Howdy from Texas! Yes, THAT Texas — the one that’s been in the news a bunch this week for… reasons.
As a woman, living in Texas is an adventure — what with the unchecked and rampant patriarchy always trying to help us poor women control our bodies and our out of control uteruses.
So, naturally, this week, I’ve been thinking about moral panic, benevolent sexism, and what it’s like to deal with men constantly wanting to control women’s bodies.
It’s funny. I promise.
So, let’s cinch up our corsets, hide our shoulders and ankles, and get a little bit hysterical in The Fairer Sex Edition.
The Fairer Sex
Men trying to “help” women protect their “delicate” and mysterious bodies isn’t a new phenomenon. Men have been this annoying forever. I’m sure there’s a cave somewhere with paintings by a fed up cave woman decrying her dealings with the Paleolithic men in her life.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Victorian-Era disorder in The Bicycle Face Edition which was a VERY REAL imaginary disease created by men to scare women away from the freedom of riding a bicycle. What if I told you, dear reader, that bicycle face had an even funnier cousin in “Train Uterus?”
“Critics of early steam-spewing locomotives . . . thought “that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour,” and worried that “[female passengers’] uteruses would fly out of [their] bodies as they were accelerated to that speed”’ — Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell
Okay, well that was a bunch of train dudes in the early 1900’s. Surely, by midcentury, men figured out that women are no diff —
“In a 1964 report . . . the question was raised whether a menstrual cycle would affect a woman’s ability to work in space. The implication is clear: a menstruating or hormonal woman just wouldn’t be able to handle herself in the challenging environment of spaceflight.” — Amy Shira Teitel for Popular Science
I get it. Women’s bodies have been driving men BONKERS forever. There’s a fantastic podcast episode of Lady Science which discusses this topic in more detail: Bonkers Things Men Have Said About Women's Bodies, A History.
Many of the concerns listed above can be viewed through a lens of care: “Oh, the men were just helping all those delicate uteruses stay put! How nice of them!” or “We don’t want women dying in space! Come on!” Meanwhile women were being left at home and told they couldn’t ride bikes or trains or jetpacks (probably).
In social psychology, these seemingly-positive-yet-still-somewhat-unsettling comments and behaviors have a name: Benevolent Sexism. Although it is tempting to brush this experience off as an overreaction to compliments or a misunderstanding of benign intent, benevolent sexism is both real and insidiously dangerous. — Melanie Tannenbaum for Scientific American
The French comic, Emma has a fantastic comic that illustrates the challenges that benevolent sexism create for women in the workplace. Click the image below to read the whole thing.
When most people think of sexism, we tend to think of hostile sexism, that’s the gross Cool Ranch Doritos flavor of sexism. We’re used to it. We know it exists. We try to avoid eating it.
Benevolent sexism is tricky. It’s like a bag of regular ol’ Nacho Cheese Doritos. It seems harmless, tastes fine, but is actually filled with lots of stuff that’s bad for us.
Okay, so how did we start by talking about Texas’ new law essentially overturning Roe v. Wade and end up talking about sexism? Surprise! It’s all connected.
There’s one more link in this chain and that’s our old friend, moral panic!
“A moral panic is a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society at large.” — A Sociological Understanding of Moral Panic
It doesn’t take much to create a wide-spread moral panic. Usually, all it takes is a challenge to an existing power structure. Think Salem witch trials, the war on drugs, the satanic panic, even QAnon.
Although the aims, forms, dynamics, and outcomes of moral panics vary throughout history, they have, with isolated exceptions, been initiated by powerful interest groups to manage the bodies and behavior of threatening groups—often, the poor and powerless. — Britannica
Moral panics are useful tools to foster social control under the guise of protection. And who needs the most protecting according to western patriarchy? Delicate bodies. Female bodies. Women just can’t be trusted to make decisions on how they use them.
Sooooo, it all comes together there, right? Take a big scoop of traditional American-flavored patriarchy, sprinkle it with benevolent sexism, and cover it in some sweet, syrupy moral panic and you’ve got yourself a giant step-back-in-time-for-women’s-rights-in-Texas sundae!
Well, I’m lactose intolerant.
I’ll be working every day to see this sundae removed from the menu. Women deserve to be trusted with our bodies and our choices.
Okay, that’s it for this edition! We’ve had a TON of new people join us this past month and I just want to say — Welcome! I’m so happy you’re here and I swear I don’t always talk about flying uteruses!
I will, however, always stan The Simpsons.
Until next time,
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Ugh. Cool ranch Dorito patriarchy is the worst flavour of patriarchy. This was a great piece that had lots of cool jumping off points for further reading! Sorry about Texas, the situation there is truly fucked up.