When Discussing Rape, Notions of Sisterhood Dissipate
As someone who writes about reproductive rights and gets frustrated with the frequently encountered “abortion for me, but not for thee” syndrome, this all sounds very familiar. Some women think: I’m a good girl; she’s a slut. I took precautions; she was careless. We blame each other even when, as Amanda Marcotte points out sheer bad luck is the primary determining factor which leads women to end up in the path of a rapist, with an unintended pregnancy, or as a victim of harassment.
This kind of statistic leads me to think about the title of this blog, and the Jewish women’s organizations it’s named after. “Sisterhood” presumes that women, just by virtue of being ourselves, can find value in socializing and working together. The truth is I’ve been feeling a bit of soft nostalgia for the principles behind an old-school sisterhood version of feminism, the kind that we third-wave, ironic young feminists sometimes distance ourselves from.
That idea of sisterhood, of a universal link between all women, may have been traditionally flawed in practice because its adherents put the needs of some of those (white, upper-class, heterosexual) women ahead of others (everyone else). But the concept that all of our differences ought to melt away when we’re facing these dire problems is a good one, as is the idea of a renewed emphasis on empathy and support. Just as virulent antisemitism doesn’t discriminate between observant and secular Jews, incidents of rape, violence against women, and misogyny do affect us all. And so does a curbing of the reproductive rights of low-income women — as represented by the Hyde and Stupak amendments.
No rights for one, no rights for all, we should say. But too often we let battles that don’t affect us personally slide to the back burner. Patriarchy wants us to turn against each other, and sometimes we’re it’s biggest helpers.
Feminists may dismiss the idea of a giant sisterhood or the notion “we’re all in it together” because it sounds too hippy-dippy, earth-mothery or gender-essentialist — and it doesn’t take into account important differences in the way class, race, culture and religion inform feminist goals. Still, the study above does indicate that there may be real value in promoting some modified vision of sisterhood and a connection between all women (including those who identify as women), because clearly we don’t imagine ourselves in each other’s shoes right now. Once we do, we may be more effective at changing the law and society for the better.