Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Token Woman

Amanda at Pandagon has an excellent post on the perks of being the token woman, the only one admitted to the boys' treehouse, the one, who like Pallas Athene, burst out of the Father's head without any of that feminine slime attached to her. The one who is "one of the guys".

Not all token women are honorary males, of course. Some are just put into the slot which tells the rest of the world how egalitarian some organization is. Look! We hire women here! Or at least one woman. If she happens to be a minority woman, so much better. More slots will remain free for the regular guys.

But once you are a token the dangers of becoming an honorary male are great. For the alternative is that you will be viewed as the total of all womankind. Whenever there are news that concern women you, the token, are supposed to express the woman's point of view. Whenever there is a dispute about bathrooms, you, the token, are expected to inform the rest about how much toilet paper women need. And you are the one whose presence might make the tit-and-ass brigade feel uncomfortable while they wish to end a business trip with a nice little trip to a bordello. Truly, the choices the token woman has are between being an honorary male or a generic female.

So in a sense I'm not blaming those tokens who decide that an artificial pair of balls is a better defense than trying to be all-women-all-the-time. It's an easier life. But Amanda is also right when she states this:

If you want to see a no-holds-barred portrayal of people relishing the opportunity to be tokens, you can't do much better than Susan Faludi's Backlash. She has a long section where she interviews a series of prominent anti-feminist women in order to get at how they resolve the hypocritic stance of going out into the public sphere to have exciting, interesting jobs telling other women that the public sphere and exciting, interesting jobs are just not for them. A lot of the "honorary man" thing is going on with these women, a feeling that they are somehow just better than other women and that's why they get to have the access they would deny to others.

"The feeling that they are somehow just better than other women." Yes, this is a neat solution to the problem all women face: how to live in a sexist world. It lets the token woman think that there is nothing wrong with misogyny and such. The other women, the inferior ones, deserve that. The good women get to be taken up to the boys' treehouse.

I wonder if such a token woman notices that it's usually her job in the treehouse to write about those inferior creatures and to keep them off the tree. So she is not really one of the boys, never will be. And should the boys turn against her and push her down the tree, what then?

All token women, whether honorary males or not, are ultimately judged as women. That is the real paradox of the tokenism. The solution, of course, is to hire more women.

And in case you are interested, yes, I have been a token woman, and no, it was not fun.