I’ve met lots and lots of girls and women who are what society would label angry and bitchy. The kind who are really hard to deal with because they’re just so constantly angry — because we are socially programmed to deal ONLY with nice, soft-spoken, soft-minded, and just generally soft girls because that’s how all girls are supposed to be. This post is about calling ourselves and each other out on our incessant need to expect girls to fit into this narrow mold, and when they don’t, then they’re being bitches – and that, society tells us, is unacceptable for a girl to be: a girl’s choice to be “bitchy” means, we are taught to believe, that she’s up for mockery and attack and condemnation and other public commentary from society.
Life is hard, okay? For basically most people. It’s extra hard if you’re a girl. Or an LGBTQ or a gender non-conforming individual. Or otherwise a marginalized, ignored member or community of society. Or if you grew up and/or are poor (whether girl or boy but especially if girl). Or if you don’t have a decently loving family and home and friends. And so on. We need to understand why people behave the way they do. I don’t believe humans are inherently good or evil; we grow up as part and parcel of our environments and communities, and they influence us greatly. So let’s focus now on angry women that society thinks should not be existing. Because they upset patriarchy.
See, na, I don’t believe in and I’d never promote anger and a lack of cooperation among people, especially among girls, but I have finally come to understand that angry girls have a right to be angry. And you and I don’t have a right to know why they’re angry or to hate them for their anger or to condemn them for their anger.
Girls are raised to believe that they’re supposed to be nice. To everyone and especially to men and to society. We’re supposed to be “ladies,” and ladies carry themselves a certain way. You don’t raise your voice (when you hear someone telling you this, condemn them to hell because this is BS! Raise your voice as loud as you can and need to! No one listens to us, and when we make every effort necessary to make ourselves heard, we’re dismissed as being emotional, crazy, bitchy, loud, etc. to further invalidate our opinion and our demand to be heard and respected!) because ladies don’t do that. Ladies walk a certain way, they speak a certain way, etc. In other words, ladies are obedient, soft, delicate, passive, sensitive, and preferably un-thinking as well. And you know what, people? The same society that tells you that this is how girls should be also tells us, particularly as we grow older, that these qualities are inferior to the qualities men were taught when they were younger. And that’s not all right. That’s not acceptable. Girls and boys and everyone else should be taught to be whoever the hell they want to be. Certain qualities (like compassion, love, strength, boldness) should exist in all people because we’re all people, and most of us live difficult lives and we need to know how to fight our battles. And we do whatever is necessary to fight those battles.
None of this is to tell you not to be a lady if you want to be one. Please be however you want to be. Be nice, be polite, be soft, be gentle, be caring, even be submissive if you are happy being so – be whatever you believe the best way to be is for you. Be whatever makes you comfortable. Just understand that other girls might have a different preference, and their preference is just as right as yours is.
But understand that patriarchy demands and insists that we behave one specific way (be “lady-like”) so we can all fit into its stereotypes that facilitate patriarchy’s efforts to destroy, crush, damage–disempowoer–every shred of our being.
I’m raising this issue not just because I’m tired of being told myself how to talk in public, but more importantly because I’m even more tired of how female (Muslim) scholars are treated and viewed because of the way they choose to (or are compelled to, really) to interact with the public the way they do. You can observe for yourself how Muslim male and female scholars’ interaction with the Muslim community/public is, and note also how the public is engaging with them. It’s been pointed out to me more than once by more than one person that our female scholars who are active on social media often come off as off-putting and unapproachable because they get “very defensive” when responding to malicious comments against them (that include ridicule of their looks, opinions, scholarship, knowledge, background), while our male scholars generally respond more … “calmly.” This isn’t always true, but in some of the cases where it is somewhat true, we need to recognize that women leaders’ interaction with the public is shaped by how the public approaches them.
I am tempted to give the example of a certain female scholar but I don’t want to use her name in a post the title of which includes the word “bitchy.” This scholar is constantly bashed on social media, mostly by men, and is accused of getting “all defensive” and blocking anyone who doesn’t agree with her (this isn’t true at all). But have we ever paused to wonder why we expect her to be so “gentle” with people who are left and right dismissing her sense of Islam, her scholarship, her brilliance, her voice as “haraam”? I cannot imagine being in her shoes; she has to be one of the bravest humans who ever lived because of what all she has to deal with every day. Brave, besides many other things, also because of too many Muslims’ reactionary attitude towards her– reactions that range from “lolz you don’t know what you talking about; go ask a real scholar” to some serious serious threats. And we expect her to still engage with ignoramuses on social media (and wherever else) who aren’t interested in understanding her, who have no respect for her or for any other woman scholar who deviates from the patriarchal tradition of Islam, whose sole purpose is to attack her and condemn her to hell because their own insecure sense of faith is marred by another individual’s practices and beliefs? This is preposterous, goddamnit!
Imagine living most of your life trying to get your voice to be heard, trying to gain legitimacy from a huge group of people that refuses to acknowledge your scholarship as legitimate and authentic at all, a latent community of believers whom patriarchy has made a little too comfortable in their bubble of patriarchy and misogyny and ignorance. You live so much of your life fighting what patriarchy perceives as petty challenges — because they f’king shouldn’t be so alive the 21st century! — and you’re still expected to be a soft-hearted, kind-hearted, nice, polite woman because that’s what society expects you to be? To hell with this society and its expectations of women. Can you imagine how tiring it must be to wake up to an influx of hate-mail every day (this is the case for MANY women public figures)? How dare we expect women to behave a specific gentle way with their audiences, a depressing majority of whom does not respect and acknowledge their presence, let alone their scholarship and expertise? And how dare we compare their interactions with the public/their audiences with their male counterparts’ interactions with their audiences? There’s also a difference in the way that the audience approaches and interacts with male and female scholars — hint: one’s authority is rarely acknowledged and respected, and the other’s is rarely challenged; I’ll let you guess which is which. But know this: Men scholars rarely get that same treatment as women scholars from the public; the way we engage in debates, conversations with men scholars is intrinsically different from the way we engage in debates, conversations with women scholars. Men scholars’ voices have historically enjoyed far more privilege than a woman scholars’ voice will even in the next some generations.
And men? They get away with so much of what women are not allowed to get away with. We let men get away with it all. They can ridicule women, they can make jokes about us, the stereotypical image of us, the problems that are very real to so many of us; they can dismiss our opinions because we’re going through a certain phase of our menstrual cycle; they abuse us; they promote misinformation about us. They also get away with serious crimes like rape, domestic abuse, murder, etc. (And I actually don’t care that it’s #notallmen. If this “but no tall men are like this!” is the thought that just came to your mind as you were reading this, know that you’re a huge part of the problem we’re facing.)
Oh, and you know what else men can get away with? Shouting their lungs out when they are talking or giving a lecture or a sermon. They can get away with being passionate, being angry, being demanding; they can get away with yelling at their audience to make a point. But when a woman makes her point the same way, it’s because she’s a woman, she’s crazy, she’s loud, she’s obnoxious… and yet, she’s not being a “real” woman by doing so because “real” women, or “ladies,” don’t yell, be obnoxious, difficult to deal with, etc., etc. Patriarchy is so flawed, so dumb it can’t even make up its own mind about women.
To expect women to behave a certain way on social media just because they’re scholars, especially “if they want to be heard,” is naive, ridiculous, and unfair. That’s a perfect example of suggesting that we use the master’s tool to dismantle the house–and, as Audrey Lorde famously said:
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
Women, whether scholars or not, must not be expected to submit to patriarchy, to embrace and exemplify patriarchal attitudes against and towards women in order to fight patriarchy. That has never worked, as history has shown us repeatedly; there’s no reason it’s suddenly going to start working. So here’s to women scholars’ — and all other women’s — *every right* to do, be, think, say whatever they need to do, be, think, say in order to get a point across. Those condemning them aren’t going to magically start respecting them just because the latter changed their attitude all of a sudden. There’s no reason to strip women of yet another choice – the choice to speak as they deem fit. They know what they’re doing. We’ve always known what we’re doing, and patriarchy is wrong, as it was always wrong, in telling you that women aren’t capable of making right decisions on their own, of assessing their audience and knowing how to respond when.
Be yourselves, ladies, girls, women! Reclaim your OWN definition of “lady-ness” and womanhood or girlhood. Be however you want to be, and be so proudly! And love yourself in the process. And anyone who tells you you’re angry as if that’s a bad thing and tells you that you need to change, tell them to go to hell and to please take their patriarchy with them and never, ever come back. ❤