Women and girls are systematically oppressed. Feminism aims to end sexist oppression. Yet sometimes women, including geek women, do things that are anti-feminist.
- 1 Reasons for (seemingly) anti-feminist behavior
- 1.1 Believes women are inferior
- 1.2 Believes "feminine" traits are inferior
- 1.3 Enjoys feminine activities
- 1.4 Benefits from being one of the few women
- 1.5 Believes women don't need special treatment
- 1.6 Personal privilege
- 1.7 Doesn't want to harm the community
- 1.8 Doesn't want to harm relationships
- 1.9 Believes it's not her job
- 1.10 Rejects the label "feminist"
- 1.11 Disagrees on a controversial issue
- 1.12 Personal disagreement
- 1.13 Burnout
- 1.14 Coercion
- 2 Constructive responses
Reasons for (seemingly) anti-feminist behavior
This section catalogs reasons why a geek woman might be — or appear to be — anti-feminist.
Remember, no one is a perfect feminist.
Believes women are inferior
Most of us grew up in a culture in which gender inequality is institutionalized. Every single day of our lives, society sends the message that women are inferior to men. Women are just as immersed in that culture as men, so it's no surprise that many women turn out to hold misogynist beliefs or act in misogynist ways.
A woman may accept the status quo — that men comprise the vast majority of geeks — as the natural order of things. She may take pride in being one of the few women who's as good as a man. Or she may believe she isn't as good as a man, but nevertheless appreciates the attention she receives as an anomaly or a sexual object.
See also Honorary guy
Believes "feminine" traits are inferior
Many geeks of all genders became geeks because they were good at things that society has mistakenly gendered as "masculine". (Being good at math, for example, has nothing to do with sex or gender but is perceived as such.) This compounds the problem of classifying traits as gendered, such as objectivity being a "masculine" trait, and empathy being a "female" trait. As geek culture is male-dominated and often sexist, this leads its members placing a higher value on so-called "masculine" traits and a lower value on so-called "feminine" traits — to the extreme that geeks may even disguise empathy as objectivity. Just as a geek of any gender might do, some geek women make the leap from having "masculine" traits to believing that "masculine" traits are superior.
These women respond to complaints of institutionalized discrimination, such as gender differences in pay, by urging other women to be more aggressive, more competitive, and generally more masculine. They may temper their advice by saying that women should not be too masculine — not because too much masculinity is a bad thing, in their eyes, but because women can't get away with it. They may advise women to walk the fine line between masculine-enough-to-be-respected and feminine-enough-to-be-liked.
See also Androcentrism
Enjoys feminine activities
Societal enforcement of feminine activities and attributes on women without allowing other options is oppressive. While many feminists agree that there is nothing anti-feminist about an individual woman choosing and enjoying feminine options as long as other options are available to them, this is not a universal view. Particularly, some women may conclude that they personally cannot be feminists because they prefer to wear skirts or enjoy the color pink.
Benefits from being one of the few women
Occupations in which men are overrepresented tend to be better paid and considered more prestigious. In that respect, it's in a geek woman's own self interest to perpetuate the gender disparity in geeky professions.
See also: Queen bee syndrome
Believes women don't need special treatment
The reality is that a woman has to work harder than a man to get the same recognition. To some women, protesting that reality may seem like a waste of time when there's a simple solution: just work harder.
Some women respond to complaints of sexism by urging other women to toughen up and learn to ignore it.
See also: Clawed my way up
Some women enjoy a variety of privileges and have never experienced discrimination, so they assume that gender discrimination is a thing of the past -- or an avoidable thing that women bring upon themselves by refusing to co-operate within the society's rules according to e.g. Patriarchal bargain and Respectability politics.
Covert and subtle sexism is like air: all around us, but invisible unless you've been educated to see it. A woman who claims that she's never experienced discrimination may not be aware of all the covert and subtle ways that she's treated differently than the men, or may have attributed those differences to her individual situation instead of systematic discrimination, or may not be aware that certain behaviors such as sexist humor count as discrimination.
Doesn't want to harm the community
A woman may criticize other women who speak out about discrimination on the grounds that it's harming the community.
Doesn't want to harm relationships
A woman may refuse to ally herself with other women in order to maintain good working relationships with anti-feminists (usually men). This is a patriarchal bargain in which the woman reinforces the patriarchal power structure -- women only have power to the extent that men allow them -- in order to claim some power for themselves. This could apply to a powerful CEO who risks a little bad PR, or to a not-so-powerful student who risks being ostracized by everyone else in her class.
Believes it's not her job
A woman may resent the assumption that just because she's a woman, she should take time out of her busy schedule to discuss feminist issues. She'd rather be doing geeky stuff, just like men get to do.
Many feminists believe that it's not women's job to educate their oppressors about sexism.
See also Second shift
Rejects the label "feminist"
Many women believe in gender equality yet still wouldn't call themselves "feminists". There is a range of reasons for this.
One of the main reasons for this is the misunderstanding of what feminism is due to negative stereotypes and tropes of feminists perpetuated by media and pop culture. "I wouldn't call myself a feminist, but..." is commonly cited by women who believe in, and benefit from, virtually every aspect of feminism but still object to the term due to a negative perception of feminism. Some are unwilling to associate with some parts of the feminist community even if they agree with its goals. Woman may reject the term to deflect criticism or ridicule from those who believe the outdated stereotypes that feminists are shrill, militant, bra-burning man-haters. (Or some milder stereotypes, such as "feminists never wear high heels".)
A non-feminist may also consider feminism to be inadequately balanced when it comes to focusing on racial equality or trans* issues.
Disagrees on a controversial issue
Feminists don't always agree on what is the feminist thing to do.
Not all people get along on a personal level. If a particular woman does not get along with a particular person in a position of leadership or respect in a particular feminist community, that woman may be reluctant to do anything that would increase the likelihood of them coming into contact with each other or being associated with each other.
A woman may have done feminist work in the past, but may have become exhausted and/or traumatized by the work and/or the backlash that often occurs when attempting to make a positive change. She may not be able to cope with additional reminders of the status quo, or additional backlash.
A woman may have been threatened or blackmailed into doing something that is out of character or in direct contradiction of her principles.
When a geek woman says or does something anti-feminist, you might feel angry, betrayed, or confused. Lashing out is one possible response, but often there are more constructive ways to respond.
Stop, look, and listen
Try to understand the reasons why this geek woman has done something anti-feminist. If possible, ask her. You may discover that she wasn't actually being anti-feminist. Or, if not, you'll be in a better position to discuss feminism with her.
Consider alternatives to the anti-feminist behavior
What would be a more feminist thing for this woman to say or do? In what ways might she, personally, be better off (or worse off) by doing the feminist thing? Is her behavior constrained in some way, where external forces (e.g. risk of losing her job) make it difficult for her to be feminist?
Consider how this woman's male peers would act in the same situation. Are you judging her behavior more harshly because she's a woman?
Reflect on your own feminist learning process
Being a feminist is a process, not a binary on/off thing. It takes time.
- Women must begin the work of feminist reorganization with the understanding that we have all (irrespective of race, sex, or class) acted in complicity with the existing oppressive system. We all need to make a conscious break with the system. Some of us make this break sooner than others. The compassion we extend to ourselves, the recognition that our change in consciousness and action has been a process, must characterize our approach to those individuals who are politically unconscious. We cannot motivate them to join feminist struggle by asserting a political superiority that makes the movement just another oppressive hierarchy. -- bell hooks (Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center)
Five or ten or twenty years ago, would you have engaged in the same anti-feminist behavior? If so, what taught you to behave differently?
Pick your battles
Some geeks are OK with sexist oppression. Geek women are no exception. Sometimes the best use of your time is not to respond.