Monday, 3 February 2014

Respectability and the Woman

Do you remember being little and hating to hear the words "you should not"? Or was that just me? I have always been fairly rebellious, and few things irked me more than the should-not's and supposed-to's of this world, so I learned early on to ask "why not?"

Needless to say, I continue to be surprised by how rarely I get a coherent answer. It used to amuse me no end to watch an older person flounder while trying to come up with a valid explanation for telling me not to do something they honestly believed wasn't acceptable behavior. Now it's just saddening.

I think it speaks to the power of conditioning and socialisation that people will accept - hook, line and sinker - restrictions on their lives and personhood without ever asking why. We live our lives, day to day decisions and behaviours informed by myths, and we don't question these things because someone told us so, and pretty much everyone is acting in accordance, therefore these things must be valid.

It is at this point that I like to cough, "bullshit."

Of course, no respectable woman should curse. Nor should she smoke, wear mini-skirts, twerk, use contraception, or ask a man on a date. She should wear makeup, but not too much. She should marry as early as possible, cook, clean, and never raise her voice. She should be a virgin till she marries but a freak when her man demands it. She should have less than 2000 followers on twitter and no cleavage on Instagram. And she had better know her place on game night!

The more patriarchal a society is, the more prescriptions of proper behaviour women are saddled with, restrictions which are almost always designed to limit women's pleasure in themselves (as in personal fulfilment) and their bodies. On the one hand, there is the status of 'lady' and eventually 'matron' to aspire to; the respectable female who has conformed to the patriarchy's code of conduct, and on the other - the temptress, wanton, slut, bitch, 'independent woman', bitter woman, gold-digger...there are probably as many names as there are patriarchal cultures, and more besides.

The thing that really grinds my gears though, is that most of the things women are not supposed to do, men are not just permitted to, but even lauded for. The average conversation about respectability with regard to, say, monogamy/fidelity, vice, parenting (I acknowledge that one might need to adjust for biology in some cases, but stay with me), money management - pretty much every significant aspect of adult life, will include vilification of non-conforming women and excuses for 'non-conforming men'. ('Non-conforming men' is in quotes because there is almost no such thing; men are 'respectable' by default in a patriarchal system, at least until they deviate from the defined norms of 'masculine' behaviour.)

There are far too many manifestations of this phenomenon for me to be able to address it in one blog post. Hell, in one lifetime! So I'll just end this by leaving you with this thought: next time you see a woman doing something 'unladylike', ask yourself why you think her behaviour is inappropriate. I bet you nine times out of ten it will come down to - you guessed it - patriarchy.

Doesn't that just make you want to punch something?

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