A series of incidents with a girl who I considered a friend or at the very least an amiable acquaintance inspired me to question the intricacies of interactions between women. The more I reflected on this maze of female companionship, the clearer it became that we as women entangle ourselves in a twisted web of self-sabotage. We are told that we belong there, and so we make this tangled web, a home. In public, we fight fiercely for freedom and equality for ourselves and our female companions. But behind closed doors, we bitch and spread malicious gossip about the very same women. What we don’t realise is that, in the process, we are simply fortifying the walls that serve to confine us.
It is an undeniable reality that at the heart of many female feuds is a man. We no longer live in an era where our survival depends on our ability to attract men or benefit from their financial security so why do we still behave as though we do? Without realising it, we tend to elevate ourselves in the eyes of a potential partner by demeaning other women. There’s the the classic, “I’m not like other girls,” or the standard cool-girl phrase, “I prefer hanging out with guys cause girls are crazy”. Implicit in these remarks is the notion that women as a group possess undesirable characteristics. While this may achieve the temporary gain of distancing ourselves from negative stereotypes associated with womanhood, it simply perpetuates the idea that women deserve to be marginalised. As a faction of society that is subordinated in almost every sphere of life, we do not need to dig a deeper hole for ourselves.
The media capitalises on this phenomena of high profile feuds among female celebrities. When the likes of Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Cardi B participate in such public animosity, it almost normalises and glamourises such forms of conflict. In a subconscious attempt to emulate our idols, we have changed the way we perceive such conflict. It may come as a surprise but engaging in petty drama with another girl does not make you Beyoncé and does not make your adversary, Kim Kardashian. The important question is, where does this animosity between women stem from? What motivates it? We are socialised in subtle ways to compete with other women in a highly destructive manner. You do not have to look farther than your local newsstand or your Instagram feed to find examples of this. Any popular gossip magazine will have a column dedicated to “Who wore it better?” comparing how different female celebrities look in the same outfits; men are rarely featured in these columns. For decades, women have been compared to one another based on their physical appearance and held to narrowly defined standards of beauty. When a well-known actor gets into a new relationship, news headlines don’t hesitate to compare his new partner to his former one in superficial ways. In an age where we spend a significant part of our life consuming this information on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, it is almost impossible to escape the pressure of perfection often placed on women.
There are only six female CEOs in the FTSE 100 and just a quarter of board members in the UK’s leading companies are women. While structural and systemic inequalities play a significant role in the lack of women in leadership positions, social explanations are relevant in context of this discrepancy. Research indicates that female bosses are harsher towards their female employees than they are towards their male employees. This may be motivated by a fear of losing their own position given that such few women occupy leadership roles. In this context, women perceive other women as competition and not as allies, which may benefit individuals but acts as a hindrance to the progress of women as a whole. How can we battle the patriarchy if our troops are at constant war with one another? If we are losing this war, it is not attributed to a lack of competency but to a lack of unity.
Before you call another girl, ‘slutty’, ‘bitchy’ or ‘ugly’ consider the power that these words possess. In essence, you are implying that women should be judged based on their promiscuity, assertiveness, and appearance. Recognise the irony in sharing posts on Facebook about feminism and adding #girlpower on the end of your Instagram posts, while bitching about your closest girl friends. If it frustrates you when people ask you when you’re planning to start a family after you’ve spent years developing your career, do not criticise other women for marrying late or having no kids. If you do not appreciate when people value you for your body and not for your mind, do not judge other women for their appearance and not their intellect. Let’s empower each other, not just on social media but in the ways we talk about one another and show respect to each other. We cannot overcome injustice if we are part of the reason it continues. Remember, as a woman, every time you degrade another woman, you are putting a nail in your own coffin.