In regards to the discourse on women’s struggles, there is a tendency to overlook the emotional and/or psychological effects of patriarchy on women. We focus on seemingly abstract concepts of power and control, and discuss concrete examples of oppression, inequality, and violence. Although these topics need to remain on the forefront of discussion, we should also be mindful of how patriarchy affects the emotional and psychological health of women in society.
From youth, women are socialized to be less than. Cartoons and childhood storybooks mirror normative behaviors and gender roles: men are the strong protectors and women are weak and in need of protecting. Commercials and magazines frequently depict half-naked women in provocative poses. We are taught that our bodies are for pleasuring and amusing men. We learn to equate love with objectification, violence, and exploitation. Women quickly realize that we live in a “man’s” world, and that to achieve any level of success and respect, we’d have to work twice as hard.
Recent studies have revealed that one in six American women have experienced a sexual assault, and one in four women have survived some form of domestic abuse. As a counselor at a domestic violence and sexual assault center, I can testify to the high level of emotional support needed after such acts of violence. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I can attest that the effects of trauma are life-long.
For the men out there: Imagine growing up “female” in a society where the victimization and objectification of women is commonplace. Imagine yourself as a young girl-a girl who is inundated with sexual depictions of women. Very few images exist of strong, smart, professional women. As a young girl in a patriarchal society, even those closest to you mirror what was learned in storybooks: men are the authority and women should obey. Sadly in such a society, you have few role models exemplifying healthy, egalitarian relationships. In addition to the above mentioned, imagine yourself as a victim of sexual assault or physical abuse. The combined effects of socialization and victimization weigh heavy on your psyche. Your sense of self-efficacy and self-worth are diminished. You have learned your role in society: you are an object.
You may be wondering what this has to do with radical groups like the I.W.W. I would respond by saying that it has everything to do with groups like the I.W.W. The organization is comprised of both men and women. It is highly likely that many of the women in the organization will bring with them a history of trauma-whether the trauma was an act of violence, discrimination, or experiences of objectification. Many women join radical communities because of their past. We want to help others by creating an egalitarian society, and we expect those we work with to share similar values and ideals. Whether naively or not, we expect male comrades to understand how patriarchy functions and anticipate that groups like the I.W.W will be a safe haven from the discrimination, objectification, and violence we endure in broader society. Unfortunately, my experience has shown otherwise. Mirroring our experiences in broader society, women in the movement are victims of violence and repeatedly find themselves combating sexism and male chauvinism. The emotional damage created by the behaviors of male comrades can be even more devastating because we expect more from men in these circles.
If women cannot find respite in radical groups like the I.W.W, what hope do we have for systemic change? Radical women find themselves overwhelmed from combating a force that seems too powerful to overcome. Patriarchy can only be irradiated if both women and men take an active role dismantling it.
Despite the pessimistic tone of the article, I do maintain hope. I came across this blog and was immediately taken aback by the honesty of the men writing. The men in this blog are willing to take an honest look at not only their own behaviors, but the behaviors of other men in the movement. Hopefully the dialogue in this blog will pave the way for further conversations and subsequent change not only within the I.W.W. but within the movement.