Being a girl is about pleasing men

Katha Pollitt talks about the way women have to be “likable” no matter what (and when they are it’s still not enough), while men can be as violent and belligerent and mendacious as they like and the world will still embrace them and say that was way back then.

These are the rules of The Patriarchy that the #MeToo movement has exposed: the education, extracurriculars, service projects, credentials—they were never what being a girl was all about. Being a girl is about pleasing men: What they think of you and want from you and how you negotiate that in a world that does not want to hear about the darker side of what that can mean.

And thus it’s also about pleasing women, but in a men-pleasing way. It’s about people-pleasing and man-pleasing and the ways they are entangled with each other. We’re all pickled in it; it’s the medium we grow in; we can’t get away from it any more than a daffodil can hop away from its soil.

This for me is the meaning of the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Whatever else a woman is—a PhD, a mother, a victim of a sex crime—the most important thing is that she be likable: attractive, relatable, unthreatening, nice. And Dr. Ford was so nice! Pretty—but not too pretty—educated, upper middle class, white, with glasses and a husband and kids and a house. She was just emotional enough—not detached, not “hysterical”—to conform to expectations about what a woman should look like when she tells the truth about being assaulted.

Imagine, Katha goes on, if she hadn’t been like that.

Others have said this, but it’s worth repeating that if Dr. Ford had behaved like Judge Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been dismissed as a liar and a crazy lady. Imagine if she had talked about how much she liked beer some 30 times. Imagine if she had displayed anger, hostility, arrogance, boasted about having gone to Yale, cried self-pitying tears, and thrown questions back in the senators’ faces, asking them if they ever had blackouts. Imagine if her high-school yearbook page were full of sexual slang and drinking innuendoes obvious to anyone who had ever been a teenager, and she had explained them away with obvious falsehoods.

In all fairness, that disgusted many of us when Kavanaugh did it, but the point of course that it didn’t disgust them enough to make them vote him down. The importance of forcing women to be “nice” and “likable” by bearing children they don’t want to bear outweighed the tackiness of putting a lying shouting assaulting sexist pig on the Supreme Court.

Does #MeToo have the power to change this narrative? Women’s anger is the topic du jour. Rebecca Traister’s brilliant and bracing Good and Mad could not have been published at a better moment and joins Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her and Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage on a lengthening shelf of books calling for women to own their righteous rage and use it to win justice.

I wish us all luck with the project.

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