Friday, March 22, 2013

Fear and Loathing in the Ladies' Lounge

I've been thinking a lot about woman on woman hate.  The way we can turn on each other and tear each other down.  The way we can turn on ourselves and tear ourselves down.  It seems to me that we are, as a rule, more likely to destroy ourselves than we are to destroy the system and culture that holds us hostage.

The question is:  Why?

There has been an astronomical amount of coverage of the Stuebenville Rape case over the past couple of weeks.  There has been far too much focus on the males who perpetrated the crime and very little acknowledgement given to the female victim.  So, I want to take the boys completely out of this discussion and focus on the ladies.  I want to focus on the victim of the rape and the female reaction to her. In particular I want to examine why many women of Steubenville and, if social media is any accurate gauge, the rest of the country are continuing  to victimize this woman with death threats, hate mail and victim-blaming.

Then I want us to look at ourselves.  You and me, kind readers. I want us to take a hard look at our own practices of female on female violence and self-loathing and then I want us to think about where this practice eventually leads us.

I think this might be a little scary.

In the wake of the guilty verdict (Yay!) that was levied against the two Steubenville football players who raped a 16 year old girl, an epidemic of victim-blaming has lit up news sites and social media.  It is frankly, disgusting.  However, one of the most disturbing developments that I have read about is the arrest of two female Steubenville teens ( 15 & 16) who have made death-threats against the 16 year-old victim.

Why would a woman blame another woman for being raped, reporting a rape, or seeking justice?

How many of us, the women reading this post, our friends, our families secretly (or openly) judge the girl for getting so wasted that she had no control over herself?  How many of us shake our heads and then take our daughters aside and warn them that this could happen to them too, rather than taking our sons aside and telling them how to help someone in need rather than victimize her?

I am not saying girls shouldn't be taught to protect themselves, they absolutely MUST be, but we must also look at why we are so willing to make this a WOMAN's problem.

Why would another woman insist that it was the victim's fault for being drunk?

(The following are all actual tweets from Women regarding #Steubenville)

I think we do this because we are afraid.

We are afraid that the next time, it could be us.

I think we blame other women and ourselves because it gives us a sense of control over events that are largely out of our control.  If we can put the blame on the victims, it means that we can protect ourselves from the same fate.  If we can create a set of social rules for women to follow dictating behavior, dress code, and acceptable social environments, and then hold ourselves and each other accountable for adhereing to those behaviors, it affords us the insurance that we can control wether or not we become the victims of one of the most horrifying types of violent crime imaginable.

If it is OUR fault, It is also within our power to FIX it, or PREVENT it.

Sadly, this is a lie.

It is a lie we tell ourselves so that we can sleep at night.  It is a lie we buy into because it helps us function in our daily lives.  Otherwise, we might never leave the house, otherwise, we might hold our daughters hostage with us.

And yet, buying into this idea, this idea that preventing rape by adhering to a set of Female Rules of Behavior is not only WRONG, it is perpetuating the system of oppression that holds us hostage in the first place.

It is a sad and scary fact that Rape happens.  It even happens in societies where women are completely imprisoned by social dictates of behavior and dress to the extreme:

Saudi Arabia, a country where women are forced to war a burka and follow the strictest of behavior codes also has a horrific amount of rape as a part of its every-day culture:

Jonathan Turley writes a  blog post regarding an experience that Michael Slackman, jounalist for the NY Times and a fellow female journalist had when they interviewed young Saudi soldiers:

Recently, he went out into the desert where many Saudi youths go. He was traveling with a female Egyptian journalist to meet with six Saudi men in the military, ages 19 to 26.
One of the men immediately observed that it was “reckless” to travel with a female who was not a relative.
One of the men said that it was only because he was friends with one of the people in the group that he did not “try something.” When pressed on what he would do, by the woman, he had the following exchange about first trying to get rid of her companion:
“I would get rid of him and try something with you,’’ he replied. “Not rape, I would try to do something, to get you to do something.”
“And if I said no?” she asked.
“Then I would rape you.”
That was it. None of the other young men seemed surprised, or sounded an objection.
Another example is that of the Qatif rape case, in which a teenage girl after being harassed and threatened by a male with whom she had been conversing over the phone met with the boy in his car and was gang raped as he drove her home

After the trial, not only were the perpetrators of the rape punished, but the victims were punished and then later the victims had their sentences doubled due to the amount of press the case received.  After outcry from human rights groups and the international community, the female victim was pardoned in 2007, which has its own complicated message regarding female behavior as described in the Wikipeadia article:

On December 17, 2007, Saudi newspapers reported that King Abdullah had issued a pardon for the girl, citing his ultimate authority as monarch to overrule "discretionary" punishments (punishments not expressly prescribed by Islamic legal canon) in accordance with the public good. However, he maintained that the pardon did not reflect any lack of confidence in the Saudi justice system or the initial verdicts, and in fact the King trusted "that the verdicts are just and fair."[18]Although the pardon was good news for the girl from Qatif, human rights activists voiced concern that it was not a practical solution to the problem, as "the pardon means that she did something wrong and was kindly pardoned later." They called for reform of the law and clear legislation that differentiates between rape and adultery, as there are many similar cases which do not receive such international exposure and not every victim will get a royal pardon afterward.[19]

In many of the contries with the most restrictive rules about female behavior there are what we term "Morality Police." Women take an active part in the enforcement of laws restricting the movements and behaviors of other women.  The following quote is from the article, "Iran’s morality police target women who test rules for dress" by Jason Rezaian of the Boston Globe:

The government’s offensive this year has been marked by the stationing of mixed-gender*  teams of morality police in Tehran’s main squares. 
In recent weeks, 53 coffee shops and 87 restaurants have been closed in Tehran for serving customers with improper hijab or for other gender-related offenses, such as permitting women to smoke hookah pipes.
Concerts have been abruptly canceled because of inappropriate dress and too much contact between male and female fans. Approximately 80 stands at an international food fair were closed last month because, officials said, the women working at them were either breaking hijab rules or wearing too much makeup.
Those arrested face up to two months in prison or even lashing, penalties that have been on the books for years but have rarely been imposed. 
The aggressive enforcement and stiff penalties have spawned resentment. But authorities have made the case this year that un-Islamic dress is a matter of national security and a symptom of longtime Western meddling in Iranian affairs. Officials routinely cite the improper wearing of hijab as the cause of a variety of social maladies, from women who marry later in life to those who go into prostitution. 

The stories go on and on.  But my point is simply this:  NO AMOUNT OF RULES OF BEHAVIOR AND DRESS imposed and reinforced by society and ourselves will prevent the rape of women. To lash out against ourselves and each other, merely helps to further victimize us and keep women from ever changing the social dynamics that are at the root of these crimes to begin with.

We become accomplices in our own subjugation and imprisonment.

Much has been written regarding women being catty toward other women on a surface level. We criticize each other's appearance and behaviors.  I want to take this conversation a step further. When we take this woman on woman loathing down to a personal level, a microcosmic level, what we discover is our own personal self-loathing and victim-blaming.  Women engage in so many types of self-hatred on a daily basis, it is almost invisible to us in it's more universal forms:

1. The infinite quest for physical perfection manifested in billions of dollars worth of:
  • diets
  • cosmetics
  • plastic surgeries
2. Overwhelming instances of female depression stemming from the belief that we are not enough:
  • not beautiful enough
  • not smart enough
  • not successful enough
  • not popular enough
  • not worthy enough
  • not good enough parents
3. We fall into the pattern of blaming ourselves and ourselves alone for:
  • The failures of our spouses
  • The failures of our children
  • The failures of our marriages
  • sometimes even the failures of the world

The research and statistics are alarming:

young women far outnumber men in terms of self-injury. There are many possible reasons for this, associated with the different experiences, roles and perceptions applied to women and men in society. What is clear from talking to women who self injure is that it is linked with (chronically) low self-esteem.The majority of women who self-harm say the self harming immediately follows feelings of either emotional pain (sadness, grief, hopelessness and desperation), self-hatred (shame, guilt, dirtiness) or anger (frustration, powerlessness). Self-injury can be a way of achieving a sense of power and control over these feelings. Women who self-harm say that it is easier to cope with the physical pain than their emotional pain.  ( )
Copyright, Threshold Women’s Mental Health Initiative 

and from

  • 75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies Source: Three Out Of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating, Survey Suggests, Science News, RetrievedJuly 18, 2011, from (
  • Almost half of American children between 1st– 3rd grade want to be thinner and half of 9 - 10 year old girls are dieting. Source: Rate of Eating Disorders in Kids Keeps Rising, US Department of Health and Human Services, Retrieved July 18, 2011, from ( 
  • The “obesity industry” (commercial weight-loss programs, weight-loss drug manufacturers and bariatric surgery centers) will likely top $315 billion this year. Nearly 3% of the overall U.S. economy. Source: “The War On Obesity" was declared on American soil by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 
    1996. Big Fat Facts Blog, Retrieved July 18, 2011, from (

So, what do we /do/ with all of this?  How do we change it?  How do we break out of a pattern of continuing our own subjugation within the larger society and the world?

We have to begin with ourselves.  We need to look in the mirror and acknowledge that we are not our own enemy.  We must each begin to behave like an ally to the woman in the mirror only then, can we branch out and begin to look at one another, our fellow women-in-arms, as allies.

If we stop spending so much time and energy fighting ourselves and each other, perhaps we can wake up to the truth.  The truth is that the only way to fight this beast of female oppression is by working together to defeat lookism, sexism and violence against women.

We have been suffocating in a death-bed of self-loathing and it is time for us to rise up together and take on the world.

When sleeping women wake, Mountains Move.

*emphasis is my own.


  1. What an amazing piece. You've really struck to the heart of the matter.

    Reading about the stuff in Saudi Arabia, especially, clarified something I've struggled with for years. Whenever I hear a mother refer to some girl's manner of dress as slutty or "tarted up," it sets my teeth on edge. So some girl is showing off her body? There may be many reasons why the girl is doing it and they may be very unhealthy reasons, but universally condemning women who "show skin" makes me cringe. And now we see that even if you cover women from head to toe, they will still be seen as sex objects--hell they're seen MORE as sex objects.

    I am a person. I am a sexual being. I have been my whole life. Even children have sexual feelings. Expressing that part of my nature should not be wrong. It shouldn't be frowned on by other women. It's just a healthy part of who I am.

    This post reminds me that #slutshaming is as much a part of #rapeculture as victim blaming.

    1. Thank you so much, Jenn! It is thrilling to know that I was able to clarify some of these issues for you. What better complement could I have? Knowing that you are such a wonderful writer in your own right makes your words that much more meaningful to me. Cheers!

  2. i think you are right that women blame women because it's a way of coping with their own fear. "i will be safe because i didn't make her mistakes." Fear is something we don't talk enough about. men have no idea what it's like to move through the world with their personal safety at risk, and women probably don't realize their blame could be self-defense. and you're right that men don't rape because of scanty clothing, they simply justify it that way. great post!

    1. Thank you, Deb! I think we women really need to look at ourselves. We are controlled by fear and we exert negative control over each other and ourselves as a way of trying to manage that fear. Neither of these things are good for us nor our position in the world. Your posts are an inspiration to me and I am happy to know that you are getting something from mine as well :-) Cheers!