Illustration: Mary Evans Picture Library
This week marks another International Women’s Day celebration #IWD. With all due respect for feminism, and especially women’s rights, truth be told it is harder to be a feminist when you are coming from a traditional culture. The struggle to be Greek and a feminist sounds, at best, like an oxymoron and at worst, an anathema and a death wish via ostracism and alienation. I have written many posts before about the conundrums of culture for feminist action. (Throwing out the Baby with the Bathwater Women’s Truth: Deception.) It is harder to accept feminism and demand equality of the sexes when you have the axe of your ethnic identity telling you, “Vre putana, why are you not staying true to your traditions? You cannot be a real woman if you do not stand by and serve your Greek man.” (If you don’t believe me check out a post written by an educated woman blogger, another product of Hellenic diaspora published on another all male “news” site, 10 Ways to Woo a Greek Man.)
As Hellenic women, we have been socialized to believe that you are not really a good Greek woman if you make demands on your husband. Like, “Koita, maybe you should change a diaper or two. I work just as many hours outside the house.” To act in ways that are truly feminist is akin to rejecting your roots. This is why a true feminist wave has made very little traction in Hellenic societies of the Diaspora. It comes down to either/or. Either you keep your culture alive (by keeping the traditional gender roles that dictate woman must be subservient to the man, woman must do household chores and bring up children, woman must make the koulourakia, etc) or you reject it and become a feminist.
Besides the wrench of culture to intensify my struggle to be a Greek feminist, the biggest problem with the women’s rights movement, whether here or there or everywhere, is not men, but women themselves.
In over a decade publishing on women’s issues promoting other women and politically activating causes that are supportive of them, I have to say the most resistance to the work I do has come from women themselves. I have grown to become disenchanted with women’s rights because of women themselves. Women do such a great job of destroying each other; they do not need a man to do it. It might be a cliche and a stereotype but a woman’s greatest enemy is another woman.
As an example, Ecce femina—Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren has received less than 13% of primary votes in her home turf! That’s even worse than Hillary. And let’s not forget, whose fault is it that Trump is in charge? Women! The 52% of women, white and educated, somewhere in the Midwest (a very traditional and Christian swathe of the country) that voted for him. It seems that a woman would so anything in her power to go against another woman. The results of the primaries (wiping out all female contenders) demonstrate that misogyny, like racism, is alive and well, even post-#metoo even post-feminist liberation. It is a fact that the good people of this country would much rather have an incompetent arrogant man in power rather than an intelligent, well-balanced woman. So many “woke” educated women would vote for a man and support a man in order to spite her own kind.
I’m not talking just about politics. In my personal relationships I have had female friend after female friend after female friend disappear, isolate, alienate and tear down another “friend”. Whether out of insecurity, envy, or even plain miscommunication, women tear each other with such intensity they match any brutal male match. (You know the girl fights in the lunchroom tended to be more visceral and dramatic.) I have been so betrayed by other women, frankly I cannot trust them anymore.
An example is a colleague I had at work. A guidance counselor for Christ’s sake. We were the only two women in a small school you would think that it was wise for us to support each other especially as there was sexism at play. The majority of administrators were male, except for one female AP who was ousted from her position. I would stop in her office on a daily basis just to check in, to get our bearings. We were even considering opening an EEO case together. But I found out she had been confiding to a very dominant male AP all the while. When I told her I was volunteering for the Ocasio Cortez campaign, to get a woman and a Latina on the ticket, she turns around and tells me, “Well, I do not think she has a chance. Latino culture does not see women the same way as American culture.” “What! You are not going to support her because you think she would not make it, esp in the Hispanic vote? You would vote for a male candidate?” This guidance counselor was herself a Latina. She was entrusted in guiding young women’s future decisions about their lives, a very critical juncture in their lives. Here was a woman who was perpetuating the same gender stereotypes she had tried to free herself from. During our counseling sessions, she had confided in me about the abuses and inequities in the male-dominated corporate environment she had come from; yet, here she was talking to another woman, a woman who was also speaking of the inequities to converge to overcome them, while talking to the male establishment behind my back. When interacting with the “big bosses” she had to act submissively, not raising any ruckus. She also dressed in a way that was very male-pleasing—long leather boots, long eyelashes, long nails. She had been in cahoots with the patriarchy while using her gender as a coverup. She was really a male supporter in woman’s clothing. (She reminds me of the archetype of Athena, the good ol’ boy’s girl who gets ahead because the boys allow her to as she really is supporting their power structure). This woman ally was going behind my back and snitching. While it makes sense on an individual level, she might have gotten some advantage, it certainly does not support the entire cause of the woman’s movement. The problem with the women’s movement is that women use the patriarchal structure to leverage their own selves and their own interests against the group’s. Such was the case with my “friend” the Latina guidance counselor. I understand—in a man’s world, a girl must do whatever she can to survive.
I have seen examples of this over and over again. Certain women will use their gender to climb up the male power hierarchy at the expense of other women. I see this happen particularly in traditional societies where strict gender roles are enforced. So, on this month dedicated to remembering women’s rights, I am asking women to check themselves before they break themselves. Are you really supporting women’s rights or just your own? Do you harbor engrained misogynistic bias, perhaps so deep and so hidden that it is not clear even to yourself? Have you consciously or unconsciously attacked/ belittled/torn down women who have posed a threat to you? Or who have acted in ways outside the proscribed roles? If you have, you might be suffering from internalized patriarchy. Women have to purge themselves first of their internalized destructive tendencies and get good with themselves if they ever hope to build a successful women’s rights movement. That’s central.
All in all, it is struggle to be a Greek feminist. Not only do you have an internal conflict between the traditional and “American” parts of yourself, you also get it from your fellow women. And that lack of support includes silence, inattention, isolation if not outright aggression.