I hear it all the time on feminist sites, ours and many others: We can’t win! Women just can’t win.
I’m pretty sure that these commenters don’t really believe that women can’t win, but that the expression is born of the frustration and anger that comes from recognizing how deeply rooted anti-woman prejudice is. Nonetheless, it’s a refrain I read often enough that I wanted to address it.
The thought is coming from a perfectly logical place. Anyone with eyes to see can recognize the hateful messages hidden, and not-so-hidden, in the vast majority of our cultural products. And beyond that, there are Bill O’Reillys and Phyllis Schlaflys and George Sodinis and such who make sure that not a day goes by but that somewhere, a woman is shamed, maligned, or killed, simply for the crime of being female. The double-standards and attendant double-binds are legion. No doubt. But.
But I do believe women can win. Women will win. Women are winning. When I think of the changes of the last 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 years, I have to catch my breath. The changes that the various manifestions of feminist belief have wrought in women’s lives are stunning and inspiring. Most women of today, particularly in the Global North, are better off than we’ve ever been. We’re more educated, more independent, more aware of the “reasons” for institutionalized oppression. We’re recognizing the interplay of sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia. And we’re fighting back.
That doesn’t mean we’ve won, however. It ain’t over. There’s plenty left to do. There are young women who fear the label “feminist,” there are religious women who believe that their God ordained women for the use and abuse of men, there are ignorant (in the sense of unknowing, not stupid) women who think the poor treatment they receive is incidental, “bad luck,” or worst of all, deserved, rather than part of a larger patriarchal structure. And there are far too many men poisoned and poisoning the environment in the name of the often unspoken but nonetheless ubiquitous Patriarchy.
There’s no way for me, or any one person, to make sure that there’s a counter message for every negative, hurtful, hateful thing that women and girls encounter. There will be backlash, and backsliding, but I hope that whatever encouragement I can offer or inspiration I can point to will help other feminists/womanists/queer activists to do our necessary work, and to keep struggling in what often feels to be a Sisyphean task. To repeat: we can win. We are winning.