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Tuesday
Feb222011

« In Which We Teach You How To Be A Woman In Any Boys' Club »

Can't Be Tamed: A Manifesto

by MOLLY LAMBERT 

for Kathleen Hanna, Kim Deal, and Kim Gordon

Here are some rules about how to be a girl in a boys' club. This works for any world you're in or want to be in. Pretty much everything in the world is still a boys' club.

Befriend The Other Woman: Always. Seriously. Even if she sucks (expansion on "if she sucks" follows below). Otherwise you will be "jokingly" put into competition with her constantly, and you will be encouraged and generally provoked by some dudes to do this for their entertainment to take focus off the fact that they are in homosocial competition with each other. Befriend her and press your boobs against the glass ceiling together (copyright Kristen Schaal). She is not the enemy. She is never your enemy. The enemy is always any guys who are creating situations that limit the number of females allowed. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. 

What If She Sucks?: Well, there could be a lot of reasons for this. But if she's being a real scary bitch to you, it's probably just because she's threatened you are going to take her spot as "the girl that is cool enough to hang out with the guys." Defuse this by being really super friendly no matter what in order to demonstrate the above: you are not enemies because you have a common enemy and the enemy is exclusionism. This gets easier the more girls there are. One to one situations are especially harsh, because Black Swan. But it's not usually that hard because most girls don't suck.

What If She Actually Sucks? This does happen. It's not unfeminist to admit that some women are assholes, just don't make it your focal point or judge any other situations according to how the all time worst one went down (this is a good rule in general). Some people just actually suck. Definition of sucks: steals, lies, or otherwise tries to ruin your life in an undeniable way. Feel bad for her and then back…the fuck…away…

What If She's Cool But I Still Feel Competitive? Sometimes cool funny girls are initially cunty to other cool funny girls because they are afraid the presence of another cool funny girl will dilute or diminish their own coolness or funniness. But it won't. It just makes you both even cooler and funnier. Forgive yourself for feeling insecure and think about the way you feel around your best friend. Generally the more intimidating you initially find another person the deeper your eventual love will end up being. 

Why Do Dudes Think You're In Competition With The Other Girls? Because if you're in competition with the men, you might be better than they are. And a lot of them can't handle this, and even more weirdly it's like it doesn't even really occur to them. They just automatically compare you to other girls and not other men, even though you obviously compare yourself against everybody in your field, not just the women.

Why exactly they can't handle this is something that I understand but can't really sympathize with for obvious reasons. The sinister underlying idea is that men are always going to be naturally better at everything than women. That the best man will always be better than the best woman, and that women should expect and accept this.

The truth is that most kinds of talent aren't gendered. Sometimes women will be the best at things and other times men will. The implicit fear is that women are going to take spots formerly reserved for men. THIS IS SO STUPID. The most talented people take the top spots. There are no gender quotas. Tina Fey coexists peacefully with Will Ferrell and Danny McBride. They are just all the best at their specific talent (comedy).

Ferrell isn't threatened by Fey because game recognize game. And clearly I'm really aiming for this to catch on, but it's not emasculating if you like it. And a lot of dudes like it. And a lot of other dudes secretly like it but are afraid of what their dude friends will think. Not caring about what other people think is attractive to oh, everybody.

What If I Love Being The Only Girl In The Boys Club? Megan Fox Syndrome, aka Wendy from Peter Pan. It is the delusion that you can become an official part of the boys' club if you are its strictest enforcer, its most useful prole. That if you follow the rules exactly you can become the Official Woman. If you refuse other women admission you are denying that other women are talented, which makes you just as bad as any boys' club for thinking there would only be one talented girl at a time.

You will never actually be part of the boys' club, because you are a woman. You are Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. You are not Italian, therefore you are never going to get made. And you don't want to be a part of the boys' club, because it is dedicated to preserving its own privilege at your expense. Why wouldn't you want to know and endorse the work of other women who share your interests? How insecure are you?

Drive It Like You Stole It: Be the best. That is, assuming that you are the best. Be the best you can possibly be, whatever that means to you. Absolutely do not step down in order to not threaten people. Don't apologize. If you genuinely fucked up fine, you are allowed to apologize once but then stop apologizing. Think about how much you hear women apologizing for themselves for no reason, or being self-deprecating or self-abnegating out of habit. What the fuck are you apologizing for? For being too good?

Complain And Explain: If somebody says or does something fucked up, call them out on it. Don't pretend like fucked up things never get said because you are afraid of getting exiled from the kingdom of being Angie Dickinson in the Rat Pack. It makes people uncomfortable to get called out on their bullshit, and they get weird and defensive (John Mayer), especially since they know they were bullshitting to begin with.

But it's a function of not thinking about how fucked up it feels when fucked up things get said and nobody else thinks it's fucked up, because they just don't knowwwww. They're not always trying to be assholes, they just literally sometimes do not get it. It is better to engage than to roll your eyes. Some guys will keep trolling you until the very last second. You can almost always get them to admit that they're just trying to push your buttons and don't really believe the thing they are arguing in favor of.

Guys will feel REALLY BAD when they get called out, and usually react by either getting really loud and angry and defensive, or really sad and quiet and weird. This might make you feel bad or like a bully but don't. Some conversations are uncomfortable but also necessary. They are so uncomfortable because they are so necessary. Discomfort is not death. You will be fine after, I promise. And then you will feel fucking great, because trying to protect other people from reality is for morons and chumps.

Non-normative guys who still secretly consider themselves the most macho guy in their friend group get totally freaked out when confronted by real actual bros, because it forces them to face the ultimate self-truth that they actually hate bros and they actually do respect women. They're just still embarrassed that they're indoor kids who are not good at sports, because athleticism is to men what beauty is to women. 

What If I Complain And Get Laughed At And Dismissed? Well this might happen 99% of the time, because that is how men are socialized to react to being uncomfortable. The other option is that they get quiet and squirrelly and weird and constipated about talking. It sucks to have to call people out. But it is important, because that is the only way anything is ever going to change. Women have done everything in their power to conform to the existing power structures (even though those structures generally run and ruin our lives). Straight white men are the ones who have to change. They have to.

You know in Shampoo when Warren Beatty says that when he does women's hair all they ever do is complain about all the horrible bullshit men put them through? All I ever witness is straight men showing me how miserable they are with the expectations placed on them as men, how much they hate trying to live up to this impossible standard and how unhappy they still are if they manage to succeed. They have a hard time acknowledging there are other modes of being because they are fucking terrified to deviate from the known, even though the known is horrible and hurts them.

"Masculinity" is as damaging to men as "Femininity" is to women. Neither is something to aspire to. Women who understand this are called feminists. Men who understand this aren't called anything yet, but maybe they can just be called feminists too. 

Lowered Expectations, The Double Edged Sword: When men demonstrate or betray surprise that you know a lot about something or have mastered a skill that they care about, it unfortunately just shows that some guys still don't expect women to care about anything. Except being pretty and shopping and having thoughts that are somehow completely unlike male thoughts in any way. They think we don't like dumb obsessive information hoarding. They think our brains are wired differently. They are wrong. Sasha Baron-Cohen's brother is wrong (man u so fucking wrong Simon). 

The flip side of exceptionalism for anyone from an oppressed group is the realization that you are only considered exceptional because the system is sooooooo fuckkkkkked uppppppppp. The idea that it's fair and you just worked your way in because you're so hyper-talented is a useful seeming illusion that stops benefiting you the moment it fucks over somebody else. When men are like "wow you're so cool, you're not like most girls" it always begs the question oh my god what do you think girls are like?

Some people will never want to talk about the way things are or how and why they got that way. if you end up exiled or excluded from the boys' club for not towing the party line, start your own fucking club. I'll come! I'll bring a lovely bottle of orange soda.

Allies And Enemies Some guys will hate you for being superior to them at the thing they care most about being good at. They are Paul Kinseys. This generally looks like it sounds, and involves sputtering. Cool guys will respect you and your hustle without being personally or professionally threatened. The coolest guys (Ken Cosgroves) will be secure in themselves enough to respect you specifically because of your hustle. 

Most cool girls are totally fucked up because they are used to guys telling them they are "cool" or "funny" or "smart" and they assume it's a euphemism for "not hot" because they already feel like dudes with boobs. But that's okay because a hundred percent of cool guys are fucked up too and secretly feel like girls with dicks. Straight men are sooooooooo pink inside. They just can't tell you or anyone, because they have been socialized expressly not to. But I just told you you, and now everybody knows.

The idea that men will be turned off by ambition or success is just another part of the big lie. It is meant to scare you and keep you from questioning the system. The only men who are turned off by ambition and success are men that are insecure about their own talents and success or lack thereof. You don't really want to know those guys anyway, because they suck and they will constantly attempt to undermine you, and even if you are secure enough in yourself not to care it's still really fucking annoying.

Everyone feels like the worst awkward looking junior high version of themselves at times and has conflicted feelings about whatever demographic they usually date. The best thing you can do is team up to fight all the lame assholes of both genders. 

If You Are A Straight Guy Who Figured Out Girls And Gays Are The Most Fun:

- Of course you can join, but you have to shut up. I mean, you can talk, obviously. But you have to realize and recognize that traditional male privilege becomes your liability in these situations. The same thing that puts you at the top of the pecking order in most social situations (glass elevator) puts you at the bottom of this one. Get used to bottoming. Realize it can be the best. Think about how intense it is to be a woman.

- If anybody makes fun of straight dudes and the lame bonehead things they sometimes do, you are not allowed to get defensive and say that you never do any of those things. Relax, we're aren't talking about you. We're just talking about privilege denying dudes in general, and admitting that they exist is not the same as being one. The best first step to demonstrating that you are not one is to admit that they exist. 

How About When You're The Privileged Person In The Situation? Golden rule. Don't deny that the privilege exists or that while some people might have it, certainly you are not one of those people because blah blah blah. Nope. Don't do that. Admit that the world is unfair, that there are ideologies and systems in place that benefit some people and hurt others, often one at the expense of the other.

Accept that while you didn't create and don't directly control these systems, you have definitely benefited from them at one time or another. Equality isn't about fucking anyone over. It's about learning how not to do that. Listen to what other people have to say. Do not mistake your personal lived experiences for universal truths or cite them as if they were such. Genuinely listen. Pay attention. Listen. 

Things That Might Happen While You Are In The Boys' Club:

- it will be suggested that you are only considered talented because you are a woman, implying that even if you are talented, you are just "talented for a woman." Untalented men jealous of your skills will cling to this even when it becomes clear how blatantly untrue it is.

It involves the idea that being beaten by somebody who is "lesser" is emasculating and humiliating. But that women should be happy, even excited to be beaten by men in all situations, because women's egos are always discounted as being secondary to men's. 

- Whatever you look like, it will be used against you. If you're attractive it will be used to suggest that men are just pretending to care about what you think in order to try to fuck you. If you're unattractive, it will be used to discount you as a human being entirely, on the grounds that a woman who is not physically attractive to heterosexual men is a completely useless entity, no matter how smart or talented she is. 

- You may be praised in a way that is so backhanded and/or condescending you're not really sure if it still counts as praise.

- The conversations will all be oriented around straight men and their desires. 

- Boys' clubs exist to protect and preserve the right that some people believe they have to make no allowance for anyone else. That is privilege.

- If you dig too deep with some people it will come out that they genuinely do believe that women are less interested in things than men are. That women who have interests are outliers or unusual cases, This is part of a larger heterosexual male narcissism wherein it is assumed that all of women's interests are related to men: that if a woman is a record nerd, it is because she learned about it from a guy or she hopes to meet men through it rather than because she just genuinely enjoys music. 

This is obviously total bullshit. Women have interests because they have their own interests, because they are human beings. They are interested in things. And you can have those independent interests and still want to fuck Mick Jagger, and it doesn't discount the authenticity of your fandom for the music of The Rolling Stones. It's not like men don't equally want to fuck Mick Jagger. That's the whole point of Mick Jagger.

Women don't just like things because some dude turned them onto it. You like things because you turn yourself onto things, because you like finding out what you like. 

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing here.

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