For someone who had to play social charades to fit in at a young age, I was an outsider who was allowed inside access because I was considered harmless. I found that applying logic to human interactions was a failing endeavour. Knowing I had no influence, I kept my observations to myself.
A group of girls from another school joined our girl’s school in 11th grade—perfectly nice girls by my opinion. After sizing them up my friend singled out one of them and told me she was a ‘slut’. Why? Because a boy in their friend group had confirmed it. Really? Why? I asked and she tried to convince me by repeating exactly the same thing, because he had said so. The word of a male teenager was above everyone else’s. I’m pretty sure they knew the power in ordaining select women and girls with that word, because of personal vendetta or just because they could.
It was always an enigma to me as to why women put so much energy into managing their reputations, but after a couple of decades I began to notice a pattern. This phenomenon repeated itself across college, work and in the dating arena. A girl was a slut if a male confirmed it and other girls, some with active sex lives, clucked the ‘s’ word or implied it until she felt it in every other gaze, gesture and word. I realised it had a lot do with status, and status was handed out according to looks, class and behaviour, so the word was not always dispensed according to the crime—it also depended on who (supposedly) committed it.
Girlhood friendships come in two forms, one a bonding experience of mutual mothering and comfort, the other in the form of status-oriented ranking. The ones that fit into conventional beauty standards (read—light skin and thin/ish) and/or come from a wealthy background usually got to be at the top. In school, academic or athletic excellence usually seals the deal, but aren’t absolutely necessary. These girls might be dominant females but they weren’t necessarily domineering and are usually nice because they have little reason to be insecure or mean. Sometimes they don’t even have to try. The downside–unless you’re spoken for—is having a long line of fools falling for you.
Domineering females come in a variety of shades. They usually don’t fit into conventional beauty standards and join the pecking order by attaching themselves to people with power or status, in the hope that they will rise in rank. The domineering female has strong submissive traits, she is either raised to respect the power hierarchy or accepts it on her own. She keeps other females in their place through bullying or manipulation and places the dominant class, i.e., boys and men, above them all. That in itself is a kind of power. Even if she didn’t begin as a domineering-submissive, she eventually learns to become one. The non-domineering subgroup to which the rest belong usually keep other women and girls in their place through the gentle art of persuasion and faux empathy.
Herein lie your patriarchal mothers, mother-in-laws, your brothel madams, female OBGYNs, your Mother Superiors and your headmistresses and teachers, your female bosses, in varying levels of domineering/gentle. It doesn’t matter, the net is spread far and wide and through all manner of class, caste, race and religion. They hand out purity badges and are generally unsympathetic of gendered trauma resulting from sexual assault, forced marriage or forced motherhood, or persuade you to get used it. Patriarchal machinery wouldn’t run so smoothly without their valuable contribution.
It doesn’t sit well with feminists to be repeatedly confronted with the evidence that women are willing participants in their own oppression, because it also gives misogynists a reason to pass the buck. There are plenty of reasons to fight such an assumption: internalized misogyny, poverty and lack of options being the primary ones. These reasons are valid, but don’t extend to the educated middle class and certainly not to women who have power over other women, generation after generation.
The rich are heavily invested in dynasty because they prefer to pass on their riches through hereditary, since they have a lot of accumulated wealth and status to lose. The middle-class have more freedom, because essentially, it’s a way of life that supports an adherence to laws, education and conventional family life. Within that framework, variations of choices and behaviour are possible. And yet, they sneer at the #MeToo movement, shame other women for expressing the pain of childbirth, silence women who’ve experienced sexual assault and routinely line up to ruin women’s reputations for experiencing sexual freedom (or hand out purity badges according to status).
Why do women continue to manipulate other women and girls through shame?
There is a phenomenon in Latin American countries known as machismo, which can be described briefly as aggressive masculine pride, and today it’s not an uncommon word.  In 1973, Evelyn P. Stevens examined the reverse phenomenon in the sphere of Latin American female relations, coining the term marianismo.
Marianismo, in short, is the invisible system of values accorded to, specifically, the behaviour and worth of females. Although it refers to the religious figure of the Virgin Mary, its application, regardless of faith, is justified across ethnic communities throughout the world. The uniquely feminine values attributed to ‘good’ women and ‘female strength’ are predictably: chastity, motherhood, compliance and self-denial, easily attributed to the mythical feminine divine, which manifests in slut-shaming and forced marriage, forced pregnancy and forced abortion, and in the worst cases sati, dowry deaths, witch burnings  acid attacks and honour killings (although, domestic violence homicides in the US are akin to the same thing).
We’ve already established that slut-shaming begins early, around the time of menarche, which is coming at an earlier age on an average, and that punishment is based on the potential for ‘wrong’ behaviour before it even happens. We’ve also established that girls and women benefit in having power over other girls and women, in the service of men. Now we have the term that was coined nearly fifty years ago that fits the problem, and we can’t acknowledge it often enough.
Forced marriage is the great fixer-upper. It neutralizes the threat of the single, financially independent, fertile woman who is capable of making her own choices. The spectre of this archaic tradition follows immigrants all the way to developed countries, where cultural relativism gives it a less barbaric hue. After marriage, provided all goes well, you will have a child or two. Relatives warm to you. Your body’s not a threat to society anymore, your bomb’s been defused, your sexuality has been neutralized. Marriage comes with another set of restrictions and rules, plus you have another set of extended relatives to dishonour with disobedience. Motherhood is valued in pop-feminism without adequate dispensation of responsibility to fatherhood, which is rewarded in media on a regular basis for smaller efforts.
Then there’s that other ugly thing that happens: divorce.
Divorce used to be the greatest possible sin and not to be considered lightly. The reason why it initiated so often now is because many women have gained the strength to walk out, without falling for myths like: having kids fixes everything, submissiveness and niceness resolves friction, various relatives will die of heart attacks if you bring such a dishonour to them. The process is rarely a clean break, so it requires strength and conviction.
That strength was drawn from a brief glimpse of the sky. Our ancestors had figured out that submissiveness needed to be bred to create the slave mindset, but generation by generation women began to realise they had choices. Late GenXers still got married and maybe had kids, making the process of divorce more devastating, but now there’s a growing single population in the country who know exactly what they’re compromising when they decide to get hitched. It came as no great surprise to me when 75% of my friends divorced early in their marriages.
There’s a third category of women that I didn’t mention, littered across the centuries and up to present day. The truly strong female who doesn’t fall into the pecking order, isn’t particularly liked because she is independent and doesn’t buy into the patriarchal mindset. Now, I don’t know if these women learnt this at an early age or it’s some sort of personality trait, but they exist and I’ve met a few of them. They also have little sympathy for women and girls who can’t muster up their own strength and this is their main flaw: they may be good at advice but they are not good at mothering. They hand out truth bombs in whispers at appropriate times, wisdom that’s often ignored because they don’t pursue status. They roam in the sidelines and function in the middle ground. They mother themselves because they don’t bond with other women on conventional terms, avoid identity politics and navigate social pitfalls adroitly, until they’ve gathered a hoard of skills and reserves to live life on their own terms.
Imagine if they got together instead of functioning independently.
The patriarchy can’t exist without the slave mindset, and now we know that even women benefit from it, whether it comes in the guise of friendship or mothering or various versions of ‘feminism’.
Which brings me to the millennial cat ladies and in smaller numbers, anti-natalists. Whether millennials cat ladies choose not to marry for financial reasons or because marriage has lost its allure (which, for a time represented the promise of true love through the influence of fairy tales and chick flicks and the vision of the perfect wedding), they’re doing it without the insecurity of the MGTOW movement. They hoard their degrees with pride and appreciate the love and low maintenance of their chosen partners, i.e., cats.
Interestingly, while male atheists and anti-natalists might owe their philosophy to rational thought, women have more concrete reasons like misogyny and reproductive freedom in order to opt for these identities. Anti-natalism is attractive at its core (sans the drama or the inclination to lecture) because of the timing, the advancing irreversibility of climate change, the lack of resources to go around and it also gives one room to self-actualise without authority figures defining that for you. Women should be able to experience it without the necessarily negating potential relationships. If they do make the choice to reject marriage or childbirth, there’s no doubt that it’ll be a difficult life, because as much as we may praise women for their strength in mainstream culture, living a life without the legal safety nets and the social approval that traditional marriage provides can crumble one’s resolve.
To look to the future however, there is strength in numbers, and even more strength that can be drawn from mutual mothering and friendship.
 In India I would add ‘infantilism’ to ‘aggression’. Evelyn Stevens made a relevant observation that these men were brought up primarily by women, which is not to be equated with mother-blame, that is, blaming mothers for the violent actions of their male children.
 All of these involve burning a human-being alive, and might have something to do symbolically with fire being a medium of purification.