One thing that used to get me into trouble was a need to be separate from “imperfect” women, as though by just being good enough, perfect enough, we could convince the world of why we deserved to be treated better.
I know that’s a pretty basic thing a lot of women, and other oppressed groups, struggle with, but I applied it to feminism too, and I think I was interested in feminism in the first place as a WAY of separating myself from imperfect women. I rebelled against forced femininity for so many years before even learning anything about feminism, and there were so MANY women I wanted to disassociate myself from for so MANY reasons.
I don’t think it’s that those impulses are more common in younger women, as much as it just takes some time and awareness to figure out (and some people never do) that:
the cycle of trying to be “perfect” and “failing” isn’t really what you want your life to be about (thank you fundamentalism!);
that most “imperfections” in women – the kind that make you REALLY uncomfortable identifying with someone – are the direct result of sex-based persecution and all the more reason to cling TO that woman, not shy away from her;
even if there were such a thing as a perfect woman, her perfection would in no way be ‘respected’ by the misogyny machine.
I mean, the biggest distortion of misogyny is that there are, somewhere, some women who are above reproach in some way, meaning that the patriarchy even bothers making positive distinctions between women at all. It’s easy to fall for that lie, based on all of the negative distinctions the patriarchy draws — you can’t help but notice all of its turning women against each other based on ridiculously narrow typecasting (yes, you’re both white middle-class women with children who work full-time paying jobs outside your identical homes right next door to each other, but you’re so different! One of you views your work as just a job, and one of you prioritizes it as a real career! Job Woman: don’t you think your little girl would benefit from seeing her mom take her work seriously enough to break the glass ceiling? How’s she supposed to know to want a career of her own and actually accomplish something? Career Woman: don’t you think your family should come first? Why do you think men’s corporate rat race is more important than actually being there when your daughter needs you?)
It’s like some evil magic suit; misogyny tailors itself so beautifully to the contours of each individual woman’s life, you totally forget it came with a one-size-fits-all tag.
So, you can go around finding whole swaths of women you’re not like. I wasn’t like the fundie women with their ongoing battles re: “submission” to men, not like the women in my small town, with their suspicion of anything that hadn’t been done for 100 years or took place more than 30 miles away. I wasn’t like the anti-intellectual women of either group – I was going to college, dammit. And in college, I wasn’t like the man-hunting women, and I wasn’t like the high-maintenance women, and I wasn’t like the youth group-y women or the supernerds, but I wasn’t quite like the party girls either. I wasn’t like the apolitical lip-gloss women, but I wasn’t like those “cause girls,” eww. I could be an individual and not join with any women, really, other than a few select friends, and still find it in me to sneer at the stoner/badass punk/grunge girls who thought they were too cool to be involved with anyone or anything. And then I graduated and went to work, and found I was nothing like the middle-aged women I worked with. I was smarter and faster than a lot of them, but then again, there were the ones I could learn something from, and I’d take their knowledge, but I wasn’t really like them, either, stuck forever in a job well below my capabilities because I took time out for kids, or because I “let” somebody treat me unseriously because I was a woman.
And on and on, you certainly get the picture.
But what you don’t notice along the way is that not only are the women that you can manage to identify with on some level somehow getting tiny in number (not to mention homogeneous), while you’re becoming increasingly disassociated from the majority of real live women, but that despite all of your efforts, nobody in power ever – EVER – thinks you’re not “one of them” anyway! When it comes right down to it, the misogyny suit fits you just fine too. You can be the perfect woman, you can be the perfect feminist, and it just doesn’t matter, because women are crap – all women are crap. Including you, whatEVER you are.
It’s humbling, finally figuring out that life really and truly isn’t some free-market meritocracy and so therefore you really can’t win simply by competing more efficiently.
I think this is one interesting difference between a lot of white and minority feminists. The latter struggle with urges to differentiate themselves from “undesirable” (which is to say, all) sex and race stereotypes, sure, but I do think the bullshit in the system is less invisible to women of color.
White men, after all, are at the top of the heap. And most white women have at least one white man in their families, while few women of color do.
If you grow up living with someone for whom things magically happen – not even magically, let’s say LOGICALLY — you watch him do what he’s supposed to and achieve the desired result without any special wrangling — you have seen that the machine CAN work, that input CAN equal output.
A lot of adult white middle- and upper-class women (of any age, but especially under 35 in my experience) were raised mostly by their mothers, were closer with their mothers as children, still have more contact with their mothers – and yet identify, in their self-conception, with their fathers. Meaning they identify more with the ability to “successfully” navigate a “working” system.
This is a lot harder to do for most women of color. Few grow up around someone who isn’t pretty noticeably discriminated against. Women of color in the US can still believe, and some do, in the “American Meritocracy”, but it’s more myth-based than experiential, which may make it easier to recognize AS myth.
I think a real obstacle to woman-centered feminism, at least for white women who don’t come from poverty, is that vestigial belief in a meritocracy. You can hand out (bigoted) “free passes” to certain women — poor women, foreign women, women of color — who make your liberal heart just bleed, while still believing that most women are just plain icky somehow. You can identify with success (meaning that you believe at least some tenets of the white heteropatriarchy) and still “forgive” some women for not being able to easily achieve it.
It’s hard to recognize how that’s woman-blaming, misognynist, racist, classist, etc. It’s hard to recognize that every time you’re irritated by being “lumped in” with another woman, every time you’re irritated by the *actions* or *choices* of another woman, there’s a misogynist assumption lurking somewhere.
It’s especially difficult if, like me, you’re easily irritated!