I’ve been asking myself this question since I read a New York Times article titled “Women Will Save Us” by Charles Blow, which was written in response to Roe v. Wade being overturned.
While it was clear Blow’s intentions were good, the article really annoyed me. The TLDR: Blows says he “religiously believes” that “if this country is to be saved, it will be women who do the saving.” That sentiment sent me down very long internet rabbit hole trying to dig into why people inherently expect women to be “better,” and why that narrative prevails over and over again.
Back in 2017, Maya Francis wrote for DAME about how Black women were exalted to savior status after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in a narrow victory for the Alabama Special Election Senate race. The exit polls showed that Black women had reliably turned out to vote, which was then praised by white liberals as a “saving grace” in the election. Francis’s piece argued that Black women are not here to save democracy, nor should they.
“Black women have been positioned as selfless heroes; we are the ones who will save America from her baser self. Our votes are seen as altruistic, moral, and collective, with a sensitivity to knowing what’s good for the country — what’s right for everyone else — and acting on that instinct. This narrative robs us of our agency and recognition of our history of self-actualization, even en route to gerrymandered polls targeted for voter suppression.” — Maya Francis, DAME
These are the questions I keep asking myself: Do we actually believe that women are innately better at solving the world’s problems than men? Do we genuinely think women know what’s better for society? Is it because we believe those who have not yet held power can run the world better than those who currently have power?
I think that upholding women as “better” than men is incredibly harmful in any battle for equality. Romanticizing the idea that women will save the world doesn’t acknowledge women as real, flawed, and autonomous people, but rather as perfect people who live in service to others. The narrative that positions women as saviors takes the responsibility off of those who have created the patriarchal mess we live in. It also fails to acknowledge the many (white) women who negatively contributed to and upheld misogynistic, racist societal structures (here’s looking at you, Amy Coney Barrett). As Brittney Cooper pointed out — ”It is not my job as a black feminist to try to persuade white women to stop voting for white supremacy and patriarchy. Black women are often victims of the terrible political choices white women make, and it is never our job to teach the people who harm us how to be better people.”
We’ve touched on the idea of women being “better” in a previous newsletter about female founder takedowns in the media. And my opinion remains unchanged — gender continues to cloud our judgment. While I believe your gender may cause you to develop higher levels of empathy due to injustice you are exposed to, I don’t believe this alone constitutes anyone as “better.” We hold preconceived notions that women are more maternal and empathetic figures than men, so we put them on pedestals and expect “better” behavior from them as leaders and humans. Consequently, it’s also harder for many of us to forgive women when they misstep, outright fail, or do something morally terrible. This is in complete contrast to male leaders, who we don’t hold to any sort of higher standard. Case and point: It was announced yesterday that the disgraced WeWork founder, Adam Neumann, received a $350 million investment for his new pre-product company. In comparison, The Wing’s founder, Audrey Gelman, and the original Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso, hardly faced a warm welcome when they launched new businesses after their first ones failed.
Why is it harder for women to bounce back in these situations? I think it’s because we expect them not to fail in the first place, and once a woman proves she’s not perfect, we inherently trust her less. This mentality obviously sets so many women up for failure from the onset. Because all humans, regardless of gender, are prone to self-serving, narcissistic, flawed, and power-hungry behavior.
Of course, there are also fewer historical examples of “bad” women because history books were predominantly written by male historians. And as we’ve written about before, maybe this is why we’re so obsessed with female criminals like Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Delvey — they defy stereotypes of inherent “goodness.” But are women inherently good? I doubt that if we lived in a matriarchal society, women would enact physical violence on their male counterparts in the way that men do on women in our current society. But perhaps we are capable of violence. Gender stereotyping throughout history has also played a huge part in our understanding of women’s involvement in society and historical events, like the fact there were 3,700+ female guards in Nazi concentration camps, who I bet you never knew about, that participated in some of the most heinous crimes throughout the Holocaust.
It’s important to acknowledge the many ways that demonstrate how our gender does not define our innate goodness but rather that all humans are susceptible to carrying out orders or behaviors that are accepted in their environments. It’s also damaging to view anything in a binary way. Meaning, women can be bad and men can be good.
Shocking, I know ;)