‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me
Don’t let me out of your sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights. – Gwen Stefani
A few days ago I was talking to Jae about my upcoming car trip to Seattle, and told her that my departure date could potentially be delayed slightly if snow were predicted anywhere along my planned route. She asked why, and I replied that I’m just not comfortable with the idea of driving in Rocky Mountain snow in Wyoming or Idaho; to this she replied, “You just haven’t shaken off all the boy juice yet.” That’s an especially powerful image coming from one whore to another, so I asked her to elucidate and she explained that it was her term for the kind of learned incompetence that men tend to (even unintentionally) inflict on women they care about.
Long-time readers know that I am not a gender-difference denialist; I fully accept that there are many ways in which men and women tend to be totally different, and believe it’s foolish and counterproductive to pretend otherwise. But there are other differences between the sexes which have little (if anything) to do with biology and everything to do with societal expectations. Take car repairs, for example; though many women don’t care for getting dirty, there is no earthly reason for a woman not to learn basic techniques that could get her out of a jam or save her money (especially if there’s no man handy to do them). My father would not let me drive alone until I showed him I could change a tire, and though I absolutely hate doing it and generally prefer the “stand on the side of the highway and look frustrated until a man stops and changes it for me” method (which for me never takes more than five minutes to work, at least in the daytime on a busy highway), I think it’s still a good thing that I know how to do it in a pinch…even if I do (as per Daddy’s lesson) stop as soon as I can thereafter and ask the first convenient man to make sure the lugs are tight enough. But see, that’s not really helplessness; that’s just recognizing that I simply don’t have the upper-body strength necessary to tighten those babies as tight as they probably should be. And for all his bad qualities, I do have to give Jack credit for one thing: he insisted I learn how to perform every simple car repair he could teach me, from changing spark plugs to replacing a brake master cylinder. Since Grace’s dad didn’t believe in letting her be ignorant of cars, either, I haven’t had to do any of those repairs myself in over twenty years; however, it’s still nice to know what is involved in them.
But even if a woman is as lucky as I was, and has boyfriends and family members who don’t intentionally keep her as helpless as possible, she still has to endure endless societal pressure (not just from men but from women and institutions) telling her not to take risks, not to do anything that might scare her and get her in trouble, not to explore her existence without the help of a man (or worse, of Big Brother). And though early feminists seemed to be making some progress against that, their successors have embraced it and are its most vociferous proponents. “Feminists” demand that young women be protected not only from physical harm, but even from ideas or pictures that might upset their delicate sensibilities, rattle their chains or force them to question their preconceptions for five minutes. And they march arm-in-arm with religious conservatives and police-state functionaries to restrict women’s sexual choices and send armed thugs to hunt, entrap, rape, brutalize and cage them in order to “send a message” that utilizing one’s sexuality to win economic independence is too dangerous an activity for women. Their propaganda reveals their incredibly low opinion of women’s competence; sex workers are said to be unable to place their own ads online, and touring is reframed as a criminal “circuit” in which helpless, ovine women are passively trucked around by evil “pimps”. The idea that the female brain might actually be capable of booking hotels and writing ad copy is completely alien to the narrative.
The cumulative effect of this pressure to be helpless is both profound and insidious; it even affects women whom one would think would be immune to it. Case in point one Maggie McNeill, a nervy, hard-as-nails dame once favorably compared to Lara Croft by her admiring husband. And yet when it came time to plan a cross-country book and speaking tour, the idea of doing it alone never even entered into her head until circumstances demanded her planned traveling companion be elsewhere for the duration of the trip. Full disclosure: I was scared, y’all. I had driven long distances alone, but only if I had friends at the destination point. The idea of not only making all the arrangements myself, but of then driving alone to strange cities and booking into hotels alone, was so daunting that the only reason I attempted it was because I had no other choice. But why was it so scary? What exactly was I afraid of? Beyond the danger of running out of money, there was little to fear; it’s not like I was going up the Congo on a tramp steamer or something. No, my trepidation came from only one place: the social programming that it’s unacceptably dangerous for girls to travel alone far from home. And now that I’m aware of the fact that this brainwashing is still subtly affecting me even after almost two decades of living outside “acceptable” female norms, you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for it. That still doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with the idea of driving in a snowstorm, though; that has very little to do with “girls can’t” messaging and a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in south Louisiana and never even saw real snow until I was 34 years old, much less drove in it.