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Part I was such a resounding success, it was only natural that Part II would also appear.  Melissa McEwan’s thoughts returns to DWR in the form of a repost of her helpful hints for all the dudes out there.  A big thanks to Shakesville for putting the concepts so clearly and succinctly.

Ms. McEwan says:

“Most blokes, whether they’re trying to be more feminist-minded or not, don’t consider themselves to be the sort of guy who disrespect women’s agency, and yet there are still myriad ways in which men are socialized to express ownership of women.

Here, I’m going to explore three of the prominent ways in which male ownership of women is expressed (and visit some ways in which they can be avoided): Exceptionalism, Breach of Consent, and Failure to Respect Agency.


Some expressions of ownership are insidious, subtle but dangerous: Exceptionalism, which is singling out one woman as an exception to the rule—that is, saying she defies the stereotypes of womanhood—is a less obvious but no less pernicious expression of ownership.

A man who expresses exceptionalism about his mother, his sister, his wife, his girlfriend, his female friend(s)—”My [woman/women] aren’t like those other women!”—is implicitly marking territory around women related to him, the boundary marked by women he is willing to see as individuals, and all other women, who are stripped of their individual humanity to be regarded as a monolith.

It can be difficult for men to accept that exceptionalism, which is often intended as a compliment (and frequently received as such!—because women are socialized to hate women just as much as men are), is, in fact, a profoundly damaging anti-feminist practice. But the flipside of “complimenting” individual women by detaching them from womankind is turning the vast majority of women into an indistinguishable horde with universally contemptible traits.

Exceptionalizing a woman can also, in the long term, serve to undermine her sense of self, as it obliquely encourages her, in a bid to retain her value as an Exceptional Woman, to reject any part of herself that might be seen as stereotypical of women. Even if not so intended, exceptionalism thus becomes a form of control, tacitly encouraging a woman to futilely try to wrench her personhood from her womanhood, which is impossible and thus ultimately breeds self-loathing and/or contempt for the man who exceptionalizes her.

If you find yourself thinking, “This woman is not like other women,” consider how much your understanding of “other women” comes from intimate knowledge of multitudinous individual woman vs. cultural narratives about women as a whole. Consider as well whether meeting one woman who bucks those narratives might suggest, in fact, not that she is one in (literally) three billion, but instead that women are more individual than is routinely suggested in vast and diverse ways throughout our culture.

It doesn’t undermine the specialness of a woman to regard her as a unique person well-suited to your personality and preferences and idiosyncrasies, as opposed to an Exceptional Woman. Indeed, it is more special to be regarded as a cool woman in a world full of cool women than it is the only cool woman on the planet.

Breach of Consent.
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February 2011


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