Sexism and Internal Misogyny in I Don’t Know How She Does It

A little more on the novel I had to read for class …


Kate Reddy faces sexism at work and home. She harbours internal misogyny, which she projects onto herself and other women. Reddy is well aware that women are treated harshly in the corporate world. Her office is especially unkind to mothers. Though officially the company cannot fire a woman for becoming a mother, the business is known to cut a woman’s hours to part-time, which means fewer opportunities for these women to make money or be involved with work decisions. While a man will be applauded for being a good father for leaving work early to catch his child’s swim meet, and is encouraged to keep photographs of their family on display, women need to hide the fact that they even have a family. A woman with a family is a liability. It is assumed a mother will need more time off and will not be able to concentrate on her work because she will be preoccupied, thinking about her children. Sharon Hays writes about this saying the corporate world is designed for the lives of men and their assumed gender roles, meaning even if an employee is a father their commitment is not to the home the way a woman’s is supposed to be. This pressure from work and how Reddy believes a woman must act like a man causes her resentment for anything considered to be women’s work. Since she is intense with everything she does, this does not mean she does not want to excel at home as well. “This tension, however, has been partially managed by attempts to maintain a clear ideological and practical separation between life at home and life in the outside world, with women responsible for one sphere and men responsible for the other,” writes Hays.

Maternal Theory

“Women indulge in a fearsome kind of maternal grandstanding which has less to do with sharing their concerns than with showcasing their triumphs,” writes Susan Maushart. The world of motherhood has some mothers thinking it is because of their good mothering that their child cut their first tooth before the neighbour’s child. Reddy knows this, she perpetuates this, but she also resents this. She resents it so much she does not hate the system that allows this sexist cycle, but other women. “There is a distinct sense in which we feel about female the same way Groucho Marx felt about high society,” writes Maushart. “That we don’t want to belong to any club that would have us as a member.” Interestingly, Reddy uses this same Groucho Marx reference. Reddy is especially resentful toward a group of women she and a friend nicknamed the Muffia. Like in primary and secondary school when one clique of girls mocks another clique of girls. Reddy describes the Muffia as the stay-at-home cabal of organized mums. Reddy identifies strongly as a working mom. Maushart says it is not uncommon for working moms and stay-at-home moms to judge one another disdainfully. Reddy does not address the system that expects mothers to hone the perfect mince pie recipe, but the mothers who she assumes can make the perfect mince pie effortlessly.

Reddy also takes part in body shaming, she judges the bodies of other women like how she judges her own. For a large portion of the novel, Reddy does not have anything nice to say about a women’s post-pregnancy body. It is not until she hears the young woman she is mentoring, Momo, saying a pregnant body is weird, that Reddy reconsiders this shaming. Reddy starts hearing herself in her protégé throughout the novel and by around this point she starts to be less critical of her gender and motherhood: “In fact, [pregnancy and breastfeeding] may be the only time in your life when your body makes perfect sense to you.”

Reddy is concerned that the sexism at work has people reading her assertiveness as bitchiness. She attributes her success to tactics like letting men think her ideas were their ideas. Reddy figures, as she tells Momo, that in the corporate world women need to play by the men’s rules in order to eventually become the ruler.

Toward the end of the book, Momo says her male coworkers merged images of herself onto bodies of women in porn, and put them online. At first Reddy tries to write the incident off as boys will be boys, but something switches in her. She finally makes time for her female friends and together they get revenge. Reddy’s feminism is intersectional. Reddy’s feminism quotes Gloria Steinam and forgets the bigotry of the suffragettes. Reddy also sees equality as the ideal, not equity. For example, she tells Momo that women who wear heels are showing that they are as tall and important as men. Equity would be women are seen as important as men, without having to change their height by wearing back harming footwear. Still, her attitude is much more woman friendly by the end of the book than in the beginning. I cannot blame Reddy entirely for being so anti-motherhood when she bought into the institution and all its expectations in the first place, and does not know otherwise.

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