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.
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.