Woman as Giving Tree

I’ve been reading Kate Manne’s “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny” and came to the chapter about misogyny and entitlement. Manne writes that there are masculine-coded goods that a man is entitled to, and feminine-coded goods that a woman owes or ought to give.

A man is entitled to, among other things: social positions of leadership, authority, influence, money, other forms of power, social status, prestige, rank, reputation, standing, pride, freedom from shame and lack of public humiliation.

A woman owes or ought to give: affection, adoration, indulgence, simple respect, love, acceptance, nurturing, safety, security, safe haven, kindness, compassion, moral attention, concern, care, and soothing. (all this is separate from tangible reproductive and domestic services  which may be somewhat evenly divided in some heterosexual partnerships).

So when I read about how movie star Jennifer Garner drove her estranged husband actor Ben Affleck to his third stint in rehab after a week of partying with a Playboy model and ordering liquor to his home, I couldn’t help but see the connection.

I tweeted the following in the evening:

Kate Manne wrote about how misogyny will make people lash out if they don’t feel they’re getting the feminine-coded goods they feel they deserve, like Elliott Rodgers, who shot dead five sorority women because he felt he deserved sex but wasn’t getting it.

But apparently, people will lash out even if you question whether or not women should deliver unconditional care and safety to men under any and all circumstances. I began to receive a torrent of abuse from both men and women who told me I was a bitch, trash, cunt, garbage human being, had no compassion, didn’t understand addiction, was single, ugly, and so on and so forth. Someone even took a screenshot of my tweet and posted it on Instagram, so that more people could comment on my cruelty.

People became outraged and told me that Affleck was the father of Garner’s children, that she loved him still, she wanted him to heal for the sake of her children, and so on and so forth. One can still want these things for one’s addict ex-partner. The addict ex-partner is a grown man and responsible for creating a relapse plan that involves medical professionals, addiction counsellors, and possibly a trusted family member that doesn’t include an estranged ex. But everyone loves a woman who acts the way society thinks she should – selfless, endlessly giving, loving and attentive.

The problem isn’t even what happens with Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. I see no ex-boyfriends of Heather Locklear or Demi Lovato coming in with Bible and Range Rovers to rescue them and deliver them to rehab. Even Wilder Valderrama, after visiting Lovato for a few weeks, decided to cut off contact because it might hinder her recovery, meaning there is a limit to how much care a man can be reasonably expected to deliver to a woman.

The few women  married to or partners of alcoholics who messaged me to tell me that they are never allowed to put down the burden will always be overlooked in the face of society’s rules about what women should and shouldn’t do. Addiction is a terrible disease and yet the numbers show far more men than women are alcoholics, so women carry this burden disproportionately.

In Pakistan, where I live, I have seen countless women from lower socio-economic backgrounds with at least six children forced to go out and work because their husbands are drug addicts. They are responsible for providing care and financial support to the entire family, without even the hope of treatment programs that are available to so many in developed countries.

In short, a woman should be a giving tree until she dies. The Giving Tree was a creation of Shel Silverstein in a famous children’s book, and you can read more about its relation to femininity here.

What have I learned from this episode? That people will call a woman a saint and an angel when she delivers the goods. They shower her with praise for being infinitely loving and caring. But should she step back, or set a limit or a boundary, and society will quickly turn her from an angel into a monster and censure her for being heartless. It would take about five seconds for Garner and all women like her to go from being saints to bitches should she ever choose to turn off the faucet of endless giving.