I hate to say it, but I think Samantha Brick was right. Not about everything. Not even about most things. But she was definitely right about girl on girl bitchiness. It is real and pervasive and nasty. It’s something I hate to think about, and hate to admit to having been a part of, because I don’t want that to be how people see women and girls. And because I believe strongly in the power and potential of female friendships. At their best they are supportive, fun, heart warming, enriching and downright fabulous. Sadly, however, that warmth and love doesn’t often extend outside of someone’s immediate friendship circle, and sometimes not even within it.
It’s been in the news a lot recently, this girl on girl crime. There was the Samantha Brick article to start (and you should read this for what she should have said), that fantastic Ashley Judd piece, and Brooke Magnanti, of Belle de Jour fame has come back at her own critics. We cannot, and should not, ignore this. Bitchiness is not something that is inherent in women, it is not just a fact of life. This is not inevitable. And it needs to stop.
I am not trying to be overly idealistic here. Of course, you will not always get on with everyone. There will be people you dislike, and for very good reason. Some of these people will be women. But there is a difference between calling someone out on bad behaviour, or expressing a contrary opinion, and jumping straight to name-calling and body-shaming.
Sisterhood is not about loving all women, it is about respecting them. It is about criticising only what is worth criticising, not deviating into insults about hair, make-up, body shape, clothing choices or sexual behaviours. It is about not holding other women to higher standards than men, or than ourselves. About being happy for other people’s success rather than trying to pull them down.
This is not something trivial, to be ignored. We cannot let this blow over. Power works through ‘divide and conquer’. By fighting amongst ourselves, we are allowing the continuation of a sexist system which doesn’t want women to get ahead. We are complicit in that every time we criticise another women’s ‘muffin top’ or ‘cankles’.
We act as though there is a finite amount of success and happiness in the world; that if another woman gets an ounce of either of those things then it takes it away from us. And that if we say she’s ugly, or fat, or a slut, then it makes more room for us at the top. But the opposite is true. We just make it more difficult for other women to succeed. We make it okay for men to insult us like that. We justify the ‘bitchy’ label that women are slapped with.
We do not need to do this. We can change. We can reserve our criticism and our insults for those who bring pain and hatred into the world. It’s hard to get out of the pattern of bitchiness, but we should all be trying. We should be making sisterhood a priority – not just giving it lip service.