A lot of the things that white feminism taught us have continued to be foundations of current feminist movements. Many people who have viewed women differently since the arrival of the debate for equal rights have still not been able to break out of their conditioned responses when abuse is talked about. The conditioning gets stronger when white feminism makes the “empowered” woman a savior of all women. People think that women who appear apparently empowered aren’t abused or coerced. They also think that abuse and abused have a bigger relationship than abuse and the abuser. This is setting us back and let me show you how.
To lay a background to this morbid story, let’s see how white feminism describes empowered women. These are usually women born into a stratum of the society that doesn’t face poverty. They work and bring a paycheck or they are from wealth or they’re married into wealth. These women are loud, outspoken, feministic in their ideas, genetically “better” and socially above most women. Since the entire premise of privilege is patriarchy and which side of it a woman falls on, these women are considered empowered just because they have been knighted by the most patriarchal of all the patriarchs.
This isn’t a subtle message. A woman is aware of it. That she is considered a leveraged entity isn’t lost on her. That she is somehow better than other women around her is her identity many a time.
The problem with having a patriarchal script of empowerment is in the helplessness it induces. When women who have been made to believe in their power when they actually don’t have any, they learn to live close to patriarchy and essentially, work for it.
Abuse in relationships isn’t a unique concept to any woman in the world. And yet, many women deny ever being abused. They vehemently deny the existence of emotional abuse, psychological abuse or even physical abuse. Many women themselves don’t recognize abuse as a function of the abuser. They see it as a failure of their own functions of strength.
I won’t deny that many women get tremendous support when they report abuse. Even though the support comes from strangers who have no true stake in this support business because they’re not socially connected to this woman. Support and its offerings change when social connections are to reckon with. That’s for another blog.
But you can’t deny either that many seemingly empowered and powerful women suffer abuse and feel shame for it. This is the patriarchal script that I wanted you to see in the beginning of the blog. Patriarchy has taught you how to have misogyny for your abused self. Internalized misogyny has many colors.
When you work, make your own money, raise your kids alongside many other women who belong to high echelons of the society, attend parties with your husband on your arm, have an apparently great marriage, you’re denied the right to report. And you aren’t denied it directly. You are raised to believe that abuse happens to weak women and you are raised with superficial tools to ward off abuse, given to you by white feminism that takes inspiration from the patriarchy.
There’s shame in admitting to abuse. It should’ve been the other way around. But unfortunately, social structures ensure silence and a big way to ensure it is through internalized misogyny. Women are made to feel like abuse came to them because of something that they did. While marital abuse is common, even abuse by their children is suffered by a woman because she thinks she raised them wrong.
When you add social markers of success to abuse to a woman, it’s a complex disarray of feelings. She always thought that abuse happened to the woman who depended on someone for money. That rape was for unmarried women or prostitutes or women who invited it. That financial coercion was for women who didn’t know how to manage their own money. That infidelity happens because the wife isn’t attractive enough or attentive enough or compliant enough. The list goes on.
Can I say that sometimes the people who shame these seemingly empowered women are other women? The scarcity mindset that patriarchy has programmed us with is so egregious that when a woman suffers, another woman is sometimes happy. She’s happy by comparison. “Maybe I didn’t go to school but what good did that do to her?” We ignore, due to our own affinity for the patriarchy, that if two women, one who is educated and the other who is not, are dealt the same cards socially then it is undoubtedly a bias against our gender.
So I never ignore a cry for help. I don’t dismiss someone’s phone call about “something important in my personal life”. I don’t think “she has others to call” or “what could she possibly be going through? She has everything”.
I don’t ignore it ever anymore because sometimes the women with every patriarchal luxury that money could afford have a lot of shame in admitting that they are abused and their abuser is their patriarch. We can end the shame by believing victims.