Recently I had a talk with a teenage girl about being a woman in a male-dominated world. She’s a smart high-schooler who has a lot of questions that, although she doesn’t know it, basically boil down to “How do I live in the Patriarchy?” What should she do or not do to win social approval, or avoid rejection? When should she stand up for herself? How should she look? She’s starting to develop a good bullshit detector, especially when it comes to double standards: why boys can eat as much as they want but girls shouldn’t, why boys can get angry and yell but girls can’t. She sent me an e-mail last week fuming: “Why don’t boys have to shave their legs? They’re way hairier than us. And they should wear makeup to cover their zits too.” I tried to explain that society holds women to one standard when it comes to looks and holds men to another. And then she asked, “Yeah, but you shave your legs and wear makeup, so if you think it’s bullshit, why don’t you just quit?”
She got me there. Because I do shave my legs and wear makeup and I think it’s bullshit, and yet, I don’t plan to quit anytime soon.
Shaving and makeup are compromises I make with the Patriarchy. Also: I pierced my ears, spend hundreds of dollars on haircuts, occasionally put on a short skirt and high heels. I freely admit that I’m willing to do things that I think are silly or pointless or chauvinist in origin because I like men…a lot. I want to have sex with them, ergo I want them to find me sexy. Like it or not, the Patriarchy defines what’s sexy. Personally, I draw the line at anything that will damage or alter my body permanently, such as breast implants or too much time in high heels. Thing is, every woman’s threshold for pain or alteration is different, which means I have to constantly check myself when I want to judge women for making compromises I wouldn’t.
About that: when you feel that judge-y tingle, it might be time to re-read Rachel Hills’s excellent post “We’re All Bad Feminists, Really.” If there’s a feminist out there living an ideologically pure life who hasn’t made compromises with the Patriarchy, I have yet to meet her.
But just as all of us have personal compromises that we’re willing to make with the Big P, we also have our limits and I tried to explain that too. There are things we feel we can’t compromise on. For some women, makeup and shaving might be deal-breakers. For me, it’s letting someone make off-hand misogynist remarks or use misogynist language in front of me. Some women—including feminists who I respect—are willing to let those small remarks slide, preferring to pick other battles. Not me. This can occasionally lead to some head-butting with DaddySharper or the Brothers Sharper, who, like most men, will occasionally throw out some thoughtlessly dumbass remark or call a woman a degrading name and think that it’s no big deal. (This is your brain on Patriarchy, fellas.) The contradiction of being willing to appear as Patriarchially acceptable as possible while voicing, harpy-like, some anti-Patriarchial views is not lost on me, but that’s the way I get by in the Patriarchy.
What are the compromises you make with the Patriarchy? What are the ones you refuse to make? What would you have told my teenage friend?