Recently a man told me I should stop interfering.
I didn’t take it well.
Soon after that interaction, I came across a collection of anti-suffragette postcards featured on The Huffington Post. One postcard shows a room full of buck-toothed, bug-eyed women with the text: “At the suffragette meetings you can hear some plain things—and see them too!” The message: If you agree with women’s right to vote, you’re an unattractive woman.
Another postcard features the face of an anguished child, tears streaming down his face with the words: “Mummy’s a Suffragette.” Here the message is: If you’re a woman who wants the right to vote, you’re a bad mother.
A third postcard shows a shapely woman in a red dress and heels, kissing a man who seems thrown off by her passion. Underneath is written: “Suffragette vote-getting the easiest way.” In other words, if you’re a woman who is having any success as a suffragette, it’s because you’re a minx.
These troubling postcards are artifacts of a less enlightened time. I know such messages wouldn’t be tolerated today. And yet, these tactics remain in less obvious ways. Their subtlety today actually makes them more dangerous, and they continue to have real effects on women and men.
Which brings me back to my difficult interaction. When I took time to reflect on why the words “Stop interfering” caused such a strong reaction in me, I realized that I heard: “Stop being the kind of woman who is meddlesome and manipulative.” Regardless of what he was trying to communicate, I felt like I’d been caricatured.
Unfair Caricatures of Women
Our culture has created caricatures of women. And we, as women, subconsciously work very hard to create identities defined by our avoidance of them. Sometimes the caricatures are purposefully used against us to keep us in check. Sometimes the popular caricatures of women shape others’ interactions with us without them even being aware. Either way, it’s time to name them and free ourselves from the shame they often evoke.
Here are some caricatures that trigger shame in me:
1. The emotionally unstable woman
2. The illogical woman
3. The manipulative, interfering woman
3. The childish woman
4. The mannish woman
5. The promiscuous woman
6. The vacuous woman
7. The indecisive, dithering woman
8. The nagging woman
9. The ambitious woman
10. The non-maternal woman
11. The unattractive woman
12. The bad mother