I have always been fascinated by the infantilization of women and girls…

 

...much in the same way I have a fascination with ghost stories even though my faux bravado palled years ago and I now waver on the precipice of panic whenever somebody tells a ghost story.  I don’t want it to be true, for that would mean my world is a little more threatening through no fault of my own, but I can’t help but consume all the information I can about it.  I guess I just want to be prepared for the worst.

It’s been a long time since the Ancient Greeks labelled the unbridled emotion of women as ‘hysteria’ (fun fact: translated into English, hysteria means ‘uterus’).  This infantilization has had its own iterations in many parts of the world, and most prevalent in the places where women are robbed of their autonomy for daring to feel complex, messy emotions.

The belief that women and girls are so flighty and emotional as to not understand their own lived experiences is usually an intangible one, only partially visible with the right tilt of the head and the right squint; not unlike the incandescent curve of a bubble before it bursts into a mere shiny slick.  But just because it is never elucidated, it does not mean it is not real.  The people who believe that women are foolish, dishonest, or confused about reality likely consider themselves not misogynistic so much as highly logical.  But just because they might be the latter, it does not mean they are not the former.  It just means they’re not yet seeing the picture from every angle.

If you open your eyes to the infantilization of women, it is everywhere, and it cannot be unseen.

It was uttered by the doctors who penetrated female patients with their fingers and called it treatment.

It was shared by the peanut gallery who mocked Lindy Chamberlain for insisting that a dingo snatched her newborn, sending her to prison for three years before she was found to be telling the truth.

It was shared by the governments that decided unilaterally that First Nations women were not fit to parent, only to confiscate their children and abandon them to care facilities that physically and sexually abused them.

It was why every story with a princess sees her trapped in a tower or a castle or an eternal slumber.

But this diminishment of female power is not merely abstract, nor merely historical.  It is real and it is happening right now.

It is when a little girl is told she is woman enough to become a bride, but at the moment she protests, is punished for being a disobedient child.

It is when survivors of sexual assault are tricked into playing the game of “No True Scotsman” to prove to somebody who was not there that they truly took every action possible to prevent their own abuse… Though the game is unwinnable, for in situations of sexual abuse, it is only ever the victim who plays by the rules.

It is why female genitals are mutilated.  Why female survivors of gender-based violence are raked through coals in the courts of both public opinion and law if they dare be anything less than perfectly sympathetic.  Why fathers who murder their children are eulogized as good men who snapped whilst mothers who do the same are considered an especially new shade of evil.  Do not be fooled.  The infantilization of women is not about rationalizing away irrationality, it is about perpetuating a grave injustice: one in which girls and women are told, over and over again, that they do not understand; they are too feeble and too feminine to understand their own experiences.

But we do not have to fall for this.  We must challenge whether the unattainably high standards of behavior we set for the girls in our lives match the standards we set for boys, and if not, adjust.  The world is not forgiving enough to say, “girls will be girls” and mean it.  Given how that went for boys, I believe that it shouldn’t.  But we should at least progress enough that we do never need utter those dreaded – and peculiarly gendered – words: “How could you let this happen to you?”

We can move beyond our unconscious prejudices.  We must.

And in the meantime, I say to those who need to hear this right now: you are not an unreliable witness in your own trauma.  Go forth, own your stories, and refuse to let them conquer you.  You have survived what has happened to you thus far, and what a woman you are becoming – or have become – is not because of your experiences, but because of the fundamental magic of your own being.

 

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