no I don't know why you'd give a shit about what I think women need either
It is frustrating to hear other people telling me how to act or think or view myself as a woman. It has been difficult enough to keep up with the wildly changing standards of how I should look, dress and groom myself (these memes and women's magazine articles get into the nitty-gritty details of grooming). Why do I have to act like a "badass bitch" or "warrior queen" to be confident or treated with respect? I appreciate my femininity and try to nurture that aspect of my persona on my own terms. I wear my pearls to the supermarket. I like men. I like talking about sports with men. I like cooking for men. They eat the food without pretending that they never eat. I'm tired of the wine-guzzling bitchfests where all of my women friends bash men, then ridicule me when I say I'd still like to find a nice man as a lover and companion. Your Substack is great, Freddie. I look forward to reading your posts every morning. I'm glad I subscribed.
The paragraphs about how true confidence is being "at ease" really speak to me. I've slowly come to that realization too. I had a therapist who once told me that there's a big difference between being self-conscious and self-aware.
The latter sounds like what you're hinting at: better to be at ease and be like "you know what? I've been here before and will be here again. Life goes on" than to try and force confidence.
What stood out to me in this piece was a throwaway (or maybe not) observation about what defines a typical (presumably white) guy: "about 20% more sexist than he lets on and amazed at how much lower of a price he pays for that than if he were 20% more racist." Thank you for pointing out what so many people are willing, even eager, to overlook.
I went to HS in the late 80's, a women's college in the 90's and always thought of myself as a feminist, so it amuses me to no end when my two sons (ages 19 and 21) tell me I'm not a feminist. That's because my definition of feminism is believing that women should be treated equally with men in the workplace, should make equal pay, should advocate for themselves and own their decisions and choices. It's about respecting each woman's choice on how to act, dress and run their lives. It's not about if you decide to wear make-up and shave your legs; or if you decide you want to forgo a career and be a mother; or if you decide that you want to eschew marriage/children and just have a career; or a combo of both. My sons see feminism as a set of rules that must be followed and, especially, requiring a hostility toward men. That's their definition of feminism.
What is ironic to me about this post is that I see the current trend in feminism to be the opposite side of the empowering coin: at least the current examples given here are about empowerment and belief in oneself (even if it's kind of a comic over-the-top belief in oneself.) The other side that I see, and that bothers me tremendously, is a victimization mentality. Men are the enemy and women are the victims. There was an op-ed piece in the NYT several years ago that frustrated me: "When saying 'Yes' is Easier than 'No.' https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/sunday-review/when-saying-yes-is-easier-than-saying-no.html
As a woman, most of us have been there. We kind of said yes to a sexual encounter where maybe we should've said, no. Ok, so that's how you learn. Own your choices. You decide, "ok I'm not doing that again." The alternative is the message that women are delicate; they're victims, and can't be trusted to make their own choices. They must be protected from the horrible, predatory world of men. Fundamentally, that disempowers women and infantilizes them and is far more destructive psychologically in the end.
I mean, I personally think it's easier to be a woman. Most standards for women are created and held by other women. No man cares if my makeup is "on fleek," gives a crap how my eyebrows look or am appalled by the state of my cuticles (unless they are gay, and probably not even then).
I'm allowed to have emotions, I don't have to engage in stupid macho posturing and if I'm mouthy and difficult, it's unlikely that someone will take a swing at me.
I've been in male dominated fields all of my life - estimating collision damage on cars, tech support and tech writing - and never had an issue with sexism, but that's probably because I'm scary. I'm 5'3", but I've been told I made managers feel stupid, so if people thought my sex was why I wasn't good enough for my job, no one seems to have been brave enough to inform me of that. I'm self-assertive but socially disinclined, so I guess I share a lot of typically men-in-tech traits.
One "advantage" that I have over most women is finding out very early in life that I will neeeevvveer meet people's standards, so I don't really bother to care about them. I had a hip replacement when I was 7 due to a birth defect. They had to rebuild it, so I have a limp and my hip is half bone spackle. I'm lucky, because I can walk and have a lot more mobility than the kids I grew up around in and out of hospitals, but I'm disabled.
Growing up being called wonderful things like gimpy, faker and cripple - by kids and adults, when they thought I wasn't in hearing range! - pretty much showed me that people are terrible, and it's a source of endless sads to attempt to meet standards of society. Yeah, I still have moments were I feel fat and a waste as a human being - thanks depression and anxiety! - but I'm fairly resistant to how society feels I should be since I know that's a loser's game.
It seems far more important to me to set my own standards as a person and to attempt to meet them than to give a moment's though to society's ever changing rules and standards. YMMV.
This reminds me of the greatest Onion piece ever published:
More seriously, I think Freddie is onto something that isn't relevant solely to women, or solely to the gendered aspects of our culture. What all of us aspire to, and what a lot of Internet memes tell us to aspire to, is exactly the thing that's getting harder and harder over time and that's being *made* harder by the existence if the Internet itself: the ability to live without paralyzing self-awareness.
One interesting thread in here I wish somebody would unspool: The over-culture wants liberal/leftist social justice values, but the sense of self it was us all to embrace is, as you say, downright Randian.
I've been sober in secular AA for four and a half years, and the "think of yourself less" image is one that I took to an unhelpful extreme in early recovery - I thought that the way out of my misery was to focus on making literally anybody else besides myself happy, since I thought that my self and my desires were fundamentally corrupt and irredeemable somehow. It was a miserable and exhausting way to be, and I think I fell into it because it was an over-simple escape and (paradoxically) another way to escape responsibility for meeting my own need for self-esteem.
Right now I think that self-esteem is like food - I need it whether I like it or not, and too much of it or the wrong kind of it can land me in trouble. If I don't take responsibility for meeting my need for it then it puts the responsibility for meeting my need onto other people, which is ok to ask for occasionally but in general isn't the kind of life that I'm out to create right now.
Regarding the extreme esteem memes at the core of your piece, I speculate that such expressions are there because people of disadvantaged identities have received such disempowering treatment and messaging that the bare fact of one's successful existence can be seen as a hammer-blow against the unjust systems that seek to keep you down. You might not be able to instantly change unjust social systems, but you are able to change your patterns of thinking, and no matter how "they" treat you and no matter what "they" do to you you can always fight back by not internalizing what a hostile world says is possible for you.
I'm a white guy, so I don't know if that's actually applicable to anybody, but it's what's there for me when I try to conjure an explanation for those memes that I find to be sympathetic. It's not always possible or right to do, but in general I try to find sympathetic explanations for human behavior that I don't like, since it makes the world easier to be in and generally makes people more willing to listen to me.
Thanks for writing this.
I believe expressing "contempt for contemporary women’s online culture," for all almost online culture in fact, is reasonable. What we are seeing is the replacement in our culture of action with signalling. Ours is now the signal culture. Style over substance has always been a problem, but now it is no longer even recognized as a problem: it is how we are supposed to live.
My generation's women had, if they wanted, Joni Mitchell (and not just women; a few years ago my older brother revealed how Joni Mitchell's music saved his life during a bad time in the 1970s). Up through her album Hejira she told a story of a young woman's exploration of all modern life had to offer, and how as much as she wanted everything set before her she couldn't have it: everything has a cost, you have to make trades. Something you want has to be exchanged for something you want even more. And only afterward you might learn you made a bad trade. That's life. She sang about it. Her message, I guess, was something like, "You can certainly try to be whatever you want to be, but you will pay a price, and you might fail anyway." No one in social media today wants to hear that. But also, "You won't get anywhere unless you try, and baby I tried, and that's why you are listening to me on the radio." Lucky for her (and us!) in those days there was no Twatter where you could content yourself with signalling endlessly while achieving nothing else.
Much of Joni Mitchell's own life has been a trainwreck, so she's hardly waving a banner young people should all march behind for a more fulfilling existence. But what she did, which I don't think any modern online celebrity does, was spell out in agonizing detail exactly what the pitfalls and rewards of life can be. And even though she was a wildly successful rock star, even for her it wasn't easy. It's all there, until after Hejira she decide to stop singing about herself and simply make music she enjoyed making. Another choice.
In my role as an adult mentor for an after-school program comprised largely of Hispanic girls, I often attempted to arouse their interest in Joni Mitchell's music and her message. I believe she has a lot to offer modern women, especially young Hispanic women. But at the end of the day it's an aesthetic preference: the younger people would rather listen to hip-hop and its (to me) toxic messaging, instead of Mitchell's admittedly bruising uplift.
"I think what we perceive as confidence is simply not constantly thinking about yourself and your value." This makes a lot of sense to me. I've achieved a lot in life, much more than I expected when I started out, and most of it has been down to simply grabbing the reins and trying something, and not thinking too much about my own role. When I've recounted some of my deeds to people, they occasionally replied that I must have a lot of self-confidence, and that always left me taken aback, because that is not at all how I would describe myself. In fact, I'm insecure and depressed a lot of the time; but sometimes you have to just stop worrying about that and make a move. And of course I never got anywhere by carrying a sign around telling everyone how badass I am.
It's when I start thinking about myself, about my weaknesses and neuroses, that my confidence falters, and I become paralyzed. Achievement seems to depend as much as anything else on my getting out of my own way.
I think this is connected to the general obsession with superheroes. SAD!
Western culture, especially Americana is prone to the all-or-nothing school of thought. For an ego-starved teenager (male of female), perhaps some of these memes may help - find a sense of self and know thyself. A forty year trying to gain validation through over-the-top meme posting is probably going about their issues in the wrong way. Either way, moderation & nuance are in short supply.
The focus on confidence just absolutely baffles me. The people doing horrible things in this world, destroying the environment, making a billion dollars, starting wars, voting Republican, etc. are all very confident people. I think things would be a lot better if more people were less confident, more introspective, more uncertain, and thought through their decisions more, rather than just "confidently" charging ahead.
Tossed off my first comment too quickly (keeping a straight face at that observation):
The thing about appearing nonchalant and acting as if you have such interactions often isn't quite it, either. A lot of men will interpret that as acting like, "You're nothing special bitch" and think that it greenlights negging.
I'd define it as "appear at ease, unbothered, to give off an essential vibe that I won't call you a bitch, get enraged, and make you want to call the cops to walk you back to your car if you don't reciprocate my feelings." That's what "at ease and unbothered" means to a woman at a bar, or a party, or the beach, or wherever: that she isn't taking her life in her hands by not reciprocating your interest. Men do not have the slightest idea at how much of women's social interaction with them consists of constant mental calculation of how much danger you will be in if you have to turn him down. We do it to the point where it's second nature, and we're not inventing its necessity, either. We do it because we need to, not because feminism made us fear men or any other nonsense. We wish we didn't have to, but we do.
You should look up a workplace psychologist named Tomas Chamurro Premuzic and his ideas of narcissism and women leaders. His whole schtick is that the problems that are caused by an excess of narcissistic male leaders will not be solved if we demand that women act just like narcissistic, incompetent men. Of course generations of women have been saying exactly what he's been saying and been called evil manhaters for it, but he's gotten a lot of congratulations for the idea. And the idea IS accurate. Google his name and "Why are so many incompetent men leaders?" It's much more subtle than the title would make it seem, and his end conclusion is that quotas for women are not the solution: selecting leaders based on competence and not confidence is, and that it will naturally result in a (very slight!) preponderance of women in charge.
Anyhow yes -- blaming us for not engaging in "badass bitchery" isn't the solution. Most women don't want to waste our time on that. There's shit to get done.
"Here’s what I suspect: mentally healthy people, if they still exist, aren’t healthy because of the constant presence of positive feelings of self. They are healthy because of the habitual absence of any feelings of self at all."
This reminded me of Krishnamurti's writings and feel this comment is exactly right. There are way too many voices telling women how to be a woman. The Internet/Instagram culture leaves me with the same "mind your business" vibe.
I used to tell my students, "Your only job today is to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday." I still feel this is sound advice. If people were more concerned about how to construct and mold their own dreams and desires, rather than imitate what they see on social media, maybe there would be less of a need for self-help/warrior princess memes.
"to appear at ease, unbothered, to give off an essential vibe that the interaction you’re having right now isn’t a huge deal to you and that you have similar interactions often."
I don't know if there's a "psychology or some 19th-century German philosophy" term for this, but in 1528 Baldassare Castiglione called it sprezzatura, "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it"
Of course, appearing nonchalant is hugely effortful, perhaps more so than appearing confident. It can also evolve into something ridiculous, as you'll see if you do a Google image search for sprezzatura.
"translation: about 20% more sexist than he lets on and amazed at how much lower of a price he pays for that than if he were 20% more racist"