Can Women Oppress Other Women?

Reading around in the Radical Feminist blogosphere, I often come across posts claiming women cannot oppress other women.

Mostly this opinion is presented as a largely undisputed matter-of-fact statement. The rationale I see given* is that
1) patriarchy damages every woman without any exception
2) this damage in every woman inevitably leads to internalised misogyny
3) which then shows up in the individual woman’s character and deeds
4) sometimes in form of violence and exertion of power against other women
5) that ultimately is nothing but acting out patriarchal damage
6) and therefore can’t be called oppression, since each and every woman is damaged in her own way and “not better” herself, just different in acting out her damage.

I agree with 1).
For the sake of the argument, let’s assume 2) and 3) are true either, and for good measure 4), too.

But here I start to feel uneasy with the argumentation and find it hard to comprehend.

Women do horrible things to other women all the time and all around the world.
Mothers pressuring their daughters to diet, offering them to rapists, forcing them into femininity. Women who carry/carried the traditions of FGM or footbinding. Nuns who ran the Magdalene houses. Women who help serial killers by luring victims for them or trying to outwit the justice system to get them free. Female pimps and traffickers. The female staff of Nazi concentration camps. Right-wing women who do everything to make the world a very horrible place for all of us.

All these women have one thing in common: They are acting as agents of the patriarchy.
I don’t say that they aren’t damaged. They are, severely, and behind them there are always men pulling the strings.

– What about those of us who are damaged by the patriarchy all the same, yet still strive to not inflict any harm on other women? Why are there women who choose to prioritise and fight for women instead of harming them, often from a young age? How are they able to do that? By a force beyond their own reach like luck, fortune or destiny? By sheer biographical accident?

– What is worth any resistance against patriarchy when feminism decides that inflicting harm on other women is a valid form of reacting to patriarchy, ‘valid’ meaning “not necessarily ethically right, but still a working form of coping mechanism”? It is a coping mechanism, yes, but I fail to see why Radical Feminism of all things should be content to just accept that? Ultimately, this justification of “acting out damage” leads to a position of “Do everything you as an individual need to do to feel good in patriarchy, feminism at worst frowns a little at you”. Isn’t this the very individualised answer on a collective problem we criticise in mainstream feminism?

– I don’t really understand the Throw the First Stone argument of “we all are damaged”. I wonder, where is the line? Is there any line at all where a particular woman’s actions are beyond explaining?Is there no fundamental difference in quality (instead of mere quantity) between the misogyny of a feminist who fights hard to get rid of it, and the misogyny of a woman who actively embraces it in order to gain something from it? Is the act of ‘taking sides with the oppressor class and use its power against women’ really any different of the act of ‘oppressing’?


I’m not suggesting this is a black-and-white question. I’m not suggesting that it is impossible for a woman to be a victim and a guilty party at the same time.

All I want to say is: I have encountered women who have prioritised women all their lives and (often at high personal cost) never have fallen into the big traps of patriarchy like heterosexuality, femininity, identification with males on a political, religious or economical level, putting men before female solidarity etc. Such women exist. Their existance may be swept under the rug – lifelong Lesbians may know what I’m talking about – , but it doesn’t change the fact that they are there.

So to me, this particular discussion cannot be over.







*One example for this rationale is this discussion:
My post here is NOT intended to be an attack on the (excellent) blog the discussion took place at, or on any poster involved. Neither is it a belated answer I failed to post back then. Since July I have given much thought about the matter which I couldn’t have come up with ad hoc back then. I include the link solely to illustrate where I come from in this question.

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3 Responses to Can Women Oppress Other Women?

  1. amargi says:

    Thanks for this post. Have you by any chance read radical wind’s comments on this subject? Curious to know what you think of them, if you have.

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