Evil (?) Women

It's always easier to blame a woman. File this under: Eve, Pandora, Helen of Troy, and, of course, Hillary Clinton. While Hillary was running for president a number of articles and studies like this one circulated about how powerful women are viewed as less likable than their male counterparts. As this article indicates, it is not that women are disliked more than men when they are successful, but that "they are often penalized when they behave in ways that violate gender stereotypes." So, powerful women are labeled "aggressive," and "bitchy" because assertiveness is not a stereotypical feminine trait. Black women are labeled "difficult."

It is so obvious (to me) how criticisms of powerful women are gendered and racialized, and it is important to understand this
when we discuss powerful women.

And also, some women are fucking scary.

Straight up terrifying.

Like most other Americans, I have spent the last week binging Wild Wild Country, the documentary about the Rajneeshi. Ma Anand Sheela, the personal secretary to Rajneesh and mastermind behind the poisoning of a local town, is portrayed as conniving, charming, jealous and aggressive, but simultaneously as a kind of victim who is simply responding to on-the-job pressure and religious and racial discrimination. There is definitely xenophobia happening. I totally empathized with her up until the point she started poisoning people.

Watching this documentary triggered helped heal some mild PTSD I have about women in spiritual communities. The dynamic between Rajneesh and Sheela is one I have seen played out in multiple monasteries. The pattern is of a powerful, benevolent, loved, emotionally and physically distant male spiritual leader and his female assistant who becomes second in command-- the target of all criticism as well as the perpetrator of some of the worst harms.

It's a tricky and nuanced dynamic. Because of patriarchy (can I get a rubber stamp of that, btw?), it is harder for women to assume positions of power. This goes for spiritual communities as well as, for example, the US government. Oftentimes, talented women see prejudice playing out when they try to advance and are knocked back. Because of the way the system is rigged so that women cannot advance, these women become even more bitter, jealous, and aggressive.

Patriarchy sucks, but, as Sheela herself says, "tough titties." You still aren't allowed to poison people.

I have lived in coed monastic spaces which were drenched in sexism in which women were absolutely cruel to each other. I suppose we could attribute this to "internalized sexism." Throughout history, women have aided and abetted patriarch by oppressing other women. White women did this in the suffragist movement, for example. Or the white women who voted for Donald Trump.

It would be so nice if the solution was as simple as women coming to see that the "real enemy" is white supremacist patriarchy. Yet I doubt that will ever happen, because some women will always want to preserve what little power they have in this unfair system. It's understandable, in a weird way. Research and writing about sexual misconduct in religious communities needs to consider seriously the role that other women play in enabling and covering for men, as well as shaming victims of abuse. This has been discussed very little, for all the complex reasons I'm laying out; it's difficult to understand how someone could be both a victim and a perpetrator simultaniously.

I only got about four episodes into the show "The Handmaid's Tale." It was just too depressing to watch. And you know who the most disturbing character was? It wasn't any of the men. The most disturbing character was that older "aunt" with a cattle prod, who tazed women, held them captive, and ordered their eyes to be gauged out.

When the apocalypse comes, it won't be men tazing the women. Oh, sexually assaulting, sure. Men sexually assault women systematically. But there seems to always be a woman perfectly happy to wield that cattle prod.


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