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My Raging Narcissism: Now Including 51% of the Earth’s Population!

Friends, I got a very smart and intriguing comment this morning! It is from Ashley! Ashley points out:
I notice a theme that interests me… Several of the commenters say that you need to “get over yourself,” that “it’s not all about you,” or some variation on the theme that a feminist critique is somehow narcissistic… I am interested in what they are trying to say, because I recently had a guy say a similar thing to me when I made a feminist critique of something he liked.

I’m beginning to smell an anti-feminist trope that I hadn’t particularly noticed before. Theories?

Well, Ashley, I’m glad you asked! Your insightful comment has inspired – yes, inspired - me to write a blog post that is, to a disconcerting degree, All About Me. Because one of the chief points I want to make, concerning feminist critique in general, and (for a more specific example) the feminist critiques leveled by Me, is that most of them are not All About the writer. So, why would someone argue otherwise?

Here is the first and simplest answer: feminist critique is, typically, about women. To be more specific, it is pro-women, and anti-things-that-oppress-women. I am, as it turns out, a woman! As are many feminists! Therefore, when people who don’t care for things such as “reading” or “analyzing arguments” or “paying attention on the most basic level imaginable” read or hear pro-woman critiques from women, they often assume that the person talking about women in general must be talking, specifically and entirely, about her own personal self. At best, they think, she is feigning concern for other women, in order to cover up the fact that she is upset about things that affect her, and would like her own life to be easier.

Now, as far as I am concerned, this is a stinging and terrible and on-point critique, if you assume that being a woman is the single defining factor of my identity. If, that is, you assume that the only thing going through my brain at all times is “woman, woman, woman, woman, woman: boy howdy, am I ever a woman,” it would make total sense.

Unfortunately, however, I am not every woman, it is not all in me, there are plenty of other things that comprise the marvelous package that is Sady, and if I wanted to write about issues that affect me, specifically, I would be doing precisely that. I would not be writing about gender in society, but about 5’4″ brunette white straight women from the Midwestern suburbs who moved to New York six years ago, spend too much time on the Internet, are moving in with their boyfriends at the end of the month, just got moved from full-time to part-time at their jobs due to the ongoing economic fucktastrophe, and need to buy new copies of Microsoft Word but aren’t sure they can afford it given the economic fucktastrophe thing. “WHY DOES MICROSOFT OFFICE COST SO DAMN MUCH: A Problem for Society Today,” my post titles would go, if I were doing such a thing. Or: “I CAN’T REACH THE TOP SHELF: Why Are There Things Up There, Which I Cannot Reach? How Did That Happen?”

This would be very boring! The fact is that I write about gender specifically because it is a thing that fascinates me, and that I like to read and think about, which is pretty much by definition not All About Me. As it turns out, around 51% of the people on Earth are ladies, and I am only one of them! I would assume that most other feminist writers, who spend hours researching and studying issues that affect women, are not doing it specifically so that they can write about themselves, when the fact is that they could do that just by registering and writing at WhyIsThereSoMuchCatHairOnMyCouch.wordpress.com, which would require no research whatsoever. At least, not into anything but the source of the cat hair.

Let’s pretend it is About Me, though, for the moment. Let’s assume that you, and I, and every woman who has ever leveled a feminist critique, have in fact done so because we are upset about things that affect us personally, and would like our own lives to be easier. Let’s assume that we don’t care about the fact that these things also affect other women (which would totally explain the amount of time we spend thinking about and talking about and seeking to understand or counteract their effects on those women, right?) and are only concerned with the things that happen to our own personal selves. Because the next question is: why is that so bad?

“Narcissistic” and “selfish” are, for some reason, particularly potent insults to aim at women. Narcissism or selfishness have been offered as an explanation for lesbianism, female masturbation, “frigidity” and/or clitoral orgasms (yes, ladies, if a dude is not getting you off, it’s because you don’t care about his feelings), women not wanting to get married, women not wanting children, women wanting jobs, women wanting children without marriage, women wanting marriage without children, women wanting children and/or marriage without jobs, women wanting marriage and/or children and jobs, women being successful at their jobs, and basically anything else that even slightly resembles self-esteem. Dudes can get the “selfish” label, too, but they actually have to work at it (in spite of the fact that actual narcissism, the kind that is a personality disorder, is diagnosed mostly amongst men): all a woman has to do is think about or talk about or act on behalf of herself even a little, and the whole stereotype of the self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-enthralled ladyperson comes down instantly upon her head.

The reason for this – the reason that any level of self-involvement is so terrifyingly repugnant and hideous in women – is that, basically, women aren’t supposed to have selves. You know the drill: we’re empathetic not objective, relationship-driven not goal-driven, givers not takers, team players not leaders, feelers not thinkers, and boundless sources of love and compassion and fluffy sparkly puppy twinkly fairy snuggly wuggly bullshit. Women – REAL women, that is – are supposed to be willing to put others first, all the time, no matter what. So, when you voice anything along the lines of, “can we please stop pretending that your comfort is the most important thing in the world and focus on the crap you just pulled,” somebody is going to get deeply offended, because: you are not playing the game right! You are not supposed to refuse to take shit; you are supposed to put various multi-colored sprinkles on it and pretend that it is a delicious chocolate sundae!

Now, here is where we dive from the heights of generality into the lovely, welcoming depths of talking about voicing feminist critique, because: the fact is that, to do this, you do have to have an unladylike amount of self-esteem. Something in your brain has to click – to go from, “huh, that is sort of messed up,” straight to, “what I have to say about this is important – important enough to interest others!” You, basically, have to stop looking for permission to have an opinion. This scares the hell out of people.

Andrea Dworkin, a lady with whom I have a ton of disagreements, actually pretty much summed up the entire Tiger Beatdown Approach to Cultural Criticism when she wrote this:

[This book] does not narrate my experience in order to measure it against Norman Mailer’s or D.H. Lawrence’s. The first person is embedded in the way the book is built. I use Tolstoy, Kobo Abe, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Isaac Bashevis Singer, not as authorities, but as examples: I use them; I cut and slice into them in order to exhibit them; but the authority behind the book – behind each and every choice – is mine… I love the literature these men created; but I will not live my life as if they are real and I am not. Nor will I tolerate the continuing assumption that they know more about women than we know about ourselves.

And, as we all know, everyone loved Andrea Dworkin and she never had any problems and her opinions were always listened to and debated respectfully and thoughtfully, forever, The End.

Oh, wait! That is totally not what happened! Sorry!

No, what happened is what always happens: people tried to silence her, and they did this, first and foremost, by attacking her as a person. Because, if you don’t like someone, there’s no way they could possibly be right! Is what a second-grader, or exceptionally stupid adult, might think. A slightly brighter adult, who also happens to be evil, might put it another way: if a person doesn’t like herself, she won’t be able to say what she thinks, because she’ll be too busy self-hating and trying to get approval from outside sources.

Which brings us to our final point: the issue of why the “it’s not all about you” or “get over yourself” mode of silencing is so fucking weak and ineffectual. When somebody aims this at you, they’re not actually saying you’re wrong. They’re not demonstrating any kind of flaw in your argument. What they’re saying is that, since you are saying an entirely valid thing about something that affects women, or you (a woman), your argument is unimportant, because women (including you) are not worth caring about. They’re saying that, since men are the more important gender, they’re allowed to hurt or oppress women; since men come first, women should not be allowed to challenge or object to this. They’re saying that the only people we should talk, write, or care about are men. They’re objecting to “selfishness” in the most profoundly selfish way imaginable.

Because, when someone tells you that feminist critique is wrong because it’s “all about you?” That’s not actually why they dislike it. They dislike it because it’s not all about them.

32 Comments

  1. Cait wrote:

    I seem to be saying this all over the Intertoobz today to feminist writers, but holy crap I love you, you wonderfully narcissistic selfish feminist you. :)

    And congrats about the boyfriend, commiserations about the work. If, that is, I’m allowed to express those opinions without tripping the Narcissometer with which modern bigots are apparently equipping themselves…

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  2. j0lt wrote:

    Beautiful. May I have permission to paraphrase that last paragraph on a regular basis?

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink
  3. Hannah wrote:

    Super off-topic, but openoffice.org is MS Office compatible, awesome and free!

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  4. Christina wrote:

    Dear Sady,

    You are my favorite writer on the Internet of all time. So, therefore, please continue being narcissistic because you totally deserve it.

    Hugs and kisses and self-absorption,
    Christina

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    do you actually talk like this? i’d need a chair and some knitting

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    @Anonymous: I do, in fact! This is because writing and speaking are exactly the same thing. It is also why James Joyce began all of his conversations with, “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay.” Man, conversations with that dude never went anywhere! They were so cyclical, y’know?

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Vertigo wrote:

    Brilliant, I am lost for words. You are making me be a better feminists, and for that, I thank you. You are now my new favorite online person.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  8. Aeryl wrote:

    I love you, and want to hem your pants! :D

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  9. octopod wrote:

    Sady: that reply is certainly full of win, but I am confused about Anonymous’s initial intention. What do sitting down and knitting have to do with anything at all?

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  10. snobographer wrote:

    I’d need a chair and some knitting too, so I can make myself comfortable while giving you my rapt attention and enjoying your wit and insight.

    I never understood people who say it’s selfish not to have kids. Of course they only ever refer to women when they say this, but that just makes it more confounding.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  11. jeannie wrote:

    As if you required any extra fuel for outrage, but did you hear about this woman who was TICKETED AND FIRED for being RAPED?

    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20081126/NEWS/81126006

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  12. jeannie wrote:

    And another thing, because this is just like making me want to stab my own eyeballs out so that I can stop reading that article over and over in growing disbelief and horror AND so that I will hopefully be distracted enough to forget the whole story, but at the end the guy says she won’t be able to beat the charge BECAUSE INTOXICATION IS NOT A DEFENSE?????? But apparently a justification for rape???? Anyone???? What the fuck??????

    Sorry, I will go rant on my own blog now!

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  13. Ashley wrote:

    Thank you for this post, Sady! I’m honored to be an inspiration. I’d like to thank God and my mother.

    Seriously though, this is great. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this now that we’re all supposed to be too cool for that unironic hippie activism… But it was meaningful and, well, empowering for me.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  14. Sara wrote:

    I’m so happy I discovered this blog.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  15. snobographer wrote:

    jeannie: Holy Shit! Rage!

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  16. Crowfoot wrote:

    Because, when someone tells you that feminist critique is wrong because it’s “all about you?” That’s not actually why they dislike it. They dislike it because it’s not all about them.OH YES. DEAR GOD yes. I noticed one of those remarks in the comments to your Star Trek piece and boggled at their blindness. THE WHOLE WORLD IS ABOUT YOU, ASSHAT.

    Great post, as always, Sady, and having just discovered Open Office a little while ago I’m also going O/T and strongly suggest you try it out. You don’t have to pay for Microsoft’s inferior products! God I hate them. They’re like the patriarchy: THERE IS A BETTER WAY.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  17. jeannie wrote:

    Okay so like, I talked to my friend about that article that I posted and she’s like, “How can you automatically assume she was raped” and was all outraged and whatnot and thought it was cavalier of me to throw that around, and WELL…..

    She posed the scenario that the man was mega-wasted as well, and maybe they met in the beer line, started making out, and wound up fucking in the bathroom. Fucked up, yes, she says, but not rape.

    While this is plausible to me, it remains, to me, UNBEARABLY fucked up that there is no treatment of consent in the article. Like, did the police consider this? Or did they just rip her out of the stall and ticket her, oh, and btdubs, why did she go wandering off into the night? Why did the police allow that to happen? Why does the article reek of NO CONCERN FOR HER SAFETY WHATSOEVER? The only inkling of it is her husband’s suggestion that she was too drunk to be faulted for what happened. Thank god SOMEone isn’t making this woman feel even guiltier.

    Egh. Jeez. More able-minded and eloquent people than I need to sort this one out.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Permalink
  18. Chai Latte wrote:

    w00t! Go Sady go! Your points are so on target it’s not even funny.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm | Permalink
  19. Cait wrote:

    About the only failing in OO I’ve found, speaking as a tech writer (one of my many hats), is that its comment feature is a suckhole sucky suckfest of suck. If you don’t need the comments feature, it’s a good piece of software. :)

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  20. Emma wrote:

    This is the best thing ever. Ever. Thank you so much for posting it, and I needed profoundly to hear it.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  21. Jet wrote:

    Damn, this is awesome.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  22. C. L. Minou wrote:

    Awesome piece! As usual, you rock.

    I feel I should point out that there is another dimension to the “get over yourself” argument…men are allowed to speak on behalf of men, or at least segments of the male/human population (amounts to the same thing to most of them) because men have historically been allowed agency and association–political parties, legislative power, and, you know, history.

    Women, on the other hand, have historically been denied all these things–you can see this in how generation after generation of early feminists had to reinvent the feminist wheel (as it were) each time, at least until the Suffrage Movements.

    (And as always there is a nice whipped topping of “shut up, silly ladies! it’s all about you! you’re just being emotional and considering the rational needs of society, i.e. me.)

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 4:46 am | Permalink
  23. raddad wrote:

    It sometimes happens that a woman decides to put herself first.

    Let’s make a world that fits the people in it instead of trying to force the people fit the world.

    I want to reply to the exclamation mark complaint! You ! typically not to yell but to be sarcastic! When you do that it heightens the sentence and is not overused. If the writer wanted a blog with less sarcasm, they obviously need to go elsewhere

    An adoring fan with a Y chromosome

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  24. Anonymous wrote:

    Wonderful site, and awesome article. I could have commented on any of the other awesome articles, but I feel I must say this.

    For microsoft word I hear you can buy it at coughbitttorrentcough.

    They have great discounts!

    Or, well, yeah you could go with Open Office, but that wouldn’t be as exciting, now would it?

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  25. Kate wrote:

    <3

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  26. Susan (aka Legible Susan) wrote:

    “They dislike it because it’s not all about them.” Gosh, yes! That’s it exactly!

    (Also applies along several other dimensions of privilege.)

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  27. Anonymous wrote:

    I love you.

    I love openoffice. But I love you more.

    And yes, the comment function on openoffice suckity suck suck sucks.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  28. Nanella wrote:

    I’d thought about offering Ashley a similar explanation (the encapsulated and not nearly as brilliant or witty version), but I knew it would be worthwhile to wait for the official Tiger Beatdown!

    Historically, the world has revolved around men, their desires, their needs. Traditionally, it still does. Any time a woman attempts to pull that focus more towards center, towards an egalitarian perspective, you can count on male privilege-embracing misogynists everywhere to decry their efforts and deploy the most powerful weapon in their arsenal: the ability to silence. Because patriarchy is the normative cultural paradigm and feminism has been maligned and propagandized to death by their ilk, they’re able to get away with being monumental asshats time and time again.

    It takes a special kind of evil to deliver such a line with a straight face: “It’s not all about you.”

    Anywho, Go Narcissistic Feminazis!

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  29. Anonymous wrote:

    Sady in the morning, Sady in the evening, Sady at suppertime….

    Mmmm mmmm.

    But the real reason I’m commenting, since there’s no shortage of love-festing here already, is to ask which Dworkin book you’re quoting there.

    Tx.

    Snow Black

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  30. quinara wrote:

    This post defines fab. :D

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  31. Tangoing with Evita wrote:

    Thank you! I’ve dealt with a similar comment before, and I’m just so grateful to have come across something that addresses that head-on.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink
  32. Vertigo wrote:

    If you click on the link, she is quoting the book “Intercourse” by Dworkin.

    Cheers.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 3:40 am | Permalink

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  1. Blog Review: Tiger Beatdown « Pathological Narcissist on Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    [...] the fabulous writer behind the Beatdown, wrote a post that spoke beautifully to the accusation that feminists are narcissistic: an insult that it just so happened had been effective in stopping me in my tracks at the time when [...]