotypes as truth; things like ‘women are hardwired to be obsessed with shoes’ and ‘men can't figure out complicated things like bra clasps’. Such responses feature heavily in what I like to call the ‘Nah, I don’t reckon’ school of intellectual thought. Or in other words, they’re total bullsh*t.

When dealing with such obstinate opposition to logic (another thing women are apparently less inclined towards), it can be difficult to transcend the rage bubble inside your head. Instead, we stand there frothing at the mouth and spluttering, wondering how it’s possible for someone whose brain cells fire with all the intensity of a stoned sloth to have figured out how to breathe and walk at the same time.

Here are some suggestions on how to calmly respond to some of the more stupid observations offered up about the natural inclinations of men and women.

1. Women are all their own worst enemies

This one’s mostly employed by people with a bone to pick about feminism. The argument goes that it’s really women who hold each other back, because we’re all petty and jealous and we can’t stand seeing other women succeed. If we want to address our own inequality, we have to look at ourselves first. I mean, look at how the dudebros do it. They just mind their own business, getting on with things because that’s what men do. You know? They’re not obsessed with all the rubbish that consumes women. It doesn’t matter to them who’s the best looking, or the smartest (because everyone knows that looks matter less for men anyway, because women are nurturers and see what’s on the inside whereas men are more visual and like girls who take care of themselves). Women are too catty, you see.

 

WRONG. You know what the biggest enemy to women is? The structural system of power that ensures we experience the majority of the world’s poverty and sexual violence, that has us performing the majority of the world’s labour but owning less than 1% of the world’s property, that sees us occupying only 30% of the media and accounting for even less of its storylines, that has women of colour experiencing significantly higher levels of oppression and violence and even greater invisibility than women privileged by race, and that after all of this still tries to project the cause of ongoing inequality onto women by telling us we’re that if we just stopped fighting with each other then all of our problems would go away. Women are their own worst enemies? GTFO and stop wasting my time.

 

2. Women are naturally better at caring for others

This is perhaps one of the least interesting of all generally uninteresting grids in the great biological determinism bingo playcard. Not only is it grossly unscientific (correct me if I’m wrong, but scientists have yet to discover a gene for nurturing) but it indirectly positions men as lumbering neanderthals and/or sociopaths whose ability to connect with other people is limited to the Meccano penetration of various orifices. When you use this argument, what you’re really saying is that men’s biological make up prohibits them from being very good at the basic expression of love. That their ability to parent or care for their partners, friends and family members is crude at best, hindered by some kind of biological forcefield that turns their efforts into a Benny Hill sketch.

The effect is twofold. Firstly, it reinforces the idea that women’s greatest interests and contributions to the world are limited to delivering other people into it and then caring for them, thus working to keep them in the home and impact their financial autonomy. And secondly, it says that men are so emotionally void that the practice of caring for another human being is an act so foreign it should probably come with a manual (because men are very good at reading those). When you use the argument that women are better nurturers (which is, conveniently, largely a thankless task), what you’re really saying is that men can’t be trusted around children. And that’s a pretty gosh darn offensive concept.

 

3. All women want to have babies and get married

As far as mainstream society is concerned, there are two acceptable reasons to be ‘without child’ over the age of 30. The first is that you suffer from some kind of perceived impairment - a disability, say, or being poor. These women aren’t allowed to have children, because such a thing is selfish. We can’t just go about breeding more divs and povvos as if these things are okay! The only other time it’s okay to be childless is when it’s not by choice.

All those other women, the deliberately barren whose wasted wombs sit like empty husks inside an unfeeling and selfish (probably career driven) robot, are just harridans who don’t understand the precious gift that awaits them once their absurd attempts to live like men fall to the wayside. ‘You’ll change your mind’, is the constant refrain. ‘And if you don’t, there’s something irreversibly wrong and broken about you. HAVE FUN BEING LONELY IN YOUR OLD AGE.’

Unmarried, childfree women who’ve chosen to be that way remain a strange threat to the mores of mainstream society. In general, it doesn’t know how to deal with women who reject the tropes that have have been set out for them since time began. But here’s the thing - sometimes, tradition is less an indication of desire and more one of necessity. Throughout most of history, marriage was a means of property transferral and familial empire building, with the Church only formally presiding over services from around the 1500s. Reproduction was much less about a woman’s natural prerogative than it was about providing an heir.

So the idea that the desire to marry and reproduce are somehow biologically part of a woman’s makeup isn’t just completely at odds with science, it’s also at odds with history. Given any kind of meaningful choice, I'm sure at least a few of King Henry VIII's wives would have preferred to be given autonomy over their own destiny rather than traded like property, forced to breed and then beheaded for pissing him off.

Of course, arguments that employ biological determinism will continue because the world is full of idiots (which is how we managed to elect a government on the weekend that wants to take us right back to the 1950s). And now that Abbottacalypse has begun, we’re going to be running into a lot of them. Batten down the brain hatches people. It's going to get ugly.

 

159 comments

  • Oh man. I teach at an all boys school, after being e product of single-sex education myself. Bitchiness? The boys blow the girls out of the water on that one.

    The number of kids I speak to - otherwise gender-conformist, rugby playing straight boys - who backstab other kids for places on sporting teams, school leadership positions or girls is shocking. I have on more than one occasion had to sit down with groups to mediate fights. To hear that a so-called mate only keeps them around because they have a license, or their parents let them host parties, is often quite ego-shattering for them. (It is never the artistic boys or the academic boys either: it's always the sporting boofheads. Funny that.)

    Wile the male-on-male violence rate is so hyperbolically pronounced, and while men are more likely to be murdered by other men, I'd argue the evidence is very strongly in favour of men just plain being their own worst enemy. It would be good if they knew what they actually wanted.

    Commenter
    Teacher
    Date and time
    September 10, 2013, 7:57AM
    • "I'd argue the evidence is very strongly in favour of men just plain being their own worst enemy"
      The difference being that men don't claim otherwise. They know that the world is highly competitive and cut-throat, and aren't constantly calling on the 'brotherhood' to set aside their differences and make the world better for all men.

      "I have on more than one occasion had to sit down with groups to mediate fights"
      Somehow I can't imagine a group of teenage boys demanding your assistance in helping them talk out their problems, rather that you were the one that forced them to do so.

      Commenter
      Markus
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 10:59AM
    • Yes. I do force them, after physical fights threaten the practical marks and performances of thirty students and students need to be told to stfu if they want to remain enrolled in my subject. Of course I have to force them when to do otherwise abrogates my legal duty of care. Of course I do when I face the threat of parental complaint.

      But please, by all means, continue your elite training for the 100m backpedal and presume it's because I am some altruistic schoolmarm who wants to feminise the boys. Because no matter how much you want to tell yourself, there is no real innate maternal instinct in me: I am perfectly happy to avoid professional sanction and that is all that motivates me.

      And finally, you don't get to set the bar so low for yourselves as a gender. You don't get to pull the "lol but we're meant to fight" card for yourselves and demand that we play the poxy "aren't you dames supposed to mindlessly support each other in every single aspect of your lives lest we see how venal and catty you are?" card we never chose for ourselves. The first and second wave feminists sure as hell didn't expect sisterhood to mean blind acceptance of any who cross our path on the basis of bio sex. That is sexist, yo.

      Commenter
      Teacher
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 1:50PM
    • @cranky If it had been suggested by Labor or a feminist it would be the greatest scheme since sliced bread. As it was not it is the worst scheme ever.

      Commenter
      Bev
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 2:51PM
    • @Teacher: *round of applause*

      I wanted to respond, but didn't have the words.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 7:11PM
  • Great article. Tells it like it is. Should be compulsory reading for Abbot voters!

    Commenter
    Annie
    Date and time
    September 10, 2013, 8:01AM
    • This "Anti Abbott" you gals are complaining about.
      So are fighting against the majority of Australia. Lots and lots of women voted for him....

      He wants to give you the most significant paid parental scheme EVER.
      Why oppose that? ALL women would be better off under this scheme. It transfers the cost of having a baby from an individual woman to all of society.

      I really can't understand the objections.

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 11:07AM
    • Whoops, Annie your stereotypes are showing!
      The worst enemy of everyone, not just women is stereotyping and labelling, whether it be as Abbott voters, women or aboriginals.
      For example, the Syrians Army used poison gas against civilians. Why punish all of Syria. Wrong. Some Syrians used gas - not all. Punishing all is unfair.
      Some men are not nurturing but then again neither are some women. So what! We are not all the same. Celebrate the difference we all have something to contribute.
      I agree with Clem although she slips into stereotyping a little.
      The best thing we can all do is think carefully about our own beliefs, the ones we may have absorbed as children.
      These are the beliefs that sometimes we have never recognised and so never challenged. So often they re-enforce stereotypes
      Ask yourself sometimes, why does this upset me. What belief of mine is being challenged? It is something subconscious?
      Once you sought out your own thinking a flush out the prejudices then – be conscious of stereotyping and challenge it when-ever you can.
      J

      Commenter
      John N
      Location
      Beaumaris
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 12:43PM
    • He wants to give you the most significant paid parental scheme EVER.
      Why oppose that? ALL women would be better off under this scheme. It transfers the cost of having a baby from an individual woman to all of society.
      cranky
      Locationpants
      Date and timeSeptember 10, 2013, 11:07AM

      And if I am not interested in parenting.....? I think you missed the point of the article.

      Commenter
      kross
      Location
      melbs
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 12:57PM
    • "ALL women would be better off under this scheme."
      All women? What of those who don't or can't have children (point 3)? How does that benefit them? Also speaking of details in the policy, in what way does it encourage women to go back to work when they're already generously paid? I can really see that happening.
      "Oh wow, I had a baby 4 months ago, the money's still coming in, I better go find myself a job?"

      Commenter
      Troubadour
      Date and time
      September 10, 2013, 1:49PM

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