At some point in the previous decade, I decided to major in Women’s Studies. Contrary to what you might believe, it was an extremely rigorous program where I developed my critical thinking and writing skills under the guidance of three women with divergent analyses of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a feminist. While I received many conflicting messages regarding allegiances to Judith Butler versus Adrienne Rich, all agreed on the following: feminism is the recognition of the full humanity of women.
If you believe women are powerful, you must believe they are powerful enough to inflict harm. If you believe that we are smart, you must believe we have the capacity to be devious or thoughtless. If you believe that we possess self-determination, self-absorption and the negation of others comes with the territory. If you believe we are strong, we are able to withstand and accept criticism — or even invective. It’s called dialectics sweetie, look it up!
It’s hard to believe that theory and language developed as part of a liberation movement has been boiled down to “girls rule, boys drool.” And yet - so-called “feminists” are called on to celebrate women as architects of global imperialism, women who would rather see their face on socks and totebags than protect the right for poor women to have abortions, women who exploit their naive and ambitious employees. Women so enamored of their own oppression they celebrate their heelprints grinding further into another’s face.
For those of you whose brains and spirits have yet to be melted by the twenty-four hour newscycle’s laser focus on the upcoming Democratic primary, I am referring a recent incident pitting Sanders against Warren. It was reported that after she met with Sanders in late 2018, Warren told several friends that Bernie said that a woman can’t be president. Or expressed concern that a female candidate for president might encounter some of the same issues as the previous female candidate for president. I don’t really know: I’m but a simple woman who doesn’t know how to read.
You can look elsewhere for conjecture about what was actually said during that meeting, whether or not Sanders was right to say it (whatever “it” was), whether or not electability is a useful conceptual framework, what the strategy behind this accusation leaking to the press as the Iowa caucus approaches. As I’ve said before - I was not in the room, and I don’t know what happened. What I do know is that skepticism or disbelief in Warren’s claims has led some, like Center of American Progress President Neera Tanden or creator of the Shitty Media Men list Moira Donegan, to compare this skepticism or disbelief in a third party’s description of a meeting they did not attend to a skepticism or disbelief in a woman reporting her sexual assault
To paraphrase imperfect human woman Andrea Dworkin, I want a 24 hour truce in which nothing gets compared to rape. Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have been bombarded with detailed descriptions of sexual assault after sexual assault, interspersed with powerful people weaponizing the language used to describe rape in service of their powerful interests. Each time, it shocks and breaks me anew.
I despair when we are called to applaud these deeply cynical maneuvers as truth-to-power against misogyny and patriarchal violence. It cheapens our pain, sorrow, and trauma because the only thing that is rape is rape. We can debate back and forth about the relative weight of various sexist microaggressions and we might disagree because we’re women and thus human and capable of independent thought.
Furthermore, I truly believe that the conceit that any criticism of women as sexist makes it more difficult for women to be believed when they share their experiences of male violence. If a she can be criticized because she is loud, angry, messy, judgmental, mean, crass, negative, prone to outburst, strident - her interlocutors must choose whether to ignore these faults and believe her, or claim that she has lied or brought it upon ourselves. A woman can choose to be a victim or human, but not both.
In 1983, Dworkin pleaded with those men:
I want to talk to you about equality, what equality is and what it means. It isn’t just an idea. It’s not some insipid word that ends up being bullshit…you’ve never heard that from the feminist movement, because for us equality has real dignity and importance - it’s not some dumb word that can be twisted and made to look stupid as it it had no real meaning.
As a woman and a feminist I am begging us all to let words have meaning again, to let women be wrong and to let women be liars, and to let women be human beings.