Monthly Archives: June 2011

Double Binds

A double bind can be easily explained with the old adage:  “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Sexism and sexist gender socialization create many double binds for girls and women. Gender expectations for girls and women are lengthy, detailed, and impossible.  In order to be a “good” woman, one must possess most, if not all of the following “feminine” qualities:

Be quiet, be passive, be selfless, be dependent on a man, don’t use profanity,  be nurturing, be moral, be pure, be proper, get married, be a “good” mother, be responsible for the success of all of your relationships, be sexy but not sexual, be pretty, be thin, and the list goes on almost indefinitely.

Double Binds for women arise out of the standards I have described above (which is by no means conclusive).  Women are socialized to be “feminine” and “good” through shaming for nonconformity. Each of the expectations has an opposing negative identity attached to it. Some examples: Be passive or you’re a bitch. Get married or you’re a lesbian.  Be feminine or you’re a dyke (which has a very negative connotation in the South-not so much in the North). Be pretty and thin no matter what the cost; literally and figuratively.  Each of these expectations/identities has other problems as well. Adhering to them increases women’s oppression and the likelihood of being victimized.  Be passive but don’t be a victim. Women are taught not to be aggressive and not to yell.  Women are silenced as children and then when they are victimized as adults (and as children) they are too afraid to yell and scream or fight back; even when they need to protect themselves from death.  When women are raped and survive they are often blamed for provoking the attack.  Why didn’t she scream?  Why didn’t she say “No”? Why didn’t she resist or fight back?  Because she’s been socialized not to and because she’s been told by the media that she should cooperate so that her attacker won’t kill her (I will cover this in much more detail under the Sexual Assault page/post).

We socialize women to get married and stay home and be dependent upon a husband. However, when women can’t support themselves financially outside of marriage and become dependent on welfare, they are shamed for being dependent.  When women are successful in careers and have financial independence, they are accused of sleeping their way to the top. There is virtually no way to “win” as defined by society’s standards.  You must define your own.

How does a woman achieve being sexy but not sexual? Can a woman be sexy or sexual and still remain pure?  These are impossible standards because “pure” originates from the religious usage of the word which relates to not being sexual. In fact, women are considered to be impure by Christians simply because they menstruate. These are impossible standards that no woman can meet.  Now it becomes easy to hate women (as a group) because no woman can achieve the standards so all women must be bad.  Women hold other women to these standards and they hold themselves to these standards. Women can be as sexist or more sexist than can men.  And now, women dislike/oppress themselves and other women because they cannot see that the standards are sexist and oppressive.

Consider the phrase “A lady on the street and a freak in the sheets”.  This is the bind about sexuality for women. How does a person maintain two sexual identities or sexual standards? A woman can’t act like a “whore” if she believes that whores are bad because then she is forced to believe that she’s a bad person.  Generally speaking, people like to protect themselves from feeling shameful and shame is the feeling that you are a bad person; unlikable for some reason.

The following is a link to a performance of “Girl Exploded” by Lauren Zuniga.  It’s an excellent illustration of sexist gender socialization and double binds for women.  You’re missing something monumental if you don’t watch this video.  It’s 3 minutes…just do it.


The Sexism Continuum

The following is a progressive (because they build on each other) list of the many forms of sexism and violence against women and how they create a “web” of oppression.  The many forms “non-violent” sexism work to create circumstances that severely restrict and reduce women’s lives.  I will cover each of these in more detail in their own posts later.

Institutionalized Sexism– Women’s status among the institutions like government, religion, home, society, marriage, corporations, etc…

Psychological Wounding and Gender Socialization– The result of growing up in a culture that hates and devalues girls and women.  Consider the “like a girl messages”…Don’t act like a girl because girls are weak, of less value, stupid, crazy, bad athletes, etc… Anything that is considered to be feminine is devalued.  Men and women are socialized in VERY different ways. Women are socialized to be “feminine” and men to be masculine, but then women are devalued for all of their feminine qualities.

Gendered Language/Communication– The usage of androcentric (male-centered) language in religious texts, text books, everyday language, etc…

Controlling Women’s Bodies– Medical bias towards women; controlling women’s access to birth control and reproductive services.

Economic Assault– Pay inequity; “feminine professions” are devalued and paid significantly less, the glass ceiling; women’s unpaid labor; women’s “role” to care for children and stay home with them; social security; the feminization of poverty; women in old age.

Sexual Harassment – Educational bias towards women; sexual harassment in the workforce

Pornography, Prostitution, and Human Trafficking– The harm done to women by certain kinds of pornography; the harm done to women who appear in pornography; Prostitution as a “legitimate” profession; most women are “forced” into prostitution as a result of all of the other forms of sexism and violence against women.

Sexual Assault; Rape – Self-explanatory….but stats about sexual assault against girls and women;

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) – The use of coercive control, usually by a male intimate partner, to threaten, control, intimidate, etc…their female intimate partner.  IPV exists in heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can also be used by women to control men, but there are some very important distinguishing factors that must be considered.

Global Violence Against Women – Femicide, female genital mutilation,

Identity Tree

Identity Tree

For many women, one of the most difficult parts of leaving an abusive relationship is letting go of their current identity and the values and beliefs that come with it, primarily socially enforced female gender role expectations.  In my original interpretation, the tree represented the possibility of a new identity, One that would allow every woman to be the person she wants to be: without guilt, without shame, and without abuse. I use the tree to represent “the self” because trees have many of the same qualities that people do.  These qualities help us to move forward in our lives despite tragic losses.

The tree has the ability to grow and change with the seasons, to adapt to changing conditions, to sway in the breezes of life without breaking, and to regenerate after devastating loss.  The tree is beautiful in many ways, primarily for its many imperfections. For people, these differences make us more human, more relational, more empathic, more unique, and more beautiful. Trees cannot stand alone though.  They must be firmly rooted in a solid foundation, just as people must be firmly rooted in their connections with others who are loving and supportive.  We must also be firmly rooted in a sense of identity that does not require us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of social acceptability and allows us to reach our maximum potential.

Kendra Pennington-Zoellner


The Bird Cage

  Cage.  Consider a bird cage. If you look very closely at just one wire in    the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is    before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that      one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird    would not just fly around the wire anytime it wanted to go            somewhere.  Furthermore, even if one day at a time, you myopically  inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have  trouble going past the wires to get anywhere.  There is no physical  property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could  discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it  except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop  looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a  macroscopic view of the of the whole cage, that you see why the bird  cannot go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment.  It will  require no great subtlety of mental powers.  It is perfectly obvious that  the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers,  none of which could be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by  their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a  dungeon.  

It is now possible to grasp one of the reasons why oppression can be hard to see and recognize.  One can study the elements of an oppressive structure with great care and some good will without seeing the structure as a whole, and hence without seeing or being able to understand that one is looking at a cage and that there are people who are caged, whose motion and mobility is restricted, whose lives are shaped and reduced.

An end and a beginning….

A beginning....

My hope is to produce a blog about being a person, a woman, a feminist, a leader, mentor, an atheist, a lover, a mother, a friend, and all of the other many roles and identities that define who I am.  I am an expert on sexism and violence against women and I hope to create a following of men and women who want to understand sexism, who want to end sexism, who want authentic relationships with their partners, their children, their friends….relationships that are built upon being authentically who you are, without having to sacrifice your identity on the “alter of social acceptability”. There are no female or male characteristics/qualities; there are only human characteristics. All of us deserve the the right to be fully human, regardless of our biological “sex” or our sexual orientation.

Welcome to my Blog. Welcome to my Life.  I look forward to the relationships, the dialogue, and the wonder.  I promise to change your life, if you’ll let me in.