silencing women and girls

Silencing Women and Girls

Under patriarchy, females are expected to be silent and to serve male interests, desires, and expectations. In this piece, Aimee Wild describes how women are socialised into silence, and how systematic subjugation of women and girls deepens and maintains the harm this causes. 


Silencing Women and Girls

By Aimee Wild

Humans are deeply influenced by the families and communities we grow up in. Women in particular are socialised into behaving in certain ways, to actively demonstrate conformity to what is expected of us. This includes how we dress, speak and how we feel. What bothers me most is how much women and girls are conditioned in our thinking. From a young age women and girls are conditioned not to trust ourselves, to doubt intuition. This self doubt can, without strong protective factors, generate a deeply internalised sense that there is something wrong with us. Shame and humiliation can develop alongside doubt and worry. This is especially true if the process of socialising girls into a feminine gender stereotype is physically harmful (FGM, sexual abuse), coercive (forced marriage, domestic abuse, caring roles), or does not celebrate gender non-conforming expression.

When we feel wrong, when our intuition is out of balance, we are more likely to live in a way that is out of balance with our nature. This may include accepting incompatible or coercive relationships, staying quiet about our believe that pornography is harmful or believing the myth that women are naturally acidic. I do not believe the lie that women are naturally gossipy and unkind. I think we are conditioned to believe this. Talking to each other about our lives helps women trust each other. Helps breathe balance, rebuilds intuition and confidence.

It is impossible to grow up without being influenced by the implicit rules of gender.

Patriarchal societies curtails, corrects and influences us so much. Our thoughts and feelings about the tripe we are presented with are obfuscated. It can take years of reflection to identify issues that are problematic ‘out there’ rather than inside us. This is because our capacity and ability to think things through were questioned and implicitly devalued from infancy. If a child does not feel heard or valued, their thoughts and mind can become invisible, worthless. In a child’s mind there is no separation from mind and body. Children do not understand the abstract concept of gender conditioning.

Women are human.

It can take years, decades to believe that your opinion is valid and then another few years to understand how powerful women are when in solidarity, in sisterhood. Women who resist the norm can be ignored, ridiculed or worse. Women who dare to express a strong opinion, however carefully researched, regularly experience threats of rape/violence, actual physical harm, death and/or are frowned upon by friends, made to feel dissident. Women who express radical views can feel socially ostracised, they can be ignored and unsupported in their opinion. Women who do not conform to societal norms can experience horrendous ramifications, it happens daily; Jessica Taylor received significant backlash for daring to write a book about victim blaming.  Andrea Dworkin, wrote about the harms towards women and girls, she describes experiencing and living with abuse and threats in her memoir. Emily Grossman, a molecular biologist accepted help from End Online Misogyny, to protect her from online abuse, which included death/rape threats, when she talked openly about sexism in science.  These examples are not unusual, this is the norm.

Sisterhood.

There is a relief, value, an acceptance, being in a group of strong, confident women who can analyse and articulate, can provide a sense of community, solidarity and sisterhood. It can be tricky to build grass roots communities when others have differing analysis. Compassionate communication is key, as is avoiding arguments with women who have different views. A liberal argument may include supporting the right of women to choose to work in the sex industry. A radical view would be to fight for the sex industry to be abolished and eradicate poverty so women have alternate choices. Many liberal feminists, are strongly in agreement of the porn industry, of strippers, private dancers. They may argue that it is a woman’s right to choose. The idea being that a woman’s choice is inherently feminist. This view does not include analysis of power, of the structural inequalities in society, who owns the show. Who calls the shots. Liberal arguments do not often include an understanding of how the socialisation of women and girls encourages an acceptance of loss, including the loss of self. The loss of intuition. The loss of choice. The loss of identity and power.

The idea that our society is free and we are all free to choose is a deeply flawed, neoliberal concept designed to maintain production/consumption — including buying women and girls.

Many aspects of society promote an objectified, sexualised view of women, insidiously propping up male entitlement to female bodies. Supporting the right for men to freely access women’s bodies or for women to support them in that pursuit. Pornography silences women, effectively curtailing women’s ability to speak, or rendering speech meaningless and ineffective.

In the context of pornography, refusing sexual advances is not an option available to women, any intuition or self preservation is unlikely to be effective at this point. In any case, if women do speak out or challenge the norm,  the intended meaning, fails to produce the desired effect, or any effect at all, so thoroughly are women subjugated.

Pornography eroticises  use of violence in response to a woman’s refusal to sexual advances. Here, a woman’s refusal is recognised, sexualised, and ultimately disregarded. Gail Dines has spoken extensively on the harms of free pornography. Children, boys and men become desensitised to the pain and suffering of women, learning to silence women by making their speech, views Ineffective, their humanity meaningless.

When discussing the harm of patriarchy, the damage done by pornography towards women, Liberal views do not hold firm against analysis.

Perhaps due to cognitive dissonance many refuse to think complexities through and instead maintain their right to an opinion as if this (the right to an opinion) is the gold standard in society. It is a flaccid argument used, all the while women and children are bought, abused, lied about, held down and often buried. Rage can be triggered if we challenge liberal view.

The problem, or part of it, is that people who abound these views have little or no in-depth understanding of structural analysis. So, using pornography as an example, the oppression of women as a class, the centuries of subjugation . . . understanding of the impact of a lack of bodily and mental freedom . . .  there is a wall of privilege protecting that person (the one with a right to an opinion) from reality.

A carefully considered view, researched for decades, expressed in opposition to a liberal stance is always considered less valid in the mind of the liberal listener.

Lierre Keith’s thinking and writing about the difference between liberal and radical make more sense every day. A woman once told me the single most important thing women can do is love and support other women. She had heard this from an older, wiser woman who I believe heard it first hand in the 1970’s when setting up Women’s Aid shelters in the U.K. I have been lucky enough to spend time with these women.  It is an important reminder for many women, including a younger me, that your intuition is valid. That your opinion is valued. Your feelings are real.

It is fundamentally vital that women, especially radical feminists support one another to remain emotionally held, mentally in tact.

We need to love and support other women, to stand together as much as possible.


Aimee is a radical feminist, educator and guardian with Deep Green Resistance U.K.

Featured image: Bulgarian poster “Отвори очи: Кампания срещу насилието над жени” (Open Your Eyes: A campaign against gender violence), by Denitza Tchacarova, CC BY SA 2.0.

5 thoughts on “Silencing Women and Girls”

  1. I’m still waiting to see a feminist criticism of the gross disparity between male and female fashions, etc. (Surely this has been addressed, though I haven’t seen it in DGR’s feminist essays.)

    What I’m refering to is why even standard female business and formal attire includes things like bare legs, arms, shoulders, and backs, plunging necklines, eyeliner, lipstick, high heels, false eyelashes, and earrings that look more like Christmas tree ornaments than jewelry. In fact, any male criticism of these fashion norms — which amount to nothing less than sexual advertising — is often angrily dismissed by women, who take it to be a way of saying that the way women dress is somehow responsible for rape.

    That is not my point. There is no justification for rape, anywhere or anytime. But a woman in short shorts, high heels, and a halter top all but screams, “I’m for sale!” And less provocative styles at least strongly suggest, “Hey! Notice my sexuality first! Then you can discover my intelligence, skills, and personality.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate women’s sexuality and sex appeal as much as any heterosexual male. And displaying it to some degree may be as inherent to human nature as the puffing, strutting, and plumage displays of male birds (where gender roles in sexual advertising are reversed) is to a bird’s way of life. I would be the last to advocate that we do away with bikinis and miniskirts, or that shorts and bare-chested business suits would be a positive style change for men.

    We are who we are. Women and men are not the same. And I am just as opposed to the subjugation of female sexuality (burqas and mandatory head coverings, for example) as I am to lipstick and high heels.

    But don’t women bear some responsibility for sexual objectification? And are men solely responsible for pornography? Women surely do not hire male strippers for bachelorette parties because men expect it of them (given that men do not attend such functions, and would not even know of them, if the women who attend them didn’t boast about how much they enjoy them).

    Personally, I find hard-core porn disgusting (and have only seen it at the one bachelor party I attended). And I consider strippers of either gender to be equally degrading. I will also readily concede that pornography and sexual violence are far more a male than a female responsibility. Nor would I want to see an abandonment of civilization so total that sexuality is done away with altogether.

    But if we are to correct such social failings as gender stereotypes, sexual violence, and rape, shouldn’t we begin by honestly acknowledging that women bear at least some of the blame? Doesn’t a fair accounting for these human failings include an admission that there is, for instance, a female market for strippers, violence in lesbian relationships, and that a large percentage of women want to show off their bodies more than men do?

  2. Read Sheila Jeffreys’ “Beauty and Misogyny” for a radical feminist critique of feminine beauty practices, including fashion, and including why women “””choose””” them.

  3. And, no, women are not to blame for their rape, ever. Women in burqas are raped and sexually harassed often. Women can be raped in their own homes. Most rapes are perpetrated by a man known to the victim – husband, stepfather, father, grandfather, uncle, a close friend etc. Most convicted rapists DON’T EVEN REMEMBER what the victim was wearing or how she looked like. This lazy, misogynistic narrative that women are “partially responsible” cannot ever be tolerated.

  4. from Mark: “But don’t women bear some responsibility for sexual objectification? And are men solely responsible for pornography?”

    The way I respond to that kind of question is that if you consider the income disparities the idea of “choice” becomes rather slippery. The cultural conditioning is even more lubricant.

    But having said that I am usually well lambasted if I express my view that women who do make the slippery “choice” to be objectified are usually incapable of walking in the shoes of a woman who wishes not to be objectified. I suspect a woman who attempts to make a living doing porn or prostitution or otherwise stays in an abusive situation because she wants the relationship, money, status, etc is incapable of acknowledging, let alone understanding, how her participation in her own objectification and abuse contributes to the abuse of all women.

    An anti-porn stance is often described as infringing on the rights of those who wish to engage in porn. After being metaphorically tarred and feathered enough times for expressing my belief that women who engage in porn, etc are infringing on my rights to be safe from objectification and violence I rarely say anything but I think I am in a state of not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks anymore.

    I was married to a porn infected psychopathic abuser and rapist. He would watch hours of porn after I went to sleep . When he came to bed well after midnight he would want sex. It made no difference if I did not. During the daylight hours he was verbally and psychologically abusive, often threatening to call me in a “5150” if I started crying (he thought he could sign a paper and have me put in a psych ward) I was emotionally and physically beaten down to the point that I could not sleep, I could not think, I could not work. Somehow I finally got into that state of – why give a fuck? I am going to die if I stay but I might survive leaving.

    Yes. I despise women who tolerate porn and abuse and objectification. He knew he could abuse me nearly to the point of death because he knew there were plenty of women out there who could also be used up and spit out and eventually he’d find one who didn’t mind being raped with a dick that was covered with scabs from excessive, no lube masturbation after she has been called a stupid bitch and threatened with abandonment and/or incarceration all day long.

    There was absolutely no reason for him to stop what he was doing. I was not a human being. I suspect I am also not a human being in the minds of the women who participate in the objectification of and violence towards women. I suspect the women who participate in porn and other objectification do not consider themselves to be human. I know I am beneath consideration for the women who, for whatever reason, have chosen to remain friends with the man who abused me.

    Women who are willing to participate in their own objectification, as well as women who chose to disregard both subtle and not so subtle forms of abuse and objectification, need to acknowledge the damage their behavior does to all women. Yup – about the chance of a snowball in hell.

    But at the same time: How many men have really and truly walked away from a friendship because that friend was objectifying of and abusive to women? And I mean *before* it is more general public knowledge rather than the “I never really liked him” once he is arrested routine? In Derrick Jensen’s “Culture of Make Believe” he speaks of a women who believes men will not stop beating women until other men tell him to stop.
    In the circles of friends I had there was only one man and no women who were willing to walk away with me.

    Broken and dead women are even more meaningless than live women. Until there is an epidemic of self awareness and empathy, until both men and women are willing to recognize how their “needs” are so often a violation of the rights and boundaries of another, none of this will change but ultimately the culture is the culprit.

  5. I don’t think most women understand how they participate in their own objectification *in the first place*, let alone understand how the extreme objectification of some women harms the entire class of women.

    Neither do I believe most women “wish” to be objectified (unless they’ve been really extremely indoctrinated). They want male attention and approval, and learned from men’s behaviour that self-objectification is the way to get it. Women would never do it if there weren’t male demand for it. The *root* cause of female objectification are men, not the women who participate in it.

    P.S. glad you managed to escape your abuser.

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