A little while ago, I posted an article by one of my favourite bloggers, Black Girl Dangerous, on the myth of there being a “shared” female experience. Like the original author of the post, I am not a big fan of the concept of there being a “shared”, female experience. In fact, I tend to outright mistrust it, along with any other claims of some sort of universal sisterhood. Call it woman’s inhumanity to woman, call it skepticism about something which sounds hokey and overly sentimental, call it a lifetime of seeing women in positions of power and authority use it to abuse and belittle their so-called sisters, I just find it bogus.
An older activist friend of mine, however, said that she did indeed, believe in some sort of shared female experience. She said also that she felt saddened that so many women in my age group didn’t believe in the shared female experience, and said that it was definitely, as she saw it, a case of an age gap, with younger women being less likely to believe in shared female experience than older women.
I pondered that for a bit, and I’ve come to hypothesize, if there is an age gap between the belief in shared female experience, then there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why. There could be several, but two in particular stand out to me.
One is the Internet. In the 1970s, 80s, and earliest 90s, there wasn’t this humongous feminist presence on the Internet, or even any Internet at all. But nowadays, one has a dizzyingly enormous access to feminist blogs, resources, books, and stories, if one knows how to look. Non-feminist sources as well, also written by women. Reading through these, I don’t get a sense of there being a “shared” experience between say, myself, a survivor of abuse in a Christian cult, a black mother with several physical disabilities in Niagara Falls, a black Texas transwoman, or even another autistic student. That doesn’t mean that I can’t relate to their experiences or that there’s a disconnect between them and I on living as a woman. It just means that there’s a diversity of ways to be a woman, and I am richer for having been able to learn from them about their experiences, rather than assume that my way is somehow transferable to the 3 billion other women I share the world with.
The second important factor in me and other young women in the West being more skeptical of shared female experiences and sisterhood is that, from the late 80s to the present, women have significantly more opportunities to see women in positions of power and influence. I see women in just about every position imaginable.
This has been good for me, because it’s lifted the veil of misconceptions about what a woman is capable of that growing up with almost no female role models in a variety of careers. But it’s also made me realize I can’t kid myself- women in positions of power and influence are not magically going to put in extra effort to make the lives of other women easier or help them reach the top.
Sarah Palin is a wonderful illustration of this. Her being a woman doesn’t mean I have a shared experience with her, in fact, as a multi-racial, non-Christian, disabled, Indigenous woman who is a survivor of rape, Sarah Palin has taken steps to ensure that, if she were granted power over my life, it would become more painful, miserable, and difficult. A woman CEO of a corrupt oil company isn’t going to magically care more about the Indigenous people she’s displacing to make a higher profit, even if women are among the displaced and harmed.
I could go on and on, but the point is, I’ve seen what happens when women who have either fallen into or climbed up towards positions of power, comfort, and wealth reach their goal. It’s not the kumbaya moment many imagine. Power is power, and womanhood isn’t a magical shield that prevents one from becoming power hungry or abusing others either when you’re in power or scrambling to get up to the top.
Maybe it is me being bitter and cynical. But if you want an answer as to why a mistrust of the idea of there being a shared female experience might be more common among young women, here’s one possible answer. But I don’t think young women are the only ones who are feeling this. I think anyone, regardless of age, can feel skeptical towards this, if they’ve witnessed similar goings-on.