Women come from different backgrounds and cultures where emotions are expressed or repressed in different ways. Because of this there’s a lot of misunderstanding when women come together to form intentional female-only communities. The lens through which we’ve been socialized will often lead to problems in communication arising. Even though I’ve read feminist literature talking about this its still not a problem that is really addressed or dealt with.
When it comes to the great work of self-transformation, the onus is often put on the less privileged to change when in fact, they are often much better rounded and advanced in their understanding than women from more privileged backgrounds who they offend.
Emotional expression has been historically associated with the working classes, the landed gentry made a great show of controlling their emotions in public, not crying at funerals etc. A modern example of this was Queen Elizabeth II not crying at the funeral of Princess Diana. Many made her out to be “cold and uncaring” because of this but it has been ingrained in her from birth that one must control these type of emotions and show strength through that means. Now I disagree strongly that that is a healthy way to be, but it is the case that that is her “culture” if you will. We all have cultural backgrounds which inform our personalities and how we express ourselves to the world. While there is room for individuality there are also very obvious cultural tendencies.
Working class and poverty class women are accustomed to expressing a full range of emotions and also arguing from a place of passion. It is our culture to do this, this is not a “problem” it is a way of being but time and time again I see women alienated from feminist spaces for being themselves and in fact, being far more advanced in the practice of their feminism than the women alienating them. It is the middle classes who mainly try to keep everything “nice”. This of course doesn’t mean they are nice people. Many of them engage in serious betrayal, gaslighting, abuse of power all while maintaining a “nice” veneer. Because they do not get upset or express emotion they are viewed as being the more balanced when in fact they are completely unbalanced. This sort of behavior drives women from lower class backgrounds insane because this is the sort of treatment many of us received from those who brutalized us growing up.
That being said I’ve noticed that women from different backgrounds, especially lower-class backgrounds really are trying to communicate with their sisters. One example that I’ve noticed is Bev Jo who is demonized within radical feminist spaces when in fact she’s one of the most patient women I’ve ever seen with explaining herself, trying to get women to see why what they’re doing is harmful to other women etc. I’ve got absolutely no patience and will just disengage from women who behave in ways that I’ve seen her still trying to get through to them. She does this because she knows that women can change and that they need to.
I’ve also seen Bonnie, a black feminist, get very angry with a group of white feminists recently, come back and apologize and admit that she was deliberately trying to get their goat because SHE CARES what they think, this is despite being subjected to racism and ostracism time and time again. This woman still has enough love for her sisters from other backgrounds to try to wake them up to understanding where she is coming from. That is real love.
Anger isn’t a bad emotion, it is an impetus to change, it often comes about when love expressed is not received. “Tough love” from one woman to another is still love, it is merely being expressed another way with an emphasis on change needing to occur. Women need to be able to allow one another to be angry with one another, its not as if anger is occurring for no reason either, often its about exclusion or betrayal of political ideals, which is not “nice”. We can’t be full human beings and not ever get angry with each other, it will happen.
We had a discussion recently about lesbian spaces and how they’re not really protected from predatory men posing as lesbians often and even though many women are uncomfortable with the presence of these men they say and do nothing because the cultural tendency is middle class. They say nothing and hope problems will go away or pretend it isn’t happening. They would rather keep the unpleasant situation unspoken than confront it. Well that doesn’t work as we’ve clearly seen.
There are real consequences to not expressing one’s anger in a direct or healthy way because believe it or not, its still obvious when middle class and upper class women are angry, because they become very destructive and passively aggressive. You don’t need a PhD to pick up on that.
For far too long the onus has been on the wrong women to change, it is the same issues of race or other forms of oppression, the work is so often done by the women experiencing the oppression when really it needs to come from above.
Therapism and the Taming of the Lesbian Community
Women are consistently held to higher standards than men are, even by other women, even by feminists. Its interesting because how I personally feel about that is two-fold. On the one hand I recognize the sexism inherent in expecting women to be pure, perfect, unsullied by fault but on the other hand I know that women are capable of change and how they think, feel and act about the world actually matters.
Karl Marx was a chauvinist who consistently mismanaged his family’s meager wealth – making them live in squalor and poverty while also impregnating servant girls in his spare time. He was a fucking prick, however very few people would sit and chastise this fucking prick about his personal life, his faults when discussing his ideas. They are irrelevant to the equation in almost everyone’s eyes. What woman of thought and brilliance can ever say the same as to her legacy?
A woman’s work will always be sullied by her personal faults because in order for a woman to express ideas she must first be free from the stain of her human error. As this is impossible no woman’s body of work will ever be appreciated in the full glory that a man’s would and has.
I wonder though, while this is certainly a double standard that must end, would the solution be to overlook fault entirely? I’m not sure I have an answer to that really.
I’m reading Sonia Johnson’s “Going Out of Our Minds” right now and some parts are electrifying but others really put me off – There’s some interesting passages about the phenomenon of “trashing” and the necessity of loving women. I wonder if Johnson is perhaps influenced by her previous Mormon faith in the need to love so indiscriminately. I’ve noticed a correlation between the phenomenon of trashing and the sisterhood-of-perpetual-love-for-every-woman-no-matter-what. Its that same kind of hollow feeling of love you get when you walk into a church and the people basically want you to become another member. Its all “nice” until you get under the surface and see all the backstabbing and petty shit that goes on.
So what is to be done? As a feminist it obviously hurts more when women are cruel or mean than when a man does it because we know that somewhere inside them they are capable of better. Unlike men we know they are capable of change. [For example: I also know that I am always going to be fighting an uphill battle with some women because of prejudice against class, lesbianism, looks, professionalism (their internalized misogyny) etc. ]
I suppose my only answer, and bit of advice for women this resonates with is to remember that we can’t control anyone else’s behavior. That we have a right to say no to that which doesn’t feel good and that friends are often better than sisters. That some battles aren’t worth fighting and that some resources aren’t worth exhausting.
Try not to hold women to too high a standard whilst simultaneously knowing when to say you’ve had enough.