The idea of female camaraderie is one I have been thinking a lot about lately, and discussing with both my husband and a close friend. Your blog is the most acceptance-focused that I have read, so naturally I wondered what an Already Pretty post on the subject would say. I am very interested to hear your thoughts on the idea of women encouraging each other rather than comparing themselves or tearing each other down.
Why is it that I can see a woman in a dressing room clearly conflicted about an item she is trying (or just her own image before her) and offer up a compliment, and get looked at like I am a creep, or insane? Yet, if I were with a friend and I pointed out the same woman’s stomach pooch or bad shoes, it would be all fun and laughter.
I have never been one to have a slew of female friends, because I found it hard to relate to most other females for a large part of my life, but I have always tried to acknowledge “the sisterhood.” Now, I am not claiming to be innocent. I give random compliments, I offer help, I bring extra coupons to share in stores, etc, but I have certainly “contributed to girl on girl hate,” a phrase Natalie said in the post you linked.
The idea behind her post has definitely resonated with me. I TRY not to be judgmental of anyone, and Lord knows I am my own worst critic as most women are, but I will not lie and say I have not thought to myself, “What the HECK is that woman wearing?!” Or worse, pointed something out to someone else. I largely live my life with the idea of “it’s none of my business” but I have certainly raised eyebrows at exposed bras or extremely low-rise bottoms. As I get older and more conscious of what I am putting out there, I try not to say those things, even in my head. If I have the auto-thought that someone looks sloppy, I’ll remind myself that for all I know she is rushing to an emergency, or going through a hard time, or frankly is just comfortable that way and it is none of my damned business.
It’s amazing to me that we are hard-wired (or conditioned?) to be catty. One of the worst things in my opinion is to use a slam against other women as a way to bolster self esteem by using phrases like “REAL women have curves!” Real women are bony and skinny, too. Must we be exclusionary in order to validate our love or appreciation for our own bodies?
I will confess to the occasional bout of cattiness myself. I never claimed to be perfect, and I have to make a concerted effort to live up to my own ideals. When I feel myself getting judge-y about what someone is wearing, I say to myself (or aloud), “That is an interesting choice.” And, like Sara, remind myself that I have no idea what prompted the choice itself. But she’s right – it seems like a default setting for women to be catty and critical.
I believe that two main forces are at play:
Self-centered-ness: Women criticize other women because of how they feel about themselves. I know this idea gets a lot or airtime and may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Whenever I feel like I’m frowning upon another woman’s stylistic choices, I know that my reaction is actually all about me. My taste, my financial situation, my body. As in, “I would NEVER buy/wear that item, or style it in that way. What does her choice say about me? Am I superior for having better taste, or inferior for not being trendy enough? Inferior for not having sufficient money to purchase the same thing, or superior for not flaunting my wealth? Since I don’t show my midriff and that woman is showing hers, am I superior for being more modest, or inferior for not having a show-off-worthy midriff?” Oversimplified, for sure, but you get the gist. We want to know how we rank, who is better, prettier, stronger, more successful. And we use disdain to get there. It’s an ineffective, destructive, and infantile way to make ourselves feel better … but we do it anyway.
Unexpressed aggression: I took a behavior disorders class in college about 12 years ago and learned a fact that has stuck with me. It may have been debunked by now, but I still think it illustrates an important concept. At one point, biopsychologists believed that a certain amount of chemical X was necessary to make a man a sociopath. A woman with that same amount of chemical X in her system simply exhibited constant psychosomatic pain. It took twice as much of chemical X to make a woman a sociopath. THAT is how much society doesn’t want women to express aggression.
So I believe that we turn to verbal abuse. Remember middle school? If you’re anything like me, you’d rather have your hair set on fire than go back to that time, when we’d finally learned to be cruel, to humiliate each other publicly in the name of social status. And why did we do that? Because our bodies were changing, our world was shifting, it scared the shit out of us and, unlike boys, we weren’t “supposed” to break stuff, beat each other up, or run around like hooligans to exorcise our fears. Now here we are and our bodies are changing, our world is shifting, it scares the shit out of us and … we attack each other. It’s a socially-sanctioned action for angry, confused women. Again, ineffective, destructive, and infantile. But it’s what’s expected of us.
I told Sara that it sounded like she was trying to train herself out of feeling judgmental of other women with some smart techniques, and I commended her. I also told her that it may take a looooooong time to truly eradicate those thoughts – I’m still working on it myself – and that she shouldn’t beat herself up if she slips. The bald fact is, people are INTERESTING! The way they look, the choices they make, how different or the same they are to us … fascinating stuff. And our brains are set up to see, evaluate, and compare. Rewiring a brain will take time and patience. But it’ll be worth it.
Now tell me: Why do YOU think women are so judgmental of each other? What fuels cattiness and girl-on-girl hate? Do you think it’s nature? Nurture? Both?
Image courtesy ashley rose.