Oh, how natural it seems when women and girls are so damn mean to each other. Seemingly more mean, underhanded and brutal than men are to one another. More deliberate. Yet often more unconsciously, horribly, mean.
Of course this is a sweeping generalization. There are a lot of good people in the world. Good women, if you will. And there are certainly men out there who can rival the biggest drama queen you've ever seen. But that's not the point.
The point, actually, is that in general, modern women do not possess the solidarity you might hope for or even expect in a world that is supposedly heading toward gender equality.
Without question, the notion of woman vs. woman is not particularly new. Many often laugh it off, deferring to our curiously 'natural' state of being. As if it is in our DNA to compete with one another. We are known to do it for men, friends, jobs, attention, recognition and self worth. Things you can actually win and things you can never win. The tangibles and the intangibles. We'll launch silent daggers over petty issues such as clothing, mimicry and appearance faux pas -- all fodder for cannon balls of hatred for fellow females to fire. We even squabble over the things that are entirely nebulous, the ideas in the back of our minds that are more like phantoms than actual live gains. Not many question it. We make fun of it, acknowledge it, disparage upon it, but we don't really ask ourselves why and how we got here. How did we get this bad?
That's just how women are ... Supposedly.
Well, that might be true, but only as true as the belief that 'boys will be boys.' But really, truly, boys will be boys and girls will be girls in the context of certain power relations and social structures.
Call it natural if you like, but it can be changed.
Now before you start planning your rebuttal to this notion, I didn't say that this was going to be easy. And I'm not necessarily talking about a widespread campaign of 'awareness' so that we can initiate the healing process one-by-one in our own psyches. Well, in a way I am, but in another way, I'm not. Based on my research in academia and general observations, I find this to be a more simple problem than we think -- albeit one with widespread and complicated ripple effects on society as a whole.
Think about this: What is the only problem that seems to persist in spite of women's economic advancement, educational progress, sexual freedom, access to technological innovation and relative (though increasingly tenuous) reproductive rights? What is it about our worth as individuals that inspires our insecure animosity?
It is kind of miraculous if you really think about it. Unbelievably, this very real issue can not only interfere with how we feel about ourselves, it can also affect how others feel about us, thereby influencing how we live our lives!
It is so silly, so obnoxious, so superficial, but painfully true.
Alas, it is all about beauty and body image. Or more specifically, beauty in the context of our persistent inequality to men, and our disproportionate body commodification that ironically feeds the fire between us and our sisters.
Yes, oh yes, in spite of how far we've come, our looks are still up there on the checklist of our success as women. It is on our checklist in an arbitrary omnipresent way that we did not necessarily invite. Perhaps we once made it a priority. Perhaps others made it a priority and we correspondingly internalized it by default. We might even occasionally boycott it, hoping to escape this particular paradigm of self worth and success. But either way, whether we imposed it upon ourselves or someone else did, it's there now and has been for a long while. I would love to cite a ton of sources here to underline this concept, but that would make this article two million pages long.
The truth is that we know it. We see it, live it, breathe it, watch TV about it, read about it. We see how Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and others are irrelevantly defined by it in the political sphere when there is hardly a media whisper of George W. Bush's, Bill Clinton's or Mitt Romney's appearance. Every once in a while we might hear about Barack Obama's ears, but that's about it. Looks do not define men like they still define women, even in the most serious platforms in the world. This is a beautiful but ugly remnant of a time when women were the trophies and property of men, when our entire worth was once based on appearance, pedigree, purity and child-bearing ability.
Now let me explain why this lame vestigial problem is creating the massive divide and how serious the implications are.
As a disclaimer, this is not to say that we cannot or should not take care of ourselves, that we cannot or should not care about fashion, beauty, fitness, glamour or sexual appeal. All of these interests are fun and worthwhile. We should be free to indulge and revel in them. So should men. We should be able to honor all beauty in all forms whenever possible. It gives life extra spice and flavor. When we can appreciate the range of beauty wholeheartedly and appropriately, it has the power to enhance our spiritual experience.
Nevertheless, when the notion of 'hotness' or 'not-enough-hotness' breathes its muggy breath into our ability to get a job, keep a job, get along with people on the job, be liked, be unliked, be taken seriously or not-taken-seriously, there's a problem.
Think of looks as a resource. Just like education and money and charm. A resource to get what you want. A commodity, if you will. We are living in a capitalist society, after all.
Right about now, some people might want to chime in and blame capitalism for this problem, this commodity-possession-ownership-hierarchy-resource-consumption problem, akin to all other problems in the world. And they might be right. But for now let's keep it simple. Looks are resources. Resources that are inherent and cultivated alike.
Now fathom this: In a culture where patriarchy is still alive, endearingly belting out delusions of grandeur, thrusting a withered cane into the air from its convalescent bed, dinging the bell for the nurse, at least one crippled mythology has remained -- the story that women are not fully worthwhile unless they are amazing at everything AND beautiful in the eyes of others. For some, external beauty in the eyes of others and oneself is success in and of itself.
Regrettably, this fact alone has helped turn women against one another, a trend that started centuries, if not millennia ago. Poignantly, this is the one major factor that still determines our well-being in the public eye whether a woman is gay, straight, bi, white, black, brown, etc., a veritable competition whose competitors are by default only women in a world still ruled by men.
So when an attractive woman strolls around your workplace, if she is prettier in your eyes than you are -- or in someone else's eyes -- she might inspire your jealousy. And if you're that kind of woman, even if only for the day, you might treat her differently. She might as well be parading a better resume in front of you. Look at me, I can get a better man, a better job, a better wardrobe... a better life.
In a world of squirrels, she might as well have been the squirrel who collected more nuts than you. You might even try to steal her nuts. Or tell the other squirrels how she came about those nuts in a suspicious way. Either way, this squirrel is perceived to have more resources than you, even if some of those nuts are spoiled. Then again, how would you know what kind of nuts she has? All you can see is her pile of nuts. And that's all that matters. Perhaps you should take notes from this fabulous squirrel, maybe even do laps around the tree to get that squirrel's thighs. Perhaps you should kill the fabulous squirrel. You just don't know what to do!
Now imagine that you are the beautiful squirrel with the pile of nuts. Now you're getting a little anxious. Now you feel like you should give some away to diminish the danger or perhaps alternatively guard your nuts more fiercely. You just don't know what to do! But why should you give away your nuts? They didn't climb that tree to yank them from the branches. Perhaps they don't have your scampering ability. Perhaps the tree liked you better. Either way, they're your damn nuts, you shouldn't have to make excuses.
Now if nuts represent success or self-worth in the human world we've been trying to create (you know the one with 'gender equality'?) there should be nuts for everyone, and we shouldn't have to get them from men, so to speak. Even though we know they have them!
What we really need, is to stop fighting with each other over the nuts. Instead, we should all collectively attack the tree together.
Bottom line: As women, we need to stop fighting over the scraps that are left to us by those in power. Jealousy over looks is only a symptom of everything else we still do not have, one of which is the ability to shed beauty and body image as all-powerful dictators in our lives.
It is so easy to forget who the real enemies are, and thus we cannibalize ourselves on the way to what we hope is a better life, even if only in the form of vicious shit-talking to alleviate our fleeting anger at what 'Miss Thang' represents to us in the world. She is not the one to blame, unless of course she really did something horrible to you. But then you might ask yourself, Was she horrible to me because... of this exact issue we're talking about? Is she fearfully scrambling for beauty commodity in herself and projecting it outward? Like the rest of us are grappling with in some form every day?
On the flip side, having perceived good looks can drag a woman down in ways that are similarly unfair and unearned, namely when other women do their best to sabotage her progress, her job, her advancement, and her happiness based on jealousy of her collective resources or perceived ability to acquire *nuts* as it were.
When women can finally relegate beauty to a fun life expression, rather than a prerequisite of success, it might be safe to say that we will see less tension between our sisters. I would like to think that when women occupy enough power positions in every sphere, we will no longer question where our real worth lies, at which point we might see an end of the extreme jealousy trend between women as we know it.
So let's pretend that when we as a gendered group achieve more consistent success equaling men, we will treat each other differently indeed. Imagine that we will even help each other more. We can even start now, as it would surely support the cause if women helped other women advance for a change. Or at the very least, we can try our best to disparage upon each other less (tempting as it is). Because one fine day, beauty will not be our unwitting default scapegoat for why we aren't successful or happy.
To some degree, there may always be a form of tension between everybody, women and men, with or without the commodity of beauty playing a role. But I think we all can agree that the world would still be a much better place, even if fraught with endless problems to resolve, if women were nicer to each other.
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