The Women Are wonderful trope is misogynist for a number of reasons, but there are two main ones. For one thing dehumanizing women by putting them on some unnatural moral pedestal is inherently misogynist. More directly and concretely, this trope of inherent womanly wonderfulness erases the violence that women do and erases their victims, most of whom are other women and girls.
Cathy Young has a good article up that looks at the recent case in Florida where a 14-year old girl and her confederates stalked and harassment a 12-year old girl to the point that she committed suicide.
She makes a lot of very good points. She notes the gender bias in the way these things are reported and analyzed. She notes the blame that “patriarchy” and “internalized misogyny” get when finally people do admit that girls bully. She notes the almost sociopathic lack of remorse the perpetrator showed for the girl’s suicide, the wolf pack mentality of the group of girls who hounded this girl to death, and she also notes another similarly inhuman incident in Florida where two girls stripped and molested a boy out in public view.
Side note: Young gets hypoagency.
And here’s another treatment of the subject at Huffington Post. This article, or advertisement really, offers practical advice on concrete things you can do if your daughter – and typically it will be a daughter and not a son who gets bullied this way – is targeted for cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a form of relational violence and the perps tend to be female, and so the victims tend to be female too. Most aggression is intra-gender after all. The article links to a post that goes into more detail on female bullies for reference.
Back to Young:
“But the underlying viciousness is no different. The idea that girl bullies are victims or tools of the almighty patriarchy is a demeaning denial of female responsibility — and female capacity for cruelty, power-seeking, and aggression.”
Young stops here, but we can pick up and take it a step further. Does this kind of behavior reflect anything new about girls, or people in general? Hardly. This kind of dehumanizing brutality is standard data for human beings. But the intensity and the physicality of the cruelty is something new, I think.
What is new is the celebration of impulse over civilization, of “authenticity” and “spontaneity” and “being true to yourself’ even if that self is just some bestially amoral attacks on another person who you see just as an object of torture. These girls may or may not have internalized misogyny but it’s pretty obvious they have internalized “you go grrrrl.”
This is denialism, this is the Women Are Wonderful trope. The specific form here is the Princess Complex, where Daddy’s Little Girl can do no wrong. And God help anyone, boy or girl, looking for help or protection from attackers with so much social sanction behind them.
It may not be a uniquely Anglophone kink, but it is definitely not universal. Chinese history records a number of really vicious women, and not always with disapproval. Chinese politics have always been a blood sport, from the Warring States period down to the present day, and this kind of behavior is just how the game is played. This is the kind of thing I mean:
Lü Zhi was a consort of Gao Zu, the founder of the Han Dynasty. The Imperial Court was a very competitive arena and Lü Zhi excelled everyone at intrigue:
Lü Zhi did not harm most of Gaozu’s other consorts and treated them according to rules and customs of the imperial family. … One exception was Concubine Qi, whom Lü Zhi greatly resented because of the dispute over the succession between Liu Ruyi (Qi’s son) and Liu Ying. Liu Ruyi, the Prince of Zhao, was away in his principality, so Lü Zhi targeted Concubine Qi. She had Qi stripped of her position, treated like a convict (head shaved, in stocks, dressed in prison garb) and forced to do hard labour in the form of milling rice.
….Lü Zhi then had Concubine Qi killed in an inhumane manner: she had Qi’s limbs chopped off, eyes gouged out, ears sliced off, forced her to drink a potion that made her mute, and thrown into a latrine. She called Qi a “human swine” (人彘). Several days later, Emperor Hui [the son of Lü Zhi] was taken to view the “human swine” and was shocked to learn that it was Concubine Qi. He cried loudly and became ill for a long time. He requested to see his mother and said, “This is something done not by a human. As the empress dowager’s son, I’ll never be able to rule the empire.” Since then Emperor Hui indulged himself in carnal pleasures and ignored state affairs.”
Concubine Qi was not Lü Zhi’s only victim. She went after concubine Qi’s 12-year old son, Ru Yi.
“Lü Zhi then summoned Liu Ruyi, who was around the age of 12 then, to Chang’an, intending to kill him together with his mother…”
There is a common thread here, and it is social license. Amoral violence is a basic part of being human, like defecation. And like defecation it serves a purpose. And like defecation, it has to channeled and controlled or it destroys everything. Where it flares up, it is because society condones or requries it. In the case of Lü Zhi her violence against her rival was simply part of the normal intrigues at the imperial court. It was expected and condoned, as long as it succeeded. The men engaged in similar levels of political violence, although rarely with quite the same theatrical flare. (Oh wait. Not so, not at all….*) Note how the Chinese do not shrink from recording this in blunt terms, undistorted by a cultural narrative that whitewashes women’s violence, but then, they are pretty blunt about violence in general.
In the case of the girls who harrassed a young girl to suicide, the social context is the you-go-grrl license and indulgence and entrenched sense of entitlement girls grow up with today. I have to say, these girls are probably really no worse than anyone else by nature, but nowhere along the way in their upbringing is there any sign that anyone thought to put any kind of check on their natural childhood ferality. And after all what need would there be for that? After all girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, and Women Are Wonderful. And we all pay the price
This is really a plea to recognize females full humanity, including the dark side. Our culture has a dehumanizing, misogynist blind spot.
* Here’s some pretty theatrical violence from a male in power: Zhu Di became the Yongle emperor after removing the previous emperor, his nephew, after this nephew made it obvious he was eventually going to have him killed. As a result his legitimacy was shaky. When a courtier refused to write an inaugural address for him because he considered Zhu Di a usurper, the emperor had little choice:
In the first year of the reign of the Yongle Emperor (Ming dynasty, reigned 1402–1424), the prominent historian Fāng Xìao-rú (方孝孺) committed an offense worthy of the “extermination of nine kindreds” for refusing to write the inaugural address and for insulting the Emperor. He was recorded as saying in defiance to the would-be Emperor: “莫說九族，十族何妨！” (“Never mind nine agnates, go ahead with ten!”). Thus he was granted his wish with an infamous case, perhaps the only one, of “extermination of ten kindreds” (誅十族) in the history of China. In addition to the blood relations from his nine-agnates family hierarchy, his students and peers were added to be the tenth group. Altogether 873 people were said to have been executed.
The Yongle emperor did not invent this punishment; it was well established already.
The “extermination of nine kindreds” (誅九族) is considered one of the most severe punishments found in traditional Chinese law enforced until the end of Qing. The practice of exterminating the kins had been established since Qin when Emperor Qin Shi Huang (reigned 247 BC–221 BC) declared “Those who criticize the present with that of the past: Zu” (以古非今者族). Zu (族) referred to the “extermination of three kindreds” (三族): father, son and grandson. The extermination was to ensure the elimination of challenges to the throne and political enemies. Emperor Wen of Sui (reigned 581–604) abolished the practice but it was reintroduced by succeeding Emperor Yang (reigned 604–617). Not only did he bring back the punishment, but he also extended it to the nine kindreds.