A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my best friend about relationships, friendships and dealing with people we’d rather never see again. We were talking about support and how we were thinking ourselves lucky to have both, men and women in our lives that were supportive and cheered us on, rooting for us no matter what we were doing. When the conversation shifted to those less supportive figures, who had put a spanner in the works, those that had compromised our happiness, that had interfered, just to cause some upset, I asked my friend a tentative and careful question: “Who were the majority of those that have made you feel like shit? Men or women?” Even though I had already guessed the answer, I was still devastated by it, confirming something I had suspected a long time ago: “Women.”
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and we are in a room full of our own species. My friend is talking to us, sharing her thoughts on life as a modern woman, the challenges, the problems, the chaos and the exhausting demands of the daily grind: We are all flat out, working ourselves into the ground whilst trying to look like a model and act as demure as the Duchess of Cambridge, yet still being criticised for not being quite thin enough, fit enough, pretty enough, organised enough, super-human enough. And then she asked a question: “Who of you has been made to feel inadequate by another woman?” As I stretched my own arm into the air I turned around, watching, horrified but not surprised, the arms of everyone else in the room rise up, too. Nearly 40 women, and every single one of them had felt devalued by another woman. How is this possible? And why?
As per usual, I mull things over in my head and start coming up with theories, criticise them, throw them out the window and come up with a different thesis. And start all over again a few minutes later. The end-result of a long and drawn out thought process is as follows: Our worst enemies are, contrary to popular opinion, not men, no, but women. Think about the last time someone spread gossip about you, stabbed you in the back, was two-faced, lied to you, put you down, made you feel inadequate. Unless you’re in an unloving relationship (and if you are – get out!) I very much doubt that a man made you feel that way. I personally have experienced both, men and women making me feel worthless, but after taking stock and recounting the most memorable and lasting damages of those negative experience, the vast majority, from childhood onwards, were from fellow girls or women being plain nasty. So why is that? Why do we start attacking each other in the playground, talk with hushed voices about some other girl, laugh at her old clothes and take great joy in the fact she has put on a couple of pounds?
I think we can all agree that being a woman in the 21st century is hard work. As mentioned above, you’re supposed to be everything to everyone whilst looking like you’ve stepped out of a magazine and make it seem effortlessly. Nevertheless, criticism and scrutiny of fellow females is, it seems, at an all-time high. And I just don’t get it. I liken it to self-mutilation or self-harm. In times where we’ve never needed to support each more, we seem to attack each other, eating each other up from the inside, making our lives misery.
How many of you have worked for a female boss who, instead of furthering you and your strengths and capabilities, criticised you, put you down, treated you like her personal slave and used you as an outlet for her anger and own insecurities until you got physically and mentally ill and had to quit your job? Then there is the so-called friend who turns on you, steals your ideas and presents them as her own. There is the family member who tells you you’re selfish as soon as you stand up for yourself and don’t put up with her unrealistic requests anymore. There is the work colleague who stops talking to you because someone else told her a rumour and she choses to believe it rather than speak to you. There is the girl who tells you she wants to be your friend but is already sleeping with your man behind your back. There are the girls on the way home from school who call you names because they think you go to a better school than them. The next time they trip you up and the time after that one of them punches you in the face. There is the woman who doesn’t know you but lays into you on Facebook, because in her mind, she is right and you are not entitled to your own opinion. There is the woman who spreads lies about you because she is jealous of what she thinks you have . There are the friends that stop talking to you and call you selfish – after you gave birth to a baby. Instead of asking you how they can help and support you and take some of the overwhelming stress off you, they distance themselves and bitch about you whilst on holiday. There’s the mother that makes her ex-partner’s new girlfriend’s life hell; as if being a step mother isn’t already difficult enough, she thinks it’s OK to tell you what to do, treat you with hostility and disrespect and finally turns her children against you, all whilst you are working your hands to the bone to provide a stable and safe environment for and create a bond with children that are not your own. There are the women fat-shaming a beautiful healthy woman on Instagram, telling her to lose weight. The list goes on and on and on.
I am not sure I understand why people feel the need to be nasty, horrible, dismissive, rude and unkind. I have never felt more exhausted than when I didn’t like someone and thought about how I could make their life difficult. Being supportive, thoughtful and kind is so much more useful and empowering. I also find that negative thoughts and feelings rob your creative light so I try and stay clear of it. Don’t get me wrong though, I am not saying let people get away with murder and trample all over you. Stand up for what is right and point out nasty behaviour. Who knows, you may save someone more vulnerable from a vicious attack.
I doubt that this scenario of women attacking women is out of the norm, dare I suggest it has been a problem for many centuries and whilst I wouldn’t go as far as claiming that it is the reason for gender inequality now I believe that women attacking other women and being unsupportive certainly hasn’t helped, especially today when such actions can spread like wildfire on social media platforms. It’s all very well scolding the male population for gender inequality and yes, I know, us women had to fight for a lot of things in order to become equals and there’s still a long way to go. However, we will never truly get there when we as women tear into each other. Just think of all those women, all over the world who are, in big and small ways, fighting for and working towards making things better for women everywhere. Imagine their exasperation if they see that all their efforts are pointless, because we rather destroy than build each other up. Think of every song written and sung that celebrated women and girl power. How hypocritical to praise those songs and sing them out loud when we belittle someone’s capabilities the next minute, laugh at their “fat arse” and point out that she “ain’t all that pretty”.
My point is that, even though we are considered the “weaker sex”, we are still powerful in our words and actions, expressions and silences, especially because we are usually more emotionally switched on and aware of other people’s fears and insecurities. Like any power, that can be used for good and bad. And when we use it for bad, the results can be devastating. From this it seems like there is as much spite and evil in us as a species as there is love and compassion.
I have experienced both sides of what us women are capable of, and at a guess most of us have. The important lesson from this is that, when we show each other support and love, we don’t only empower the others but also ourselves. I have been lucky enough to experience the love and compassion of some women that has been overwhelming and changed my world and my outlook on life, in the best possible way. Our love is powerful. It can move metaphorical mountains. It can make us stronger and better as humans. And best of all, it costs us less energy and we all gain from it. So the next time you are about to spit some poison into another woman’s direction, think. Is it necessary, justified and, beyond all, helpful? Chances are, it’s not. Walk away or put your phone down and think about something nice to say to another woman. Being kind to each other is the only way we will ever truly be equal one day.
This blog is dedicated to all those women in my life that have done nothing but support me, cheer me on and have been angels in moments of need. You are the best examples of what women empowering others means. I adore you all and will be forever grateful you all came into my life X