Women are not like men.

Women are not like men. Even when women do terrible things, they don’t do them like men do them. Because women can’t. It isn’t possible. Women’s behavior may remind us of men’s behavior, but it is never the same as men’s behavior. Because we live under a system of pervasive institutionalized male supremacy.

To believe that certain women are just as bad as men is to have misunderstood the entire basis of feminism as a form of class-based political analysis and critique. Feminism is concerned with how females, as a class, are oppressed by males, as a class, on the basis of sex. From a feminist perspective, then, the power dynamics between males and females are qualitatively, significantly different than the power dynamics between females. Between females, the cross-sex hierarchy of sexualized politics simply does not exist. Yet between males and females, the politics of sex is always present. It is present regardless of financial status, race, culture, and/or sexuality. So even when women mimic the behavior of men under patriarchy, women are not like men and cannot achieve the same results.

What I’m arguing here, by analogy, is a fairly straightforward application of the fallacy of reverse racism principle: just as it isn’t possible for people of color to oppress white people (or their fellow people of color) in the way that white people can oppress people of color; it is not possible for women to oppress men (or other women) in the way that men oppress women. Women simply do not have the necessary sex-based social capital to do so. Women can not be like men in that way.

“Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”

Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, 1975

When a woman rapes, she does not have the power to rape like a man does. She does not have a penis with which to penetrate her victim. She cannot impregnate her victim. She does not wield the sexualized power that the penis represents in terms of male violence and global domination. She does not have the hegemony of male supremacy with which to intimidate her victim and to protect herself. She may have some protection, she may have some power, she may be shielded in other ways– even in ways that reflect her social location as a woman— but she does not have the institutional advantages that simply being male under patriarchy affords male sexual predators (see link).

When a woman uses her position within the family to control or abuse her family members, she does not abuse them like men do. Her power is always predicated on, even continuously dependent upon, her relation to a higher ranking male. Female roles within heterosexual family structures are always, by design, limited by sexual politics. Even in very large families, women’s range of influence is ultimately constrained by the patriarchal mandate on domestic privacy that demands separation between public and private social affairs. This zone of privacy acts as a built-in check on the power that females may exercise. Male authority, by contrast, relies heavily on non-familial social affirmation in the form of public associations with other men. Men routinely grant the benefit of the doubt to other men in the wider community. Men grant each other unearned authority and control over women strictly because of their shared maleness. As a result, men’s roles as the natural guardians and arbiters of all family-based (i.e., heterosexual) relations are both created and reinforced by this continuous feedback loop.

Women can be horribly destructive. Women can destroy other women. Individual women may accumulate certain kinds of social power on the basis of economic class, race, culture, or professional standing. Individual women can even destroy individual men. But women, as individuals, can only do so much damage.

Feminists who want to help women as a class must not become preoccupied with the failings of individual women; we must not spend our time condemning and making examples of women we perceive as handmaidens. When we spend our energy hunting down handmaidens and being self-righteously indignant about the awful behavior of handmaidens, we are distracted from our primary purpose as feminists. Because when all the Bad Women have finally been defanged and their wreckage cleared away, what are we left with? What have we accomplished as feminists? What have we accomplished for women? If institutionalized male supremacy rages on unfazed and we are still swimming upstream against the tide of inherently unequal sexualized politics, I don’t think we have accomplished much more than putting out one of a million tiny forest fires. We have not touched the inferno of patriarchy itself.

Feminism is a form of class-based political analysis. It asks questions about the big picture. It is concerned with how females, as a class, are oppressed by males, as a class. Feminists must stay focused on women as a class in order to help women as a class.

When a woman yells at you on the internet or undermines you in person, it’s not like sexual harassment from your male boss. It’s not like the verbal rage of your abusive father. It may trigger those memories, but it is not the same. She is not like a man. It is not sex-based oppression. If a woman has any power over you at all it is not because she is a woman, but in spite of her status as a woman. Feminists who want to help women as a class know that women can never treat other women like men treat women. Because women don’t have sex-based power over other women.

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18 thoughts on “Women are not like men.

  1. Brilliantly stated – as always. Saying “women oppress men, too” is like saying a walk in the rich pine forests reminds you of your air freshener at home…

  2. Putting words in italics doesn’t strengthen your arguments; it just gives the reader eyestrain.

    Patriarchy could not survive without female assistance. Men may be the ultimate beneficiaries of patriarchy, but women can, and do, play vital roles in maintaining an oppressive status quo.

    The behavior of handmaidens needs to be pointed out and discredited. Among other reasons, to encourage would-be recruits to stop and think before volunteering for a career in patriarchy enforcement.

  3. I was going to spam this comment but it’s a great example of the reverse racism principle: oppression happens anytime anyone gets hurt by anyone else. Also, it’s evidence of victim blaming.

  4. Re MK’s comment. Saying women is why there is patriarchy implies that women were first *asked* what they thought of the deal, and agreed to it. If women’s labour and attitudes uphold it, it must have been in our interest in the first place, right? Otherwise, why would different groups of women, in different parts of the world, at different times, be engaged in patriarchy if it depends on us for continuing to dominate?

    Does this apply to other forms of dominance and oppression? Does capitalism exist because workers let it happen and uphold it? Does racism exist because people of colour think it’s a great idea for them to be exploited, jailed, beaten? And so on.

    Do oppressive systems rely on consent or would they just rely more on force if need be? Is willingness to submit why dominance happens or is dominance, force, threat, etc why dominance happens?

    I think the current existences of trafficking, including for prostitution and marriage, belies the theory that patriarchy exists because of women’s consent. Hell, men becoming MRAs in response to being left by their wives, shows that women cannot change men one on one, that women withdrawing will not stop men. Men dominate because they want to, are rewarded for it, gain control over others, etc.

  5. So, hey! I was thinking… this post is an extension of 2010’s “At your expense, I exist” post @ Undercover Punk. LOLOLOL!!

    OPPRESSION means something! And it is NOT any harm caused by anyone at any time. It requires a certain KIND of class-based social power.

  6. As a point of clarification from reddit’s peanut gallery, CLASS is ALSO a legal term (yes, I’m a lawyer, I know, it causes confusion sometimes!).

    In the law, a [protected] CLASS is used to describe various groups of people socially defined by particular mutable or immutable characteristics that serve as alleged justification for oppressing these individuals in the form of legally actionable discrimination and harassment. Class does not mean financial status or economic mobility, but simply GROUPS of people.

    So, I totally GET what is being said here and I appreciate the criticism:

    Feminism is about addressing the ways women as a demographic are oppressed by men as a demographic.
    The author’s use of the term “class” is strange, demographic would have been a more accurate term. Using the phrase “class based political analysis” when not actually talking about economics is confusing. When most people and scholars talk about class, like “class analysis”, they are looking at the ways economic power enforce hierarchy and stratify people into different class groups or castes. Those who own the means of production versus those who work for wages. The people who are exploited (working-class) versus those who are economically privileged and exploitative (ownership class).
    I think this is a very important distinction to make, not only for historical accuracy and intellectual clarity, but also as a way to move forward with our analysis of politics and patriarchy. We need to be class-conscious feminists.

  7. I was going to challenge the assertion “..Her power is always predicated on, even continuously dependent upon, her relation to a higher ranking male..”– until I considered my own mother, and her reliance upon “God, the Father”. ^..^

  8. If someone accuses me of “hatred and bigotry” against men and boys, does that mean they are accusing me of being men and boys’ oppressor? I am confused by that. I am female.

  9. ridovem00, you know that’s not what I meant, though, right? You make an excellent point by referencing the inherently MALE (supremacist) authority of all major organized religions which serve as the ideological “moral” compass underlying most people’s sense of VALUE, right and wrong, Good versus Bad/Evil. Yes, it’s a problem! A big one. Maybe one of feminism’s largest.

    The statement you quoted, however, was written about the heterosexually-organized family unit. Under this hierarchical structure, women’s roles are DEFINED by reference to a man. She is his *daughter.* She is his *wife.* She is his *mother.* Those are the roles that women play;that give women POWER within any given family, almost entirely irrespective of time or culture.

    Further, what makes one family traditionally more important or powerful than another? Oh, the larger PUBLIC social context…which is controlled by men. Examples of why a particular family has status include money/property accumulation (inheritance or successful business relations), intellectual or religious ranking, and military participation. So, again, MALE relations to other men dictate the relative importance of a family, including its members.

  10. Branjor, I don’t know what that person means.

    Hatred and bigotry can exist within an individual’s mind while that same individual LACKS class-based social power, which is *required* to enact oppression. So I don’t know. They are different things.

  11. Thanks for your reply, Bess. It may be true that I lack class based social power to enact oppression, however I think maybe the accuser means I would enact oppression if I could, which is as bad as calling me their actual oppressor. Also, even hatred and bigotry, if it existed in my mind, could not be the same as male hatred and bigotry towards me, as I was brought up in a patriarchy to worship males, while they were not brought up in a matriarchy to worship females. Women are not like men.

  12. This is something I struggle with and I am interested in some very constructive input on this issue. Men always point to the handmaidens to give legitimacy to the male supremacist status quo, and even though the handmaidens are also victims of male oppression, the fact remains that many eagerly and willingly rush to rescue “teh poor menz” the minute any radfem dares to speak up and talk about male violence towards women and any other form of male oppression of women. These women may not be responsible for patriarchy, but are they really completely blameless for deliberately hurting the feminist aim of dismantling patriarchy and stopping male oppression by trying to make us look like a bunch of fools in order to score some male approval and/or maintain public acceptance of the male supremacist status quo? This is a very serious problem.

  13. Hi Jacqueline, being “completely blameless” or being incapable of causing damage is a different question than what the political implications of said damage might be (and what “oppression” actually means). I am arguing that the damage any individual woman can do is limited RELATIVE to the damage of patriarchy itself.

    As a feminist, I am NOT interested in blaming women for internalizing misogyny while trapped in a closed system of misogyny. As a feminist, I AM interested in analyzing and helping women as a CLASS. There will always be “handmaidens” and “traitors;” chop off one head and new heads will grow. Internalizing oppression is a very serious problem and it won’t stop until the OPPRESSION ITSELF stops. If a Bad Woman is LITERALLY in our way or LITERALLY hurting someone we love, by all means, address it. But to perseverate on policing or converting these women is a waste of VERY precious time and energy that we SHOULD be spending elsewhere: on exposing and improving the conditions that affect women as a CLASS.

    Yeah, women can be really awful. But we need to look past them and CONFRONT THE SYSTEM ITSELF.

  14. Pingback: Women Who Care About Women Don’t Bat For Team Patriarchy « Feminism — The Other "F" Word

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