The End of the Women's Movement
By Karen Trombly on May 13, 2012
Mother's Day is once more on its way out. I'm full of love and light. It's true. But there's something about all this love and light that I've been reading about today that I just can't get past. Something has turned us (women and girls) into a community of commodities. If we're not selling something, we're selling ourselves. We're selling our mothers. And our children. We're selling sisterhood, too. There's nothing wrong with trying to make a living. A girl has gotta eat after all. But lets examine the means.
DEGRADING OUR "BRAND"
Our brand is Woman. Yet we've become living breathing advertisements. You like me I like you, right? We're all connected after all. But what happens when those exclamation points and pet names we're flinging across the internet somehow go wrong. Where does the authenticity go? There are no integrity police patroling the internet. We furiously post and pin and spread inspiration when really we just need to be listened to or express ourselves authentically. Social media is, in fact, stealing our authentic voices.
We're told, behave on social media. Be positive. Smile. Make nice. Post photos of food and pets. Be, in effect, the little girl your father wanted you to be.
You might want to wipe out all proof that you've ever read this post for fear someone will trace your footprint.
THE FEAR OF LOSING APPROVAL
Now reflect. What is driving your tendency to back away? Fear. Authenticity has gone the way of the bullied high school girl. Into the shadows. Into the bathroom stall. Social media at its best is a make-you-feel-good infommercial. At its worst it is the bathroom wall in the girls' bathroom in high school. Let me back up.
I have dabbled in social media as long as everyone else on the planet has. I skirted around it, and one day I dove into it. I can extol the value and virtues of having the connectedness of community. I can wax poetic about the supportive communities out there and the ways in which they have enriched women's lives. I've joined women's websites. I've created my own networks and my own communities. I've gone around and around with this. I am also someone who has been lucky with friendships in real life. I have also been lonely at times in my life, like every human. But generally, I am blessed with good friends. With the exception of a particularly worrisome year when I was in the sixth grade ruled by mean girls, my female friendships have been a source of joy. Until social media.
As I entered this supposed sisterhood, the closer I grew to the "real" people who were shpewing love and light all over myriad social media networks the more they began to reveal and the more I began to see the tainted ingredients that went into the love muffin recipe. Some friendships were forged by ganging up on others. Other "friendships" were paid for. Yes, really. With real money, favors, or "shout outs", the currency of the social media culture.
THE STORY OF C AND X
I once heard of a woman (lets call her "X" babe in the woods) who grew particularly disillusioned with a social media "friend" (I'll call her "C"). X adored C. C swayed X with her humility, her exclamation points, her charm, and her humble sales pitch perfected to a tee. X bought it hook, line, sinker, the whole cabana. But when C started sending X emails about other women "to watch out for", X was taken aback. X started to notice that C surrounded herself with women who possessed an unmatched nastiness and vindictiveness. In fact, unscrupulous acts were happening behind the scenes. C's Ladies deemed themselves "The Gatekeepers" who would ferret out those who didn't buy into their scam. They would then "teach that one (Shunned Woman) a lesson" by freezing her out. They had too much time on their hands. Their children were grown. They had fevers to pitch and bones to pick. They trolled the internet with gusto. They wrote about love and light. They posted pictures of delicious meals and endearing inspiring slogans. Sometimes they were edgy and snarky, which made you think them a little mean and a little likable. Everyone loves a girl with an edge. That makes her real, right? They called each other pet names and used lots of exclamation points. They danced all over social media extolling sisterhood. But if they came across a woman they didn't like, better yet someone they felt threatened by, they began a full frontal media slur. This utilized all the bells and whistles of social media to a tee—they'd smile and make nice in public and then slander that damn Sister in a private message. Remember "X" babe-in-the-woods from the beginning of the story? Somehow "X" became Shunned Woman. This included but was not limited to emails of the most elusive and damaging kind. C's gals didn't call Shunned Woman names we commonly hear women call each other. Oh no. Their ammo was much more conniving than that. They sent around the type of email that we all know the dangers of.
It went something like this: "There's something very wrong with that one."
Yes. That's it. This is what the mean girls and bullies of your childhood say when they grow up. They slander in a slightly different way. Threaten a woman's sexuality and you'll have a mob of women jumping to her defense. Call her a demeaning sexist name and the feminists will come out in droves. But question her reliability, credibility, efficacy, her veritable competancy and well, you'll have a bunch of women backing up, turning their heads, and whispering quietly perhaps with a cold shoulder.
"Better not to get involved with that one," they whispered to each other. And soon, Shunned Woman X was hushed out without ever having a chance to defend herself. Without ever being given a fair shot, a chance to say what really transpired, or more importantly, without ever being given her right to her own voice. Shunned girl, in her 30s, became a version of her 15-year old self, and grew quiet and hurt.
I call myself a feminist. Yes. That's right. I do.
I still think social media is the end of the women's movement.
As a cardcarrying Sister and otherwise competent woman, daughter, sister, mother, and wife, I would like to take my voice back.
Unlike me. I hate to be negative. But a sister with an elevated sense of power and a mission to teach Shunned Girl a lesson bothers me even more.
There is something about the artifice of social media that lends itself to a particular shade of mean girl. We see it on Twitter all the time. Mean girls are not just for high school anymore. They're elevated and empowered by social media. There's the convenient veneer of anonymity to an extent. You can craft your platform, your package, or whatever you're selling. You are scripted, and lose your voice, in order to create an artifice of 1. Humility. 2. Self-revelation. 3. "Sharing." 4. Supporting others. We've all read the advice about how to interact on social media. The Formula. You'd better follow it. Or you'll become Shunned Girl. Whether a tip about the hottest new vacation rental or a cautious word about who to stay away from, sharing has become an art form. And Sharing about Shunned Girl is a new way of oppressing each other.
Safe sharing: "I'm a terrible cook." "I can't find time for my husband." "Sometimes I yell at my children."
Okay. I'm jaded but only in my blogger life. In my real life, I'm as shiny and polite as you are.
You'll say I just haven't met the right women, or that I haven't properly been supported in my nearly 50 plus years, but you'll have it wrong. Sink your teeth in and use this as a boueying post about Sisterhood. Patent tactic for social media.
I can hear the comments now:
"You, Karen Trombly, have something very wrong there. I just have to say that I have found sisterhood and the best friends I could ever have in online communities. The level of support and friendship has enhanced my life...."
I get it. I really do. I know you love social media and sisterhood. I just also know that at times you cry because one of your online sisters has trashed you behind your back and you just found out about it. I know that there are days when you vow to quit social media altogether. But then you talk yourself down and reason with yourself that it is a fact of life. And you're addicted anyway, so why bust out the mustard and try to cover it up? Can't you just be a little more harmless? Do you have to take a stand? Can you just shpew a little love and hope and sisterhood and kick the slandrous emails about who has "Something very wrong there" in the ass or sweep them underneath the rug? After all, it isn't about you.
Until it is. Oh believe me, it will be. It's just a matter of time.
I'm here to tell you there is nothing very wrong there, with C, with the 15-year old girl who was bullied, with any of them. There never was. There was only a girl or a woman who wouldn't play along, who wouldn't be complicit, who might have had a bad day, who might have taken an unpopular stand. When she did, she became Shunned Girl. She was not the first. She was not the last. She was just a pseudonym. A potential slogan. An advertisement. The collusive monster team descended with their gusto. It's the power of the rumor mill. It's the power and threat of being slandered. It's the power of the patriarchal footprint. We've absorbed it. Or maybe it always was us. Everyone is afraid, ladies. That is the truth.
I know I was.
But I realized that shutting up because my fear of being "Unliked" was for a time greater than my courage to say and do what was right. It made me complicit in my own oppression. The fact that I shut up because I didn't want to harm my "sisters" made me a bigger part of the problem.
We're human. Damage is part of our life's process. We weather storms. We sometimes falter. We grow. Who among us isn't damaged? Who among us has not had "something very wrong with her" at some point? Lets be honest. "Something wrong there with that one" makes us human beings. We are not the shiny new toys we portray ourselves to be on social media. None of us is. Not you. Not me. You are not full of love and light all the time. Either am I. Do we need to bleed all over the internet and complain? No. We all have our own problems and our family struggles to deal with. But that doesn't mean we should act like Mary Poppins. None of us is that stupid. Does anybody buy it?
Women are powerful and wonderful and stronger than any of us really understands. The flip side is that at times, we are vicious. At times we take no prisoners. At times, we can be downright horrible. I am a feminist. I'll say it again. I am not against female friends. I am against, "There is something very wrong with her."
We exist in a new frontier. Trending is the new black. Likeability equals profits. Period. The end. Until it doesn't. But next time you get an email slandering or discrediting another woman, use a little of that old-fashioned girl wisdom. You know, the kind your mother told you about? Look at the person who is doing the gossiping and know that you will be next. And do something about it.
At least, in private if nothing else, take "C" aside and tell her you won't be part of the conspiracy against "Shunned Girl X". For God's sake stand up for any Shunned Woman. Maybe the three young girls who were bullied in the last two years wouldn't have committed suicide. Make our foremothers proud and call the gossipers out on their tricks.
Unless, of course, you are on C's payroll. You'll have to weigh things out. But do what you can to stop the slander of Shunned Woman. This is how you change things for women. Stand up and use your *real* voice. You still have it. You really do. Your daughters, my daughters. All of us, we will hear you.