- Area: Humanities
- Program: English
- Type of Writing: Essay (Analytical, Interpretive)
- Course Level: 2000
- Year: 2019
- Paper ID: H.E.E.126.96.36.1991
Surmounting Misogynistic Feminism
April 29, 2019
Surmounting Misogynistic Feminism
As women continue fighting for rights in a patriarchal society, one might wonder how we have survived when half of our own race, and even some on the woman half, seem to on a constant effort to thwart us. “Sleeping With One Eye Open” tells the stories of women who have mastered the art of standing for what they believe in with intellect, bravery, and class, teaching us that survival takes more than yelling matches and wishful thinking. We as women need to understand where we want (and have a right) to stand as well as where we currently stand in order to properly harness our power to overcome. Yet, sometimes we seem to stand in our own way, adding on to the hordes of people who already want us to stay “in our place.” In order to surmount the trial of inequality, we need to be unified in a more intelligent and self-aware effort.
There often comes a point of conflict when feminism comes up: we either insist we can do anything a man can, or hammer the fact that we are inherently different and should be recognized as such. What seems to often get overlooked, however, is that nobody is ever concretely on one side or the other. Feminists find themselves emphasizing gender differences more or less depending on the issue, the political climate, and which argument is more likely to win the cause. What makes the women in “Sleeping With One Eye Open” so relevant is the fact that they not only recognize this duality, but use it as their strength to fight their oppression.
The story we read from this book for class illustrates this very well. The woman in the legend, María Sabida, is in a glaringly unfair situation where she must use her wits to thwart the leader of the thieves. Surprisingly, she ends up marrying him and seems to have won the battle. However, she never drops her guard, sleeping with one eye open. She is completely aware of the environment she lives in. In the same way, we cannot pretend to have won the battle and place our weapons down. When it seems we have been acclimated into certain societal customs as equals, we mustn’t forget that we are still viewed as different and threatening. In a way, this is good, for it gives women value and makes them a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, we want so badly to be accepted and prove that we can fit in with the male standard.
Catharine MacKinnon explains her reason for being a dominant feminist rather than choosing a side between the equal and difference groups in “Feminism and Politics.” To her, sex equality has become somewhat of an oxymoron because it inherently contradicts itself by making equal something that is different. Difference feminism is a special benefit rule legally and double standard philosophically, while equal feminism claims that we are just as good as a man can be. In either case, the male sex has become the measure for where we set our standard, therefore making both stances play into misogynist rules. Men are not questioned on their gender biologically or societally, leaving women to prove they are actually just as capable as man but had the misfortune as being born woman. When we affirm difference in its dominance definition, we affirm powerlessness. She even points out ways men have used sameness to twist things, claiming it to help men win what little rights women only had previously possessed. MacKinnon claims that we as two sexes have an equal amount of differences, and that is where equality lies.
Put that into perspective: if María Sabida had thought of herself as a man having the same status and structure as a man, would she have won? Would she have risen above her assigned plot in history if she had internalized that she was different from man and would never be as good as one? The reason she is so admirable to the author is because her wisdom in dealing with the situation isn’t from brute force or complete submission, but because she found a balance that would cultivate a space for growth so that one day we could be given equality for the complex beings we are. As expressed in “Feminism as Life’s Work: Four Modern American Women through Two World Wars,” by Mary K. Trigg, the war between the two is a hindrance to feminism. Our goal is not “moving a few up fast, but many women bit by bit.”
In this same book, Trigg covers the conflict feminist groups were facing at the time as they were forced to present their platforms in a way that would benefit the majority of women. A focus on maternal roles blatantly enforces gender roles, but the opposite side created a paradox for feminists: getting equal rights to work and be treated individually as men were would rescind the protection of mothers and women they had just spent two decades fighting for. The two sides were constantly teetering between tactics, refusing to be treated as second class citizens while somehow being viewed as complex beings with seperate needs than men.
A large issue I see with survival is the conflict of self many women face. For example, part of the push for feminism at the time of the great depression, especially those coupled with male allies, was for women not having to work. The argument inherently resulted in a push back for enforcing the notion that a woman should have a man as her provider. As the language shifted from the “choice” to work to the “need,” focusing on a woman’s necessity in the family, “the two often overlapped,” once again illustrating how difficult it was and is “articulating the needs and interests of a gendered subject, ‘woman’ or ‘women,’ while at the same time questioning the substance of those very categories.”
In an interview with Carol Gilligan entitled “From in a Different Voice to the Birth of Pleasure: An Intellectual Journey,” she gives insight to her journey from one idea to the next one. Initially she brings up the term “angel in the house,” referring to the role that women were expected to fill and that Virginia Woolf spoke of needing to kill off in order to become a successful writer. The theologies she was working with were all created off of mens theories and ideas, placing women in positions where they were expected to act and think in certain ways. Even if she was coming from a progressive position, a woman would still have to operate in the patriarchal paradigm. As she was talking to young girls, she noticed one who had a particularly insightful thought, but when presented to others it seemed dumb, even crazy. “How does an intelligent voice come to sound stupid or crazy,” she thought. The article continues with her studying a group of girls ages six to seventeen and gaining a greater understanding of how this came to be. As Gilligan spoke with these girl, particularly the ones around the ages of ten and eleven, they seemed to be at odds with themselves, trying to seperate themselves from relationships in order to create what they thought they should be. She saw that disconnection had been ingrained as a passageway to womanhood, initiated into patriarchy as a coming of age.
This struggle of womanhood can be seen in many authors, as pointed out by Eliot in “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” Openly disappointed in the way women had been represented in writing, Eliot strives to help retrieve the balance needed for feminism. As these women wrote what was expected of them by men, they were playing into the trap that is the extreme side of difference “feminism.” These pseudo feminists advocate for the notion that there was a biological divide made and somehow generalize that to apply to the myriad of injustices arbitrarily inflicted upon women. Once again, we are faced with the standard for equality being set upon men. Eliot strove to have women represented in a light that reflected the brilliant, capable minds women possess, not the dimwitted fluff that people dismissed us with. And while biologically our minds may be wired differently, Eliot among many other women have proved that these dynamics in the way we work are not only of equal value but crucial to complete the narrative of all of us as a human race.
Even so, on the other side of the topic is that men are a part of women’s lives. Simone De Beauvoir addresses this in her book, “The Second Sex,” stating that women and men have an inherent tie that cannot be separated the same way race or other forms of discrimination can. For example, if every single Jew had been eradicated in the second world war, the human race would objectively continue on. However, if we killed off every female off the face of the planet, the human race would go extinct in almost a century. Thus, men played a large role in “Sleeping With One Eye Open.” While it is about women surviving, essentially the goal of feminism is to live harmoniously with all members of the human race. The women in the story were working towards that goal, trying to show these men that we are more than second class citizens living in a man’s world.
If we are to truly be united in our cause for women, we must approach the subject with a more enlightened perspective, sleeping with one eye open for the sake of those who will build after us. There must be a reshaping of the way we view ourselves in the current situation as well as how we approach the battle against misogyny. After all, how can we expect to win the fight if we willingly eat the fig?
Hobbs, Margaret. “Equality and Difference: Feminism and the Defence of Women Workers during the Great Depression.” Labour / Le Travail, vol. 32, 1993, pp. 201–223. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25143731.
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Vintage Classic, 2015.
“Chapter 4. Old Ideas versus New: Maternalism and Equal Rights.” Feminism as Life’s Work: Four Modern American Women through Two World Wars, by Mary K. Trigg, Rutgers Univ. Press, 2014, pp. 95–118.
Gilligan, Carol. “From in a Different Voice to the Birth of Pleasure: An Intellectual Journey.” North Dakota Law Review, vol. 81, Jan. 2005, p. 729. EBSCOhost, libprox1.slcc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edslex&AN=edslex8798365C&site=eds-live.
MacKinnon, Catharine. “14 Difference and Dominance: On Sex Discrimination.” Feminism and Politics, by Anne Phillips, Oxford Univ. Press, 2009, pp. 295–313.
Kallet, Marilyn, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival. University of Georgia Press, 1999.
Eliot, George. Silly Novels by Lady Novelists. Penguin, 2010.