Ages ago when learned helplessness models were interpreted, they were interpreted wrong. We found out that the brain’s normal state is of inadequacy and helplessness. We also learned that this can be reversed through experiences that aren’t further endorsing helplessness.
Learned helplessness is a psychological and neurological concept. It’s a long process of attempting to save ourselves, trying different things, finding that nothing works and finally withdrawing into an apathetic state where nothing matters anymore.
Scientists have argued that there are many states of helplessness, some with better prognosis than others. Because learned helplessness helps us understand a predisposition to mental illness, a little understanding of this concept that incorporates the essence of experiments conducted for it is important. We all don’t have it. Not all women have it. Many of us are saved by it by being born into families that value us, or being married to partners who value us or getting a huge break that required way more effort than a man’s. Not all of us have a claim to it.
Many women never learned helplessness. They had people who listened and made changes to their lives and the lives of the people around them based on their feedback. They could see a cause and effect of their presence. They were the dogs who pushed the lever and the shock stopped.
Some of these women had other women tagging along. These women had things happen because they were with women who were getting heard. The women who tagged along didn’t completely understand what made things happen. They just were never at the forefront of anything to understand that. They continued to get saved by the women whose lever was working. But because they didn’t know about the fact that their sisters had functional levers, that is men who didn’t believe in patriarchy and therefore hoisted them proudly, they assumed that why they got something was just a matter of time and some unknown force. They discounted feminism and allies.
Some women were struggling for much graver things. Like aiming for a better life. Looking for job opportunities. Fending for themselves and their children. These women, just because the natural state is helplessness, couldn’t jump the fence even if their lives depended on it. These women were saved by allies, both men and women, and shown how to put one foot in front of the other in order to jump the fence and take the leap.
So it wouldn’t be wrong to say that some of a woman’s helplessness does help patriarchy remain powerful. Her resourcelessness is a tool for patriarchy even though it works against her. A lot of her inadequacy strengthens the status quo.
Since patriarchy is more powerful than any feminist or their wards, feminism can’t win unless patriarchy loosens up. The noose really needs to loosen up at the choke point.
We use some hip expressions like “You can do it” or “Girls can do anything”, or “Women boss”, “Boss babes”, “Super Women”, completely discounting that the natural state of helplessness is the resting state of many of these women too.
Men can’t shrug the responsibility that they have towards feminism. They have to be a part of the movement. They have to make every lever a functioning lever. They have to show every struggling woman how to jump the fence. That’s ally behavior. Merely cheering from the sidelines helped no dog in the Seligman experiment jump the fence.