On Relevance. Or, the “Smart and Capable” Trope.

At some point, some radical feminists came to the conclusion that being a “good mom” to boy children was not producing non-bad boy children, or non-bad men. Try as they might, good moms, often feminist moms, who often had gestated and given birth to male babies thinking good on the world, because the world needs more good men and I’m going to give the world what it wants, ended up providing exactly what the world doesn’t need, which is more shitty, entitled, misogynistic men.

Indeed, it seems as if boys will be boys, and men will be men, regardless of what any woman says, does or thinks about that. ANY. WOMAN. Including the boys’ own moms, who have been gestating and birthing males forever, and coming up with some good ones, a lot of bad ones, and a lot of somewhere-in-between. At some point, radical women recognized that when it comes to outcomes, meaning the behavior and, well, maleness of their male offspring, the quality of mothering is mostly irrelevant.

Currently, in radical feminist spaces, it mostly goes without saying that females cannot be blamed for male behavior. And that blaming women for what men do is misogynistic and wrong. We recognize that includes both good and bad behavior. Meaning, in the case of moms, thinking you are going to be the one to produce a good male means that every other woman who has produced a bad (or average) one just did it wrong. Thinking you will be the one to get a good one means that you think you are better and smarter than every other woman who has ever lived before, and that if those other, bad or even average moms had been a good mom like you, they would’ve gotten a good outcome too.

As if outcomes, within a capitalist patriarchy, are merit-based. As if. As if.

Even as we concurrently reject the “good boymom” trope, we seem to accept the smart and capable trope. The one where a woman has been thoroughly devastated by whatever the P has deigned to throw her way, today, and where women as a class, and therefore many if not most individual women have little or no resources to deal with whatever because redistribution of wealth is a tool of oppression and we are oppressed and thus, women generally have no or very little resources to smooth over a rough patch, or reconfigure a life. This is a huge problem for us.

To make a newly-devastated woman feel better about whatever, other women go right to the smart and capable trope. You are smart and capable, they say. You will be fine, they say. What they don’t have to say, because it’s implied, is that prostituted women are stupid and incapable. Homeless women are stupid and incapable. But that won’t happen to you because they deserved it, and you don’t. And it won’t happen to me because I don’t deserve it either, and outcomes are deserved, because I say so. Possibly followed by the sign of the cross, or compulsive handwashing or checking social media or some other ritual to further cement this trope in our minds, and cells, and psyches. If I do everything right, nothing bad will happen to me.

What the smart and capable trope is doing, is the same thing the good-boy-mom trope was doing, which was/is to blame women for everything that happens, good and bad. It’s blaming the victim, really. We got rid of the boy-mom bullshit for the most part, although it still crops up from time to time, and is generally tamped down when it does. The smart and capable trope remains, and is just as false as the boy-mom trope is, in a mathematical sense of being fucking false, but God forbid anyone calls attention to the fallacy because if you do, you will break the spell and the newly-devastated woman will fail. Because of what you said. Even though she is smart and capable, she will fail.

So. Are women smart and capable? Or is it just a spell that can be broken? Is it both? Well, I know many women who are indeed smart and capable. If only from a survival standpoint, managing to survive as a female in a more or less global patriarchy takes fucking skill, mad skill. So really, every woman who is currently alive is demonstrably, at least somewhat, smart and capable. So why does prostitution exist? Why does female homelessness exist? If smart and capable is even relevant to our outcomes, why are smart and capable women still prostituted? Why are smart and capable women ever made homeless?

Or, are you going to be the one to tell me that homeless prostitutes are stupid, and they only got what they deserved? Go ahead, if that’s what anyone thinks. Tell me all about how prostituted, homeless women are non-smart, and non-capable in the comments below.

Recommended reading:

You’re so Strong.

The Final PIV Update

Strong Black Woman Schema

Comments open.

19 thoughts on “On Relevance. Or, the “Smart and Capable” Trope.

  1. I have conflicted feelings and experience of this. If it’s the new version of pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, then yes, absolutely, fuck that noise a thousand times and twice on Sunday. Even if it’s don’t complain screw that too.

    On your side of the argument, I had a version of this conversation just this morning. Some background: I was very sick last Friday night. It was the perfect storm of cancer complications and lack of a medication I needed that was caught up in mail order inefficiency. I fainted and broke my nose and hairline fractured my skull with minor concussion. I laid on my bathroom floor disoriented (I was trying to figure out why my bathroom door had been moved) for about four hours. I’ve gotten treatment and X-rays but it took more than a minute. Recently, I read that chronically ill people aren’t consistent in their efforts, doing too much on good days and too little on bad days. So I’ve been trying to be reasonable and consistent. It’s not working the way it should but that’s a different conversation. Yesterday I did some chores and wanted to vacuum today. Except that I’m absolutely thrashed. A friend called and she basically told me to rest because of the recent concussion and that consistent work would come. Except it doesn’t and hasn’t. I get hopeless and despairing the worse I feel physically. I doubt I’m alone in that but in our bootstrapping culture it’s supposed to be mind affecting matter, not matter affecting mind. I was accused of not seeing the big picture. I am seeing the big picture, I responded. It’s showing me that no matter how hard I try, no matter how often I try a new tactic so that I can manage to do all I need to do I’m still coming up short physically. It scares me.

    On the other hand my belief in my brains, my competence, my resilience, my ability to keep trying even in isolated Sisyphean conditions does help keep me going. Because nobody is coming to help me. So the belief that I’m smart and capable and competent is the word I use and that I used to be highly functioning and could be again if I can just crack the smart and competent code in a way that makes my body stronger? This is the only hope I have. When I offered this to another woman, I wasn’t telling her to bootstrap, I was offering what hope I could. I also offered what practical advice and ministrations I could.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for considering my words. I’m sorry you have been so ill. My “big picture” looks a lot like yours. It is completely terrifying. I might respond more later, after I’ve thought about it some more. For now, I will ask this, of you and anyone, there is no need to respond unless you want to. Does your “on the other hand” contradict anything I actually said? Prostitutes are smart and capable, homeless women are smart and capable. The “you’ll be fine” that is ALWAYS attached, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, unless we think that prostitution and homelessness are FINE for women, is simply untrue. That shouldn’t be glossed over, because I think that’s a large part of the problem. A lot of people do think that’s fine, when it comes to women.

    And some women do end up being fine (the ones who weren’t that fucked in the first place, mostly). A lot of women end up obviously not fine, permanently. Sometimes women are not-fine, and then they get fine again, but are they really? Do we ever really get back what we’ve lost? Just because a woman is alive, doesn’t mean she is alive inside. Just because she hasn’t died from her ordeal, doesn’t mean that 90% of what she WAS, or could potentially be, hasn’t been lost. Also, these losses are nearly 100% preventable. But no one sees it as a loss, because it’s just WOMEN’S inner lives, it’s just WOMEN’S potential so who cares? Women are just pretty shells to be observed anyway, so if they are reduced to just a shell it’s likely that the only one who would ever notice would be her. And by that time, she is probably stretched too thin to complain, and who would listen anyway, to a woman who wasn’t FINE? They sound (or might even be) fucking crazy by then.

    When I say that these losses are preventable, I mean WITH MONEY. Almost universally, that’s the case. So, give the platitudes if you must (you meaning, anyone) but in addition, give material support. Also, timing is very important to mitigate damage. Anyone who has ever tried to keep something alive knows how vitally important 1-2 days can be when it comes to food and water, for example. One second, if we have to let our guards down around men. A few days (or seconds) late and all the food and water in the world won’t help, because you can’t reanimate a corpse. Extreme trauma (like rape and prostitution and extreme chronic stress) causes soul-death we only pretend to be able to heal. For those who already know this, and who already do give materially, THANK YOU. Thank you for myself, and thank you for every woman who has been materially assisted by other women.

    For those who *only* give platitudes, including advice, I will say this. I saw a LOT of errors in the advice that was given on that other thread you mention. Like, the woman said she didn’t have insurance or Medicaid, but people were telling her to apply for disability. How is she going to pay for the doctor visits, to get the medical evidence to support her case? Someone said that “disability” isn’t need-based, which isn’t true. It depends on the type of disability. SSD is not need based, but SSI is. Those are just 2 examples. And I will tell her about these errors privately when she feels better. But what if I didn’t? How much time and energy would she waste following these breadcrumbs that lead nowhere because they are wrong, or extremely fact-dependent and don’t apply to her? I’m not telling anyone not to pursue benefits. But “applying for benefits” doesn’t mean any will be forthcoming. A lot of people think it does mean that, and they wash their hands of responsibility, or duty, to offer real material assistance right now, so yes, it is often that much bootstrapping garbage that only makes the advice-giver feel better, while being wasteful of sick women’s energy out of ignorance, or just not giving a fuck, or both.

    I think that this post might be useful to someone in the future who comes across it, whether or not anyone appreciates it now, or whether they get mad about it, or whatever. Maybe AFTER someone wastes their time and energy and is completely devastated to find that there really is very little out there in terms of material help, and they wonder if they did something wrong or missed something, they might come to realize the truth of the situation, which is that there are more ways to be disqualified from aid programs than there is substantial, immediate, long term or otherwise meaningful help available. And that reading this post, and the comments, will help them when they need it. My intuition about things like that is usually very accurate. So, if everyone hates this post right now, whatever. Maybe it’s not intended for them. Or, maybe it’s not relevant to them YET.

    Thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful comment.

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  3. The system is designed for women to get PIVed in some way or fashion, or contribute substantial labor to the male rape system. Smart and capable women are meaningless to men & the male system because men see us as nothing but fuckholes and prioritize PIVing everything in sight even over their own wellbeing, unless of course the ‘smart and capable’ qualities are used in the service of males and male goals. Willingness to get pived / ability to tolerate PIV is probably the more useful (or most ultimate, I should say, if all efforts to avoid PIV have failed) survival strategy in patriarchy, and of course that’s by design. Men know that without debilitating us in every way possible and forcing us to rely on them and their systems, we avoid them, so any woman who can outsmart the system to any degree is hated by them, but of course the system is total in scope, so even if you avoid PIV one way (avoid het partnership), you might fall prey to it another (homelessness). Only true freedom is suicide, I suppose, which is what I’m planning on if things ever get dire.

    CRE, I’m curious to know, do you feel like your radfem essentialist realizations destroyed your health? The more I realize how evil men are & how fucked up and ass backwards this world is – to the point where we can’t even call men out as a class without being shamed – the more I feel ready to die. There are other factors like a severe abuse and trauma history but the weight of how fucked up it all is – esp when you realize males are hardwired to rape and coerce into PIV and yet we can’t even point this out without risking our lives, is just unbearable.

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  4. amargi, I feel ready to die; I don’t want to take another breath on this planet. I just don’t know where or how that can peacefully and painlessly happen.

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  5. Hi amargi. Idk if my “consciousness raising” or whatever destroyed my health exactly, since I’ve been having symptoms since way before I was ever a radical. Extreme chronic stress is a trigger and exacerbates preexisting conditions though, and even being an unaware female in this hellscape constitutes extreme chronic stress. That’s probably a lot of what “aging” is for women, is the effects of extreme chronic stress over time. And then the sicker you get, the less “strong and capable” you are to affect your own outcomes, and the horrors get more and more real, if they weren’t already. Dworkin wrote about old women, if we live that long, being basically incarcerated in “care homes” being overmedicated and raped by the guards. So, even if we manage to survive whatever when we are younger, and many women do not survive, that’s what we have to look forward to! I no longer believe I have a “future” but thinking I ever did was just stupid. Dworkin was correct about what our future holds. She decided she was ready to die in her 50s, when after a lifetime of struggling and managing to survive, including being prostituted at one point iirc, she was drugged and raped at a hotel. She was having a drink in the garden of an international hotel and 2 male employees drugged her drink and took her to her room and raped her, is I think how it went.

    Currently I am actually very content, because I have some help and I have been able to stay safe and sheltered, and keep my cats safe and sheltered. Giving up on the future I have been chasing my entire life has been freeing, in a way. Knowing what’s coming (the care home scenario, which is the best-case scenario for women) makes these moments more precious to me, not less. But if I was having to deal with this hideous disease in a shelter, or had to experience the heartbreak of losing my cats, or all the things I know can still happen so easily, I think it would probably be too much to take honestly. If there was a button I could push to end my life, I would have pushed it a long time ago. But suicide is not as easy as that, is it, and that’s a huge fucking problem. I would be a candidate for euthanasia with Crohn’s, if I had the health to navigate the system, including the international travel and the $15k to pay for it. (Yes, people way less sick than I am have been put down, while I’m not even healthy enough to pursue it, standard male mindfuck). I think, as long as I am able to maintain my current station I will be ok, even knowing how unbelievably horrific things are as a female in a global patriarchy that hates me. I hardly even care about that anymore. But there is no way I could survive being homeless with this disease. I think, especially for younger women, if they can still manage safety and comfort, they may as well stick it out bc that’s the absolute best there is. But, I also wouldn’t blame anyone who wanted to exit at any time.

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  6. Also, I see that anastasia110 has a comment in my spam folder. I don’t know why it went to spam, but reading it, I almost can’t believe a woman would write something so stupid. I’m suspicious that it went to spam, although that does seem to be an issue here, even for women who have been commenting here for a long time. I will publish it if anyone wants to see it. I wonder how others would respond to her words. My first impression is, that anastasia110 is a boymom who thoroughly enjoyed dressing-down an impertinent child free woman on her own damn blog.

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  7. CRE, I didn’t know women even placed in care homes in the USA if they don’t have financial resources. I thought if we become too disabled to care for ourselves, we are simply left to die.

    I did just recently read that New Statesman article in which Dworkin describes her drug-rape.

    You’re right that just living in this hellscape is stressful enough, and really, being aware of the underlying mechanism probably does actually save quite a bit of stress/pain, since living as a sep is a better choice IMO. A lot of male abuse, wasted energy, etc is prevented.

    I guess I was wondering if specifically, while you were actively reading radfem theory and figuring out the details of this essentialist hell, whether you felt it was taking a toll on your health. Like coming across things like this depress me to no end, because women absolutely refuse to understand what men are hardwired to do – rape and coerce into PIV:

    “Patriarchy is worldwide and history-wide, and its origins are detectable in the social lives of chimpanzees. It serves the reproductive purposes of the men who maintain the system. Patriarchy comes from biology in the sense that it emerges from men’s temperaments, out of their evolutionarily derived efforts to control women and at the same time have solidarity with fellow men in competition against outsiders. ” -https://gregladen.com/blog/2011/07/07/driving-the-patriarchy-demonic/

    I’m glad to hear that you are content, at least for now. Is your physical pain manageable?

    I’ve been reading through the latter portion of your old blog and am curious to know if you ever read Marilyn Frye, because it seems like you came across separatism after wading through quite a bit of reformist stuff, and she is one of the few theorists who clearly articulates the argument for separatism.

    Mary, <3. By the way, I feel like I remember a comment of yours on FCM's blog once where you mention believing in some kind of afterlife – rebirth of some sort? Do you think there's something beyond this hell?

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  8. I am not an expert on Medicare, but I think that Medicare will pay for care homes. If you have any assets, you have to shelter them, or spend them down, or otherwise do “Medicare planning” to be poor enough for Medicare to pay. Because people with assets have options, and aren’t as easy to control. They want you to have nothing before they will help. If you don’t need Medicare, you can pay for whatever care you can afford. I am sure you get what you pay for, but even money won’t save old women from being overmedicated, or abused. Being left to die would be a fucking luxury in this country, where we are forced to consume medical goods and services for as long as possible. Where would a woman even be “left to die?” You have to have a place to die. The streets aren’t currently choked with bodies, so the “where” must be being taken care of somehow. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I think it’s something like that.

    I did not notice that anything I was learning about was making my health worse. But, I had a progressive disease that did progress over time. So who knows what contributed. I did notice, for sure, that what I was learning was making it more and more difficult to function. Like once I came back to work from a week vacation and saw that the “new associate” my firm had hired had been working at my desk and looking at porn on my computer while I was gone. And I about fucking lost it. Maybe if I had been a MOM or a BOYMOM I would’ve seen an opportunity to school the little rapscallion on his unprofessional misstep. But as it happened, I wanted to fucking kill him and the partners who hired a pervert and forced me to deal with him. I reacted at about a level 3/10 when it was all I could do not to pull a 10/10 and spontaneously combust and take the entire staff with me to hell. That kind of stress, or extreme reactions to abuse, abuse I was clearly expected to just swallow without notice or complaint, was probably not good for my health. But, I also think that my underlying illness made my tolerance for bullshit very low. I just didn’t have it in me to deal with it, on top of everything else I had to deal with in a day. Also, I’m sure I have read Marilyn Frye, I think it was linked at the HUB and I did read all those resources. I don’t remember for sure.

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  9. And the worst of my pain and symptoms are currently managed pretty well with daily cannabis use. I still have flares, and pretty much constant “lesser” symptoms that are disabling on their own. But I will take it, compared to un or undertreated Crohns, which is hellish, and relentless, and not bearable at all.

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  10. > I am not an expert on Medicare, but I think that Medicare will pay for care homes. If you have any assets, you have to shelter them, or spend them down, or otherwise do “Medicare planning” to be poor enough for Medicare to pay. Because people with assets have options, and aren’t as easy to control. They want you to have nothing before they will help. If you don’t need Medicare, you can pay for whatever care you can afford. I am sure you get what you pay for, but even money won’t save old women from being overmedicated, or abused. Being left to die would be a fucking luxury in this country, where we are forced to consume medical goods and services for as long as possible. Where would a woman even be “left to die?” You have to have a place to die. The streets aren’t currently choked with bodies, so the “where” must be being taken care of somehow. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I think it’s something like that.

    Oh, I see. Thanks for that explanation. I actually didn’t know that Medicare pays for care homes. You’re right that money won’t save a woman anyway, though I imagine the best case scenario would be to stay at one’s home (that one owns or has enough money to keep paying the rent for) with a female hired caregiver. I’m sure that would be incredibly expensive, though. When I said, “left to die” I essentially meant at one’s last place of residence, but I see what you’re saying, with medical care being forced on women and such. I have in mind ending it myself before things become too intolerable – i.e. homelessness or unable to do basic care for myself and no one to help.

    >ike once I came back to work from a week vacation and saw that the “new associate” my firm had hired had been working at my desk and looking at porn on my computer while I was gone.

    Fucking disgusting. I don’t understand why we prop up these worthless scumbags who do nothing but rape and abuse us, and then create more systems/lies/bullshit/propaganda to keep the whole going. This world is an utter nightmare.

    I agree with you it’s harder to function they more one becomes aware, like noticing how every little thing we as women do benefits males in some way, all the advertising portraying women as pieces of meat, coercive and manipulative tactics casually used by males we have no choice but to interact with, etc. I realized that even when I’m out and about just running errands I’m propping up males, since women protect males from other males by being a buffer who takes the majority of male violence. etc etc Literally everything benefits them at the expense of females.

    Re: Frye, I don’t see her listed on the resources page: https://radicalhubarchives.wordpress.com/resource/.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. amargi asked me:

    . . . you mention believing in some kind of afterlife – rebirth of some sort? Do you think there’s something beyond this hell?

    As a very small child, I was aware of other dimensions of existence, and used to slide in and out of them. I communicated with other forms of consciousness and ways of being, and was very happy while doing so.

    I felt that I was connected to “where I once belonged” and was blissfully surrounded by it. That it’s where I came from. I want to go back. Back to where I once belonged. The vision is clear to me: the lesbian separatist point at infinity. The Original Female.

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  12. I think it’s possible that the catastrophism stuff explains part of this reality. Christians and others think that “God” punishes cultures that have become too decadent, or whatever. But it also looks like we are on a 12,000 year catastrophism cycle, and that civilization gets wiped out periodically by natural/geomagnetic forces. 10-12,000 years seems to be where we are now, considering the age of agriculture (and female slavery) which seems to be about 10,000 years old. Basically, I wonder if approximately 12,000 years is how long it takes males to create what they have created here, and it ends up looking so “decadent” because it’s just complete perverted maleness everywhere you look. And then “God” shows up to “punish” everyone by destroying civilization. And then males just do it all again, only to be destroyed again. I think it’s possible that we have a very long history with that, that we normal people don’t know about, and that’s about what it looks like, and what happens to us, and where we are headed now, and why. I can report that a lot of these communities are very suicidal, and that the evidence that another catastrophe is coming is soothing for them, because it gives hope that the pain will end, and that we won’t have to resort to suicide which is very painful and difficult to pull off both emotionally and physically. The Doomers are really optimists, lol. I thought I would mention that. As I have said, I think COVID is playing a part in something larger, and I think it’s “masking” the incoming catastrophe that the elite know about, and keep to themselves, to benefit themselves.

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  13. Mary,
    That is really beautiful; thank you for sharing. Every moment of the day I curse men and their handmaidens (along with various individuals who have severely harmed me) and hope fervently that there is some kind of universal justice. Do you think there is?

    > And the worst of my pain and symptoms are currently managed pretty well with daily cannabis use.

    I wish I could still use cannabis. It worked so well for me in my early 20s, and then I started getting terrible mental effects – anxiety, etc, – and also it seems to actually increase the pain now (which I’ve read can happen in people with CNS sensitization, I think).

    Re: men doing this over and over, sounds very possible. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the “Y chromosome bottleneck but it’s rather interesting: https://www.livescience.com/62754-warring-clans-caused-population-bottleneck.html


  14. Amargi asked me,

    I . . . hope fervently that there is some kind of universal justice. Do you think there is?


    I think that the concept of justice pertains only to the humon species, Been thinking about this for a few days now. It implies some form of sentience to detect it – or does it? We could think of the ongoing extinctions on this planet as a form of ‘justice’ for the xy humans who have brought it on. But – what if that concept amounts, in the last analysis, to our own emotional self-soothing? Still flummoxed here.

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  15. Very good questions IMO. What if the universe just doesn’t give a fuck? What if the only “justice” we get is a 12,000 year cataclysm cycle that spanks civilization every time it gets this bad, but only as a coincidence. I think I would be ok with that. TBH now that I know how much pain you can experience without dying, I doubt there is anything looking out for us. Having a central nervous system in this hellscape has to be some cosmic joke, if it means anything at all.

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