WOMEN POLICING WOMEN: THE PRISON OF BELIEF
Someone once told me I wasn’t ready for marriage.
I had expressed my displeasure at the misappropriation and abuse of the idea of submission. You might be thinking this was an older woman caught up in old school African ideology, sniffling away at my naiveté. Instead, this was a pretty young girl, married for a few years herself, and determined to share the wealth of wisdom she had gathered.
To the delight of her male supporters clucking in approval, and fellow women full of disdain at the sourness of what they viewed as overly aggressive feminism, she primly informed me that a good wife never walks out on her marriage simply for things as silly as infidelity and one would only defeminize herself by expressing strong opinions or being argumentative towards her partner.
This was to be one of the many encounters I would have with women who seemed to have taken on the task of preaching misogyny to a bevy of eager young women who, desperate not to feel alone, needed to rationalize what they were going through, accept it as normal, and even as truth itself. My disbelief and fascination at this sector of women who seem to be doing a great job keeping other women firmly submerged in a miserable existence, has only grown over time.
While watching “Going Clear: Scientology And the Prison Of Belief” a rather fascinating documentary a few days ago, a very interesting monologue caught my attention. One of the former disciples of the Church, while discussing how the belief system grew to be more and more ridiculous as the years went by, tried to explain why even at the point when he started to question the sanity of what they were doing, he still didn’t pull out of the church. To paraphrase:
“You HAVE to continue to believe. Because if you look too deeply.. if you look at it rationally, you could go crazy. You’d have to accept that everything you have allowed yourself to believe is a lie, and you’d have to question every action that you have ever taken. You’d have to feel stupid and ashamed.”
A very simple explanation and a widespread human fallacy, this idea that one would rather take comfort in the lie than confront the truth.
Perhaps this explains why so many women unknowingly internalized patriarchy, negativity and general hatred towards themselves?
I do not blame them — these teachings have been passed down socially, culturally and religiously; a global message from as early as when a girl begins to use her cognitive functions. For women, acceptance lies in their dedicated adherence to societal norms.
If all your life, you are receiving the message that you are the weaker sex, you are emotional, irrational, high strung, less than, you are unhappy alone, single, are made whole only with a mate, completed by children, less ambitious, lesser candidate for leadership, and so on, compounded with ideas of a higher being who has created you to be this way, to fulfill certain roles, and essentially, play second fiddle all your life to the desires of men, eventually, you will come to accept this as the gospel truth.
So, as a woman how do you imagine you might claim some power back?
By not only accepting it, but deliberately choosing these ideas, and making them your own:
You make it your life’s mission to be a Mrs; because nothing becomes more important than a ring on your finger and a last name you can cling to, that proves you have been chosen.
You look down on women who are single; as somehow less fortunate than you, as though the fact that you are married is due to some sort of merit on your part. Even though they might seem happy or well adjusted, you just know deep down inside, they are miserable and they are failing. They are alone, and nothing can be worse than not being attached to a man who will claim you.
You turn a blind eye to your man’s indiscretions; You know your place, and you really don’t care.. you have bigger fish to fry. You have your children and your family & you are life is bigger than simple romantic relationships.
You play small, water yourself down, be more silent, more present for his needs, raise him up above all else; after all, you are a christian wife and you know the real truth about marriage, and all these other feisty women and *shudder* feminists, will only end up miserable and alone.
You almost blissfully rationalize every vile thing that is done to you in the name of holding your family together; You have an important role to play. It is not only your duty to submit, but to pray your husband into submission as well. If you were more patient, sweeter, less self absorbed, more interested in him, more sexual, more prayerful, more interesting, less interesting, whatever it is he might need you to be, maybe he may stop setting out to destroy the family you are hell bent on saving.
…and it goes on and on.
But most glaring of all, you learn to hate other women.
You learn to look down on the women who have made choices that are dissimilar to yours. You have to hold on to what you believe as truth, because the other options do not bear assessing.
You learn to judge how a woman dresses, how she interacts with the opposite sex, what she drinks, how she dances, what she smokes, how freely she expresses herself.
You are cruel to the woman who has reclaimed her sexuality, the sensual one who is not afraid of demanding pleasure. One who isn’t afraid to celebrate her body or her womanhood, be it in a sexy leotard on stage, or being candid about the female experiences we have been taught to be ashamed of.
You drown out the incessant wails of the ever bitching feminist; she is team too much, and has ridiculous and irrational expectations.
You smirk at the breakdown of marriages because you know the woman didn’t play her part; she didn’t turn the other cheek, she wasn’t submissive, she asserted herself to the detriment of her family, to the loss of a legacy. You tskin pity at the childless woman even though it was her decision, and chuckle condescendingly at the foolish woman who chooses to not be married at all.
You seek the deceptive safety of male approval, and internalize disgust at the women who break the rules; the recalcitrant and defiant women who secretly makes you feel somewhat smaller, judged and ashamed; not because they have expressed any negativity towards you, but because they have dared claim their value in a way you could only aspire to.
For if the true value of a woman does not lie in her ability to play ‘The Good Wife’ and fulfill all prescribed tenets of womanhood, then what does that mean for you and the things you have permitted yourself to endure?
And this is why women police other women; some do not know any better and simply continue the miseducation as they have come to understand it. Others need to explain their experiences away, as the certainty of what others should come to expect. They have to learn to love sexism at all costs, and to package their indoctrination as wisdom; Hence one sometimes finds that it is those in the worst marriages who are the biggest champions for marriage itself.
And let’s face it: abused people tend to rinse and repeat.
Women police other women because they are scared. They are scared that to value themselves means to devalue their religion, no matter how superficial and surface level the ideas of the femininity that have been withdrawn and reshaped from it, seem to be.
To question what has been dogmatically drilled into you by those that you consider to be on a higher spiritual plane, opens up a can of worms for those who aren’t quite ready to do the work to decipher the truth on their own.
This is why women aren’t expected to have the best relationships with other women. Some women seem more inclined to tearing each other down, instead of lifting each other up.
Some women view other women as competition instead of as comrades. Some women are harsher and more critical towards women than they are to men, especially in the workplace. Women have been found to make most vile commentary on social networks, and tend to be far more skeptical of other women who find themselves in unfortunate compromising situations (if you had obeyed the rules, well…). Some women will admire another woman for shattering the glass ceiling, and some women.. well, some women would rather vote for Donald Trump.
And this is why I was told I’m not ready for marriage; because it makes no sense to say what you want, be vocal and write about feminism, and remain dedicated to the pursuit of individuality, yet still participate in the institution with these same women who get offended at criticisms of patriarchal systems.
And I would say she was right; I, like many other women are coming to realize, am not ready to see myself as beneath anyone, rather as an equal who has her own part to play, as he has his. I am not ready to make allowances for my partner to disrespect himself, his body, our family, and a union we should both equally value; I am not ready to forgive a man for things he would never forgive me for.
I am not ready to disappear behind the veil of Mrs, existing only as a former shadow of self, wrapping my existence and fulfillment up in a man. I am bored of being expected to pray, fast, shuck and jive to keep a man who isn’t working hard to be kept. I am not willing to put up or shut up; and so it makes sense that I am not ready for the sort of marriage that a lot of African women have been roped into, or have settled for.
I am only willing to accept the sort of union where a man places value in his partner.
Where a man sees his children as his responsibility, not as his play things he borrows once in a while from the woman.
Where a man does not lord his provision of material things as a means of control, and does not stifle his wife’s ability or desire to provide in kind for herself and her family.
With a man who is actually kind, and who likes women and does not see them as objects that have been created for his convenience, sexual desire, or gifted to him as his birthright, but as people who also deserve happiness too.
A man who is able to see a woman as a whole being and not the sum of her parts; who doesn’t put his wife on display, but is actually her friend.
A man who does not see it as his place to tell his woman what to do, what to say, what to wear, how to wear it, when to think, and demand her silence in important matters.
The kind of man who understands that respect is given when earned, and is not his due.
And this is why women continue the dangerous practice of policing other women; because for some reason, the audacity to demand all of this makes some women very, very angry, and they cannot even be honest enough with themselves to examine why.
Patriarchal and misogynistic systems will break down when women stop holding themselves and fellow women to its ridiculous standards.
When we learn to be kinder to ourselves and allow each other the freedom to be who we want to be.
When we stop seeking the stamp of approval of men and placing importance on their opinions of how we should conduct ourselves, and the myriad of ways we should learn to please them. When women learn to start living really and truly for themselves.
Words by Oseyi Etomi