What's Wrong with the Girls?

A bunch of people have emailed me the link to this story in the New York Times about attitudes toward domestic violence among teens. The victim-blaming is just incredible.

What most struck me was this passage:
Boys who condone Mr. Brown's behavior disappoint, but don't shock Marcyliena Morgan, executive director of Harvard's hip-hop archive. "But it's the girls!" she said. "Where have we gone wrong here?"
As if boys and girls grow up in a different culture. As if girls who are told they are less than over and over and over, in myriad ways, throughout their entire lives, who see rape and violence against women served up as the butt of jokes and consumable entertainment, are just going to spontaneously reject all of that and create an alternative viewpoint for themselves in which abuse against women is wrong. As if, in a culture that communicates to girls from birth that their worth is largely determined on their ability to "get a man," girls will spontaneously reject the narratives that excuse men's behavior and demonize their female victims. As if girls will spontaneously be self-reflective enough to identify they blame victims because they deeply fear being one, and because society defines victims as "weak," and we tell girls to be "strong." As if girls can just be brought up in a patriarchy and expected to spontaneously free themselves from its stranglehold.

Why do we expect that of girls, but not of boys? If you're arguing that it's perfectly logical that boys should condone violence against women, then you're essentially just arguing that boys are socialized by their culture. And if you're arguing that it's consternatingly inexplicable that girls should condone violence against women, then you're essentially arguing that girls should be magically resistant to their socialization. That's fair.

Where have we gone wrong with girls? The same place we've gone wrong with boys: Not providing them alternative narratives, that's where. It doesn't do girls any fucking good if we just throw up our hands and say, "Well, of course boys excuse rape and violence against women," and take that as read, so we can move on and wonder what's wrong with the girls. Talk about victim-blaming.

Women and girls don't come to feminism/womanism after waking up one day with the tenets and narratives of equality and autonomy fully formed in their heads. If we're lucky, someone in our lives introduces us to some of these ideas, but most of us have to seek it out, or stumble across it in the middle of a struggle to come to terms with the fucked-up fucking fuckery that is living in a culture steeped in messaging that tells us we're second-class at best and worthless pieces of shit who don't even meet the basic qualifications for personhood at worst.

And our deliverance, the means by which we are conveyed from the self-loathing of less than, and the space we've made in which to do it, is still considered a fucking ghetto.

That's not my characterization. That's the phrase used by the "progressive" male bloggers who have asked me if I don't get tired of languishing in the feminist ghetto. Wouldn't I like to lift myself out of the ghetto? If I'd just stick to writing about politics, and shitcan all that strident feminist stuff, I could escape the ghetto.


One man's ghetto is another woman's salvation.

Where have we gone wrong with girls? By allowing womanism/feminism to be rendered to the margins—ignored, demonized, ridiculed, caricatured, dismissed. By allowing its advocates and practitioners to be harassed, threatened, intimidated, mocked, abused. By treating as a ghetto all the spaces in which young women might come to the ideas that underlie a belief that violence against women is wrong, that no woman "deserves it." By expecting girls to somehow be above a culture that keeps its boot firmly planted on their goddamn throats.

We, we feminists/womanists, are a fractured, disorganized contingent, for whom the solidarity we seek is often elusive—and yet we are nonetheless treated like a virulent virus that must be destroyed because our ideas are powerful. And they are also, for so many young women, inaccessible.

Where have we gone wrong with girls? By treating as a plague the antidote to what ails them. By pretending we want them to live their lives in a way only womanism/feminism can allow them, but withholding the tools at every fucking turn.

This article was filed in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times.

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