Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?: Powerfully Subtle Resistance to Anti-Feminism

Sep 11, 2012 by

I have always been enormously happy about being a girl. As, I suppose, I should be. It’s really only right. But every time I see myself in a pearl necklace I knit, or go dress shopping, or am spontaneously lifted into a lindy hop aerial by an incredibly talented lead on the dance floor, I thank God once again that I was born a woman! I’m so grateful that I feel that anti-feminism could never really get to me.

I realize that there are an awful lot of girls who—though they would never really trade in the core of their femininity—are less secure, and perhaps less wholly grateful. And sometimes, I have to sit back and wonder why that is. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this article. I wonder why, when I was chosen as the lector to read Ephesians 5 :22(“Wives, submit to your husbands…”) I read it in earnest agreement with St. Paul’s call to mutual submission, while other women joked before mass about “cutting that part out”. A few days ago, I stumbled across an article that gave a more than adequate response to my wondering—“A Message From A Woman to a Man: You Are Not Crazy”, written by Yashar Ali.

Ali pinpoints the tendency to call women’s feelings “erratic” or “irrational” as a major anti-feminist force. He calls this force “gaslighting”, in reference to the Ingrid Bergman picture in which Charles Boyers’ character attempts to make Bergman think that she is going insane by flickering gaslights on and off strategically. Each time Bergman reacts to the lights, he flips them off again and tells her that she was only seeing things even though, of course, she wasn’t.

Gaslighting is one of the subtlest, but perhaps most psychologically destructive, anti-feminist attacks that exist in the modern family structure.  It can hardly be eliminated, even in today’s progressive, white-washed world, because it slips by so silently and is so unnoticed. But after being told that she is “overreacting” enough times, a woman begins to believe it. She becomes afraid to admit her true feelings—she begins to believe that the things she thinks are erratic and overdramatic. She looses the ability to tell people how she really  feels, and she begins to believe that she is irrational and not as grounded, perhaps, as her husband or father or other male companions.

I have been incredibly lucky to have escaped this kind of “gaslighting”—I’ve never been chastised as overdramatic by my parents or guardians; I’ve never had to think that perhaps my feelings are not as sensible as any other human being’s. I’ve certainly never been afraid to admit what I think or feel. This is perhaps why Ephesians 5:22 doesn’t bother me at all—I am confident that if I choose to get married, my husband and I will have different, but equal and complimentary, ways of thinking. My “submission” to him and his way of thinking will be no more or less a sacrifice than his committing to love me and accept my different-but-equal-ness, as St. Paul commands in those verses. We will both see things differently–in ways that will be hard for each other to understand, occasionally–which doesn’t mean that one point of view will necessarily be “reasonable” and the other “erratic”.   Rather, men and women are and always have been  different-but-equal—but different doesn’t mean subordinate. A woman doesn’t need to seek to be more like a man in order to be more perfect—she already is. Rather, she needs to learn to accept herself—her feelings, her thoughts— and must always remember: she is NOT crazy! This acceptance of her own femininity–her confidence that she can be equal to a man without feigning masculinity–is what I believe is the ultimate resistance to anti-feminism.

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  1. Anonymous

    What does it mean to be a woman? Does being a woman mean wearing dresses and pearl necklaces? What does masculinity mean? Also, where can we read this article by Ali?

  2. Gerber

    Masculinity and Femininity, Being a woman and being a man. These issues are issues that have become so blurred that to give an accurate definition is hard. I will not attempt to give a definition, but would just like to acknowledge the failures of both sides to make an attempt at a true definition. One side goes too far and stating that one gender is superior to another. That one gender can only operate in certain sectors while another can only operate in other sectors. The other side goes too far in the other direction, stating that both men and women are equally inclined and should be equally able to do all things. This is close, but still not the truth. Each side is half right, though the first is more grievous than the second. The natural differences between men and women are akin to a soldier and a farmer. In times of war a soldier is better suited to the duties required of the two, because of his prior training. In times of peace, a farmer is better suited to producing because of his prior training. Is this to say one cannot surpass the other through hard work? NO. But to not acknowledge the initial advantage is ignorant. Same too with Women and Men. They are born different with different inclinations. There are certain things men are better at than women. Upper body strength for example, and women are better at then men, like multitasking. Now, is it impossible for a gender to learn the other’s inclinations? No. But to deny the inclination is irrational. Yet, neither side is fully willing to accept this definition, and muddies the water. One side makes us nervous that we are defining too many things as being favorable to a gender, and the other side makes us nervous about not enough. With these inputs, I see it as impossible for your questions on being a woman and masculinity to be answered in the way you wish. I see dresses and pearl necklaces as being an inclination of women, but they do not define women. Women and men are so much more than that. The point of this article, in my view, is not about tastes but inclinations, though I cannot speak for the author. I applaud a great article by my good friend.

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